It’s the heat of summer. The plants are wilting rapidly in the garden, and you reach for the hose. Wait a moment. If you want to be water wise, you might want to reconsider your watering habits.
If you live in a desert, chances are that your water comes from groundwater, underground reservoirs that gradually fill up as rainwater seeps into the ground. In areas with intermittent rain, your water might come from surface sources like large lakes or reservoirs. In either case, saving the water that we do have for areas other than the garden is just plain sensible, especially if your garden is purely ornamental.
In some ways, summer is glory days for plants. They grow abundantly, they reach for the light, they produce fruit and seeds and the garden becomes huge and overgrown. However, summer can also be a challenge for plants because it comes with drought. Can you grow plants in the heat of summer and still be water wise?
Using treated city water in the garden doesn’t make much sense. Storing rain that would have become runoff does. Use a rain barrel. Rain barrels come in apartment size to massive, and some can even be stored under the ground to act as large reservoirs.
Water deeply and less-frequently. Although drooping plants seem to call for the immediate emergence of a hose and a thorough watering, some drooping is normal. Encourage your plants to develop deep root systems by watering them for a long time, rather than spraying each area of the garden for a few minutes. Watch your plants to see how long they can go without watering. Deep root systems help the plant gather water from far beneath the soil, helping it sustain itself without frequent watering.
Water in the morning. This is the time of day when plants are turning to the sun, beginning to make their morning food, and slurping up water with their roots. They need water to make their root. When you water in the early morning, you help your plants grow.
Create shade in your garden. Use hardy, drought-resistant trees if you live in a desert. If you live in a place where there is a summer dry and dormant period, use native trees or well-adapted fruit or nut trees to create shade. Make sure that the trees do not have chemicals that discourage other plants from growing. Spreading deciduous trees love the sun and let dappled sunlight in. Grow plants under and around these trees to conserve water.
Use the contours of the landscape to grow smart. If there is a damp area in your garden, use it to its full advantage by growing the most water-hungry plants there. If your garden is flat, flat, flat, consider adding some contours in the form of swales so that the water will move effectively around your garden.
Grow native plants and those that are adapted to the climatic conditions in your area. This does not mean that you only need to grow cacti. The key is low input: you want a plant that will grow in your garden with very little assistance. Ask around and see what thrives in your environment. Begin by looking at the plants that naturally grow in your area, the successful hybrids of your plants, and the plants that local organic farmers grow with ease.
Weaning ourselves off the infusion of extra water in the summer can be hard, but it’s worthwhile. You can create a durable, low-maintenance garden that will flourish in the heat while the high maintenance gardens around it wilt for want of water.