Water Wise Gardening – tips for low impact gardening

Saving water and conserving energy are in vogue, but our culture has forgotten an amazing amount about how to get results while using fewer resources. There are hundreds of archaic methods that are worth revisiting to cut your utility bills. In the centuries before electric pumps, dams, and water towers, our ancestors employed a variety of low impact techniques to irrigate crops and nurture their yards. Some of these techniques are making a comeback.

For example, gardeners in the Southwest are rediscovering how to use the olla. Olla’s are unglazed pots that are partially buried in the ground. When filled with water, these pots allow moisture to seep into the surrounding soil. Ollas prevent water loss from run-off and evaporation, plus they prevent nutrients from washing away. They are also a cost effective alternative to expensive drip irrigation equipment, and installing Ollas is easy to do with simple hand tools:

Here are a few other time-tested ways to save water and electricity:

Slow down the flow of water: Match the flow of water to the speed that your landscape absorbs moisture. While an Olla is one of the most water efficient methods, other technologies include Multi-stream rotor sprinkler heads and soaker hoses. Low volume watering avoids runoff, preventing erosion and keeping nutrients from washing away.

Use shade to prevent evaporation: Sun visors, pipes, and sun screens are seeing renewed interest as water saving technologies. To prevent evaporation of standing water, it’s important to reduce sun exposure. Replacing open irrigation ditches with underground pipes can reduce evaporation by up to 50%. Uncovered swimming pools consume 35-50% more water than covered pools. Uncovered pools also consume more energy to heat, because evaporation cools the remaining water down:

It only takes 1 Btu (British thermal unit) to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree, but each pound of 80ºF water that evaporates takes a whopping 1,048 Btu of heat out of the pool.

Use mulch and compost: Natural fertilizers not only feed the soil, they also help the yard absorb moisture. Mulching with porous materials such as wood chips, grass clippings, and vermiculite can help turn the soil into a sponge.

Finished compost holds up to 200 times it’s weight in water, and its not necessary to go with fully decomposed compost to get the mulching effects. 100 pounds of horse manure holds approximately 195 pounds of water (just watch out – horses eat lots of wildflowers without digesting the seeds). Using layers of different types of mulch and compost can get even better results.

Irrigate with water spikes: Water spikes, like this one, help water penetrate deep into the soil and soak directly into the roots of trees or other targeted plants. They are an ideal way to help a new plant get established, or to ensure that a needy plant gets enough water.

Use native plants: If your lawn has plants that are growing outside of their usual habitat, instead of finding ways to water more, it’s also a good idea to replant with local species. These native plants are well adapted to local rainfall, and will only need additional water in drought conditions. As a bonus, native plants also require less pruning!

Re-use waste water: Water that is unfit for people to drink may be just right for plants. This so-called “gray water” can come from the dish washer, the shower, and the kitchen sink. When rinsing off fruit or washing dishes, grey water can even pick up nutrients.

Capture rain water: Rain is free source of water, and surprising amounts of rainwater can be collected even in the driest climate.