|Back to Home||Master Gardeners - July 19, 2012|
Conserving Water For Gardenersby Ankaret Dean, Lanark County Master Gardeners
This spring and summer the rainfall has been very low again: passing showers seem to miss us and no long three day rains. However there are quite a few ways that we can help to preserve moisture in the soil even if the rains keeps missing us.
Firstly, water retention depends on the soil. Sandy soil dries out at least three times faster than clay and twice as fast as loam. Adding organic matter will improve all three types: by binding sandy soils for better water retention, and opening up the clay and loam for better retention of water and air.
Secondly, a mulch over the dry earth helps cut down water loss due to heat and evaporation by as much as 50%. It also help prevent weeds. There are quite a few different mulches, one of the easiest is to use lawn clippings. These can be sprinkled around plants or along rows of vegetables, and at the end of the season dug in to add organic matter to the soil. The clippings should be spread out quite lightly as they can cause heat while decomposing. There many different kinds of mulch available at the garden store, but don’t forget rotted leaf mold, pine needles and rotted sawdust from saw mills. However, be careful, using fresh material can cause burning. Straw and hay are also useful, particularly for the growing of plants such as strawberries where the straw helps the strawberries to dry off and prevents them for being splashed with mud.
Another very effective way of conserving water is to use rain barrels, which can be attached to the downspouts on the house or garage. Water from a rain barrel is at the right temperature for plants and also contains no chemicals or minerals. The rain barrel should be covered to avoid drowning small animals or birds and also screened to prevent mosquito breeding. An alternative to a rain barrel is to attach long plastic tubes to the end of the down spout, this will draw off the water into a nearby flower bed or catchment area.
Lastly, the time of day for watering can make a difference as will the type of watering. There are different schools of thought on the time of day. Watering in the evening means that there is all night for the moisture to soak and penetrate the soil. It can also create problems by leaving the foliage damp all night, inviting molds and disease. Watering in the morning will prevent those problems but may be affected by hot sun causing evaporation. These problems can be avoided by using a soaker hose, which drips slowly into the soil. Hand watering is a great conserver of water as the water can be applied exactly where it is needed. Watering cans are a great benefit to the keen gardeners as water can be sprinkled gently over precious seedlings and they can be fertilized using manure tea at the same time.
For those of us with wells, conservation is essential, water can be saved in the house by flushing only when necessary, short showers, small baths and never waste a drop. There is nothing as good as a good rainfall so perhaps we should perfect the rain-dance ritual!