Conserving Water in the Garden

There are many ways to use less water on your garden, and still have a bountiful harvest. This guide is about conserving water in the garden.

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Watering the Garden
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Last year, my family ran into the not-so-fun situation of running out of water in our well. Oh, the things we take for granted! But necessity is the mother of invention and it lead me to do the following to conserve water:

Take a used 2.5 gallon plastic water container (Target sells bottled water this way and so does Super Walmart and BJs) that has a pull tap and cut a large, 3 sided hole in the back, leaving a plastic flap that can be opened or closed. When you take a shower, take the container in with you. As the water is warming up, hold the shower head so the water fills the container. I was surprised to find that it took almost 2 gallons of water to get it up to temperature! I then use the water for plants, our dogs and cats, and even to wash my hands. This conserves water when the weather is dry, saves money for those who have town water, and is a great emergency resource if you lose water if you lose electricity. It is also good when camping - put it at the end of your picnic table and you have an on site faucet!

By Rita from Whitinsville, MA

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I keep a large empty bucket by the floor near my kitchen sink. As I rinse off my dishes, I collect the water in a container in the sink. (I use an empty large sized yogurt container.) Then I pour the water I collect into the bucket until it is full. I use this to water all of my potted plants in the garden. If there is left over water, I use it to water my flowers and veggies. This not only saves many gallons of water, but the soap residue in the water seems to cut down on bugs that attack my plants. I have almost no insects in my organic garden. It has also cut down on my water bill which used to be considerable.

By Lois from Cleveland, OH

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We bought a rain barrel this year. I noticed our condensation pipe for the central air conditioning was spitting water so I put an 8-gallon can underneath the pipe and it fills itself in 24 hours. I pour this water in our rain barrel so we can reuse it.

By waitress from Brick, NJ

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PVC Pipe For Deep WateringBy sawing a piece of PVC pipe that can stick up from the ground about 5 inches and have about 7 inches below the ground you can have a great watering/fertilizing gardening helper.

By Louella from Billings, MT

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Every time I washed fruit and vegetables or used the salad spinner I put the 'dirty' water into a bucket. I was really shocked when by the end of the day the 2 gallon bucket was almost full!

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Every time I hard boil my eggs, I cool the water and use to water my indoor and outdoor plants. I have learned the extra calcium from the egg water is very good for plants. Why waste the water by pouring it down the drain?

Brown eggs in a carton

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Here are some tips for conserving water in your garden: Water your garden in the late afternoon but not at night. It needs time to let the surface dry so mold and fungus aren't able to damage the plants.

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We have a small dorm size refrigerator that we use for extras like sodas, water, and party food. It is not frost free, so in the summer it frosts up easily. When I defrost it, I try to catch all the water that drips off then I remove the big pieces as they become loose.

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Here in North Carolina we have been experiencing drought conditions and are being encouraged to be mindful of wasting water. Since I have many plants which often need to be watered, I have tried to think of ways to be able to water the plants while conserving water.

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Instead of dumping water away from spaghetti, vegetable or even flat club soda, feed it to your indoor plants. This will give great nourishment to them for growth and greener plants. Make sure the water is cool.

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Keep track of the days that it rains on a calendar. Circle the day and write "Rain". This way its easy for you too see which day it rained. It will help you save money on your water bill.

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Soaker hose.Few of us are aware of how much water we waste. Most of us merely turn on the sprinkler and walk away. In many places, water is not only scarce, it's expensive. How you deliver water to your lawn and garden can have a major effect on your water bill and ultimately, on the environment.

The Best Delivery Systems

The goal of watering wisely is to deliver the right amount of water to the right location, the plant's roots. Any more, any less or anywhere else is simply a waste. Overhead sprinklers are outdated and inefficient because water is delivered to areas not needing it and significant amounts are lost to evaporation.

Low-pressure drip irrigation systems work best. Slow, thorough soakings encourage roots to grow deeply to where moisture supplies are more continuously available- ultimately reducing your need to water. Porous pipes, in-line emitter tubing and soaker hoses deliver water directly to the base of each plant, each drop soaking into the soil. These systems are flexible, simple to assemble, adapt to any site and reduce water use up to 70%. Soaker hose.

Devise a simple drip watering system around trees and shrubs by punching holes into the bottoms of plastic jugs and burying them into the mulch under drip lines.

Recycling Water

Downspout emptying into stock tank.

Rain barrels and livestock tanks attached to rain gutter down spouts are easy, inexpensive ways to collect and store water for gardening. Attach spigots and hoses to the bottom to create cheap, gravity flow drip-systems. Cover them to prevent children and small animals from falling in.

Water from the kitchen sink and bathroom toilets should not be used for irrigation due to health concerns. Water draining from the shower, bath, or laundry can be used, however, if you use chemically free soaps and detergents in your home.

The water used to rinse milk cartons is good for preventing certain plant diseases common to tomatoes, eggplants, petunias, peppers, and potatoes. It also protects cabbages from cabbage worms. Recycle water after cooking vegetables to enrich houseplants with valuable vitamins and minerals.

How Much Water is Wise?

As a rule, water deeply, but infrequently. Most vegetables need about 1 inch of water per week. Trees and shrubs need only a half-inch. To determine how long to leave your system on, place several cans of the same size around areas being watered. Check the time when you turn the water on and leave it on until at least one of the cans is filled with an inch of water. Now you know how long to leave your system on.

Other Factors to Consider

Soil Type: Excellent, healthy soil will reduce your need for watering. Water percolates quickly through sandy soil and slowly through clay.

Soil Moisture: Don't base your decision on when to water solely on the look of your plants. Strong afternoon sun can temporarily cause plants to wilt despite moist soil. Overwatering can also cause wilting. Test your soil's moisture. If you have to dig deeper than 2-3 inches to find moist soil, it's time to water.

Plant Types: Corn prefers a lot of water, cantaloupes less. Plant thirsty plants together and keep in mind it can take transplanted seedlings up to two years to lose their root ball and develop downward roots. How you water those first two years can contribute greatly to root systems later on.

Mulching: A good layer of mulch around everything in your garden will hold moisture in and keep water-competing weeds out. Don't forget to mulch pots and planters, too.

Time of Day: Water early in the day before heat causes excess evaporation and so leaves have time to dry before nightfall, reducing the chance for spreading disease.

A Few Water-Wise Tips

  • Don't leave hoses running longer than necessary. If possible, use a timer.

  • Avoid leaky hoses and couplers. Drops add up to gallons (and dollars) quickly.

  • Mound up soil around tree and shrub drip lines to retain water.

  • Adjust to changing seasons. Most trees, shrubs, grass, and other plants need to cycle down and take a break in the winter.

  • Mow your lawn higher to keep soil shaded and reduce surface evaporation.

  • If possible, plant drought-resistant plants, trees, and shrubs.

© 2005 ThriftyFun

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Watering Solutions

Water is one of the earth's most valuable resources, so it is important to make sure that we garden in a way that doesn't over-use or waste water. Look around your yard and garden and see if you spot any of the 5 water wasters listed below. Then try one or more water-saving solutions. With a little planning, you can reduce your garden water waste and save yourself a little money at the same time.

Five Big Water Wasters

  1. Bare soil
  2. Poor quality soil
  3. Misplaced plants
  4. Using overhead and/or misdirected sprinklers
  5. Inefficient watering techniques

Bare Soil

Bare soil is a huge waste of water for two reasons:

  1. Water evaporates quickly from uncovered ground, especially on warm, sunny days.
  2. Wind and rain can quickly give bare soil a hard-packed impenetrable crust, so water runs off without soaking in.

Water-Saving Solution. Cover bare soil with 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch to conserve moisture. As an alternative, plant bare areas with native, drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, and ground covers or deep-rooted perennials like peonies, yarrows, and day lilies. In the vegetable garden, plant wide rows of closely spaced plants and mulch between rows to protect soil moisture from evaporating.

Poor Soil

Poor soil results in water retention problems (either too much or not enough). Heavy clay soils drain slowly and cause water to pool around plants, potentially drowning them. Hard-packed soils cause water to run off before it has a chance to soak into the soil. Sandy soils are just the opposite. They tend to drain so quickly that you spend all your time watering thirsty, wilting plants. In all cases, water is wasted.

Water-Saving Solution: Adding soil amendments in the form of organic matter will improve any type of soil. This includes compost, shredded leaves, or aged manure. Each will improve drainage on hard-packed and heavy clay soils and help sandy soils retain moisture longer. To sustain soil improvements, add at least an inch of organic matter each year, working it into the top few inches of soil. After a few years, your garden will need a lot less watering.

Misplaced Plants

One of the keys to successful gardening is placing the right plant in the right place. Plants poorly adapted to their environment, or mixing species that have different moisture requirements not only wastes water, but also encourages disease. For example, if you give moisture lovers enough water, you'll risk injuring or drowning their less thirsty companions.

Water-Saving Solution. First, choose plants that suit the soil and climate. Second, group plants with similar water needs together - either in clusters or in completely separate beds. This will allow you to water each group only when it needs it, without wasting water on neighbors. Having trouble figuring out who likes it dry? Plants that cope well with water shortages often have gray foliage, such as eucalyptus. They may also be covered in tiny hairs, or "felted" like lamb's ear and lavender.

Overhead or Misdirected Sprinklers

Overhead sprinklers are highly inefficient at delivering water to plant roots - even when used properly. Because much of the water is shot into the air, it evaporates as it falls to the ground or it is sent into unwanted directions by the wind. The way these sprinklers are designed also makes it difficult to direct water solely onto plants without also watering nearby buildings, sidewalks, and of course, weeds.

Water-Saving Solution. Use sprinkler heads that can be adjusted with spray patterns that fit your garden beds, or find a model that creates large water droplets that will fall more quickly to the ground. If your water pressure tends to fluctuate, install a pressure regulator to keep water flowing efficiently at your target. Better yet, switch to drip irrigation or soaker hoses, which stay on the ground and deliver water exactly where you want it.

Inefficient Watering Techniques

Inefficient watering techniques can waste tremendous amounts of water. For example, watering plants until the soil looks damp can create more problems than it solves.

Water-Saving Solutions:

  • Unless absolutely necessary, don't bother watering your lawn. Most grasses fall into a natural state of dormancy during the peak of summer heat and green up again in late summer. If you've chosen suitable grasses for your area you shouldn't have to water.

  • Most lawns need less than an inch of water to saturate roots 4 to 6 inches deep. If you absolutely need to water, use a coffee can in the watering areas and measure the amount of water in the can to determine when you've watered enough.

  • Water in the early morning. This prevents fungal growth and minimizes losses from evaporation.

  • Apply water to the soil (roots), not to the plants (foliage).

  • Soak the ground well; do not just wet the surface. Water deeply and infrequently. This encourages root growth and ultimately results in watering less often.

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If you live in an area with harsh winters, strong winds and steady snowfall can create a lot of drifting snow. Believe it or not, this presents you with a great opportunity to conserve water.

An orange snow fence

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My husband loves his fish tanks and I love gardening. Between the two of us we use a lot of water. But he bought a fish tank vacuum to help him clean out the tanks and originally had it hooked up to the bathroom sink faucet.

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I noticed water coming from a pipe from in the attic of the house and traced it back to the unit for an air conditioner, that is in the attic of a lot of Florida homes.

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We noticed that there were puddles outside the windows with these air conditioners. We gathered some old five gallon buckets, and placed them under the drips.

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When watering your lawn by using sprinklers, make sure the water is not hitting your house (ex. siding, windows, or foundation walls), only the grass, flowers, and bushes.

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Instead of running the sprinklers on a timer, I only turn them on when needed. Been doing this for years. Since we have water restrictions in our city, we are limited to T and F.

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We save our bathtub water and run it through a pipe into barrels under the deck. We then hook up our pump to hoses and water our garden with the recycled water. The deer do not like the soapy water!

By denowolfes from Talbott, TN

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Recycle Waste Water in Your Garden

Great Job! Bet you spend many happy hours in your garden. GG Vi (06/06/2010)

By Great Granny Vi

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A great tip for water drought areas. When taking a bath, save the water! Plants love the soap to kill off insects and salts for the nutritional value. We drink tea, soft drinks, milk, etc. and save those containers. After your bath, emptying your kids pool, after boiling potatoes, corn, eggs etc. let the water cool down. Then water your plants. I will get about 12 gallons from one bath. Why let it go down the drain? Use it on your flowers or veggies. Reuse your dishpan water also. When you get in the habit of doing this you would be amazed on how much would have gone to waste down the drain.

By Doreen from Bartow, FL


Recycle Waste Water in Your Garden

Put a bucket under the faucet when waiting for shower water to warm up. This is fresh water that would be wasted. Now you can use it anywhere. (06/06/2009)

By Mama2one

Recycle Waste Water in Your Garden

I also use the grey-water from baths to flush our toilet. I just fill a bucket to use later when we need it. (06/06/2009)

By susanmajp

Recycle Waste Water in Your Garden

I keep a bucket on the kitchen floor to dump the water I used to rinse rice, wash vegetables, etc. I probably get a bucket full of what I call green water once a day during the week, and more on the weekends. (07/31/2009)

By MarieClaire

Recycle Waste Water in Your Garden

We do this, too, and we've been able to siphon the bath water using a garden hose. This only works if your tub is higher than your garden area, though. Other things we do to save water:

  1. Use the water from boiling/steaming veggies (plants love the nutrients and we actually drink it, too, cause it's full of minerals).

  2. When I wash lettuce in my spinner, I use the rinse water for my plants as well.

  3. We installed downspouts in our gutters to drain into 60 gal barrels which we use for watering flower beds. (Wish we could have gotten 200 gal barrels!)
Here in northern NM, some people build their homes to reuse the "gray water" from kitchen sinks, bathtubs, washing machines, and they save tons of well water in this way. (08/13/2009)

By emanuelli

Recycle Waste Water in Your Garden

Would it be OK for my garden if I used the bath water after my kids' bath? We bathe our girls together to save on water but wondered if the soap in the water would be hard on the plants? If not, that would be a great use for the garden.

You can also reuse these types of water to help flush toilets to save water. (08/13/2009)

By emhauss

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We don't have a big garden. Just a tomato plant, some succulent plants and magnolia tree we try to give extra water too. We have a large window A/C unit in a spot where we can easily put a dish pan to collect the water that drips from it otherwise it would be all over the patio making a mess.

We started using that water on the above mentioned things and then began to thrive. We decided it was free of chlorine and maybe that was giving the plants a cleaner "drink" of water when we have some. It is so dry here and at times we don't have any.

By Bev from Uvalde, TX

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Home and Garden Gardening IrrigationMay 8, 2012
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