With a widespread drought now affecting Texas, California and other parts of the US, many homeowners are about to give up on their gardens. Don’t despair – there are ways to beat the drought and continue gardening. Here are a few tips from the pros (many of whom live in Australia where they just came out of a 13-year drought!).
Choose the right plants
Start by looking at your neighbors’ yards and gardens to see what’s working for them. Don’t assume that just because a plant has loads of blooms it’s a high-water use plant. For example, once established, with their two-tier root system, Flower Carpet roses are extremely drought tolerant and will continue to bloom even under very difficult circumstances.
“Even though we had temperatures of 113° for several days and no rain, all I did was water them very well once a week, and they performed beautifully,” reported Carrie G. of Howe, Oklahoma, a Tesselaar Plants home garden tester.
Other flowering perennials and shrubs to consider include a variety of sages and salvias, agastache, lavender, penstemons, euphorbia, honeysuckle, buddleja, sea lavender, lupines and of course sedums and succulents which come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes.
Mulch, mulch and more mulch
A good layer of mulch saves an amazing amount of moisture in the soil. It can be wood chips, shredded wood, wheat straw, grass clippings or chopped leaves or a mix of several types of materials. A 2013 study conducted by the Horticulture and Crop Science Department of California Polytechnic State University showed that even a 2 inch layer of mulch reduced surface evaporation by 60% as compared to the water lost from bare soil. Doubling the mulch depth increased soil moisture by an additional 10%.
As an added bonus, not only will the mulch hold in the water, it helps with weed control as well. Before watering, pull back the mulch a bit and dig down an inch or so to determine if you need to water in that area.
When applying mulch around your plants, leave a small area around the base of the plant free of mulch so that you can easily water without wasting water on the mulch itself.
Plant like plants together
Whether you’re watering by hand or with a drip irrigation system, planting the most water-dependent plants together in the garden you can reduce the total area that you need to water. Don’t allow your plants to be too crowded together though, as they’ll compete with one another for any available moisture.
Avoid sprinklers at all cost! They simply throw the water through the air and much of it evaporates before it can get to the plants. Remember to water in the early morning or late evening so that the water doesn’t quickly evaporate before it gets to the plants’ roots.
If you water deeply, you don’t have to do it as often and it encourages deeper root growth. As a result, those plants will have greater drought tolerance.
Drip irrigation systems are great but if you don’t have the time or inclination to install one, remember to water at the base of the plant, avoiding the leaves. This also helps to reduce moisture-related plant diseases. There are a variety of watering tools available that helps to direct a gentle spray to the plants’ base.
Stock up on a few sturdy pails . . .
The folks in Australia learned early on that water captured from sinks and showers is fine to use as water for the garden. Keeping a bucket or small pail under the tap for even 30 -60 seconds while the water warms up can yield up to a gallon of water! A 5-minute shower uses up to 25 gallons of water, depending on the type of shower head you have and saving some of that in a sturdy pail isn’t really that hard to do. As long as you’re not using harsh soaps or detergents, your plants will appreciate the extra drink.
If you want to go all out, you can install a system to capture rinse water from your laundry. Art Ludwig designed a Laundry to Landscape Grey Water System that’s extremely efficient and not too difficult to build. However, it’s important to be very careful in using laundry grey water if you use heavy-duty laundry detergents.
There are plenty of small but easy ways to save water too. Here are just a few ideas from our friends in Australia: collect remains from partially used water bottles (you know, those bottles that have been rolling around the back floor of your car for weeks); before giving your pets fresh water, dump the old water into your water-collection pail; when rinsing fruits and vegetables, keep a bucket or large bowl under the facet to capture that water.
For other Drought Gardening Tips check out these links:
University of California’s Garden Web