I practice low water gardening. It’s the best way I know to be a good steward of my garden and the environment. Whether or not water restrictions are in place, I do everything I can to conserve this precious resource. And believe me, my gardens don’t suffer for it; they are as beautiful as ever.
I have found that plant choices, efficient watering, and soil improvement are key to successful low water gardening.
Plants for low water gardening are plants that thrive with little or no irrigation; rain and melting snow give them the water they need. Only in very dry areas are you limited to cactus and succulents.
Succulents like these don’t require much water – perfect for very dry areas.
I first look for plants that are native to where I live and garden. These are the plants that thrive under the conditions I have to offer, without added water.
Many plants that are not native also grow well in my area with little or no irrigation. I talk to growers and other gardeners, I look at my neighbours’ gardens, and I experiment to find the right plants for low water gardening in my locale.
Maintaining a perfect lawn takes a tremendous amount of water. Use low-growing, drought-tolerant groundcovers for areas that don’t get much foot traffic. I’m partial to creeping thyme. I do have some lawn; I don’t water it and it’s full of weeds, but lovely none-the-less. Mowing high conserves water.
Groundcovers (from left to right): Creeping thyme, Pink creeping baby’s breath and Silver Edged Horehound.
Like any gardener, I have favourite plants, and some of them need watering. My goal is to maximize the use of plants that need little or no watering, but I splurge a bit, and that’s okay.
Low water gardening isn’t no water gardening. It’s not cheating to irrigate your gardens, but you do want to do it the most efficient way, with as little waste as possible.
First of all, group your plants according to their water needs. That way you can give every plant what it needs efficiently and effectively.
Check your soil for moisture to know the best time to water your plants.
Watch your plants for water stress, the point when they need soil moisture. You have to learn your plants, because plants have different ways of showing that they need water. The other day I was surprised to see my Sedum “Autumn Joy” drooping, because it’s a succulent and doesn’t need much water. Instead of watering it, I waited to see what happened in the evening. When the sun went down the plant perked up. It wasn’t thirsty; it was just hot. It would have been a waste to water it.
When you water, water deeply and let the soil dry somewhat before you water again. Deep watering helps roots grow strong so they can tap into deeper water in the ground. Shallow watering promotes surface roots, which need constant watering.
For healthy plants, don’t forget to water deep and surface roots.
Avoid watering mid-day, when some of the water will be immediately lost to evaporation.
Soil that is rich in organic material holds more water. The primary way to increase the organic content of your soil is to add compost, which you can make or buy. I also grow green manures, which are crops like oats or peas that are tilled into the soil to add organic matter.
Mulch is essential for low water gardening. Mulch is material that covers the soil and lets air and water through. By covering the ground with mulch you reduce the evaporation of water from the soil into the air. Plus, mulch made from wood chips, bark, straw, or other natural material adds organic matter to the soil when it breaks down.
Mulch is great for your plants and garden, and it looks good too!
Early spring is the best time to apply mulch. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs and the crowns of perennials to prevent rotting.
Low water gardening is a way of life for this gardener. I challenge myself to use as little water as possible whilst growing healthy and beautiful plants. I’d like to hear your thoughts on these low water gardening tips.