Water Usage - Conserve
by Scott LaFleur
What a difference a year can make. The summer of 2009 brought 26 days of rain between June 1 and July 7 with nature’s cruel finale being a massive storm, causing flooding and major hail damage at Garden in the Woods. In 2010 plants are trying to make due with trickles of dew in the early morning, hardly enough to quench their thirst in the searing heat. Mother Nature is forcing gardeners to choose between withered plants and inflated water bills. Perennials and trees enduring this drought may perform poorly in 2010 and in some cases for years to come.
The solution to the problem of water usage comes down to responsible and intelligent use. If we are to have enough usable water for the future, we need to conserve in the house and in the garden.
What can one homeowner do about water shortage? You might be astounded to see the total number of gallons of water your home tallies each year. Calculate your water usage at http://www.csgnetwork.com/waterusagecalc.html. The average American household uses more than 100 gallons a day, while millions of the poorest families of the world live on 5 gallons or less a day. Lush and beautiful garden beds and water hungry lawns can be a major portion of that water use, however, gardens don’t have to be water-hungry and lawns don’t need to be so large. There are several simple approaches to conserving water
- Use less from the start
- Use water more efficiently
- Use water that often goes untapped
You can also gain control of your yard’s water use without compromising style or enjoyment by making wise plant choices. There are plants ideally adapted for every type of soil and every position in the landscape
- Soil type - Choosing the right native plant for the right soil condition is the best place to start.
- Is the soil dark and rich with bits of organic matter or pale and mostly mineral?
- Does the soil hold in clumps like clay, or is it fine and gritty?
- Moisture on the site - Your soil type and high or low location relates directly to how much moisture your soil can normally hold.
- Are you on a high, dry spot?
- Are you in a low, boggy area?
- Full sun = more than 6 hours
- Part sun = 4 to 6 hours
- Part shade = 2 to 4 hours
- Shade = less than 2 hours
- Deep shade = no direct sun
- Exposure to the elements
- Your exposure will play a critical role in how quickly the soil dries out.
- A sunny, wind-exposed area calls for different plants than a spot sheltered by evergreen trees and partly shaded.
Once you have a good idea of the realities of your planting area, you need some information about plants. Plants native to the eco-region you live in give you a head start on success because they have adapted to the region’s climate and soils. Planted in the correct soil and site, these natives need little or no supplemental water once established, however, establishing them in a specific landscape can take about three years. If you don’t have time for or the inclination toward evaluating your property, call in a landscape designer with a strong background in water use and native plants.
You can also save water by capturing this free and renewable resource. Place rain barrels at the base of your downspouts. Check out the rain barrels sold at the Garden Shop at Garden in the Woods at http://www.newenglandwild.org/store/new-merchandise-at-garden-shop/Rain%20barrel.jpeg/view. Rain barrels come in many styles and can be single or double-stacked and, depending on the house, their use can add up to hundreds of gallons of water for use in your garden. This water has the advantage of being untreated and also free of groundwater minerals, such as iron that in some locations can be a problem for the plants in your garden. Look also at your yard. If an area turns into a temporary river in heavy rain, you may want to consider diverting this water into a rain garden. This type of garden is self-irrigating and drought resistant. For step by step information on the installation of a rain garden, visit http://www.newenglandwild.org/publications-and-media/articles/rain-gardens.html/.
There is also the lawn. How much lawn do you really need? How you use your yard will answer this. Consider drought-tolerant groundcovers where you do not truly need a formal lawn space. Nasami Farm grows an array of native plants meant to replace lawn. Have you seen the Carex pennsylvanica, an alternative sedge lawn, in the Idea Garden at Garden in the Woods? It can be a beautiful area “rug” for your lawn, adding texture and form to an otherwise open space.
When and how you water your landscape can save as well. Drip lines lose a great deal less water to evaporation than do sprinklers. Deep or long watering can increase root growth, creating a bigger “network” of roots that will endure droughts better. Watering in the evening or the early morning is better for plants and gives plants time to soak up this precious commodity instead of losing it to evaporation by the sun. Avoid unnecessary watering by getting to know your plants. The right plant in the right place, once established, needs very little watering. Overwatering can lead to fungal and other diseases. Too much water can leach valuable nutrients from the soil. The soil and how you manage it can also impact your water usage. A healthy, living soil ecosystem that is nourished with compost and compost tea will create healthy plants which are better adapted to drought conditions. Having a symbiotic relationship of organisms, such as with bacteria and fungi in your soil, will cut back the water needed by plants.
It all begins with choosing native plants from your eco-region that live happily on the land as it is. Learn how to use water efficiently and only when and where needed. Be creative in capturing water through the use of rain barrels and specialized gardens. Reduce your lawn to only what you need - less than 1,000 square feet is usually plenty. Don’t forget to nourish your soil with compost tea, creating living, breathing soil communities that will work in a symbiotic relationship with plants making them happy, healthy, and water-wise. You can have a lush and beautiful home landscape without contributing to our shrinking water resources or increasing your water costs. It all comes from the intelligent use of water coupled with the right plants for the right place.