There are millions of ways to save water, and a lot of them are pretty easy. You just have to be in the right mind set. So without further ado, here's nine of the easiest things I could think of to save water in the garden.
Idea #1: Prune Less
Idea #2: Change Your Watering Schedule
Idea #3: Check for Leaks in Irrigation
My Personal Experience: I have fixed a lot of leaks in my drip irrigation system. The first time I went through looking for leaks in the system, it took me a long time to fix them all because I had never checked for them before and lots of them had built up. But now that I've got through that initial slog, I just takes a few minutes (literally!) now and again to fix a leak here or there, and everything is fine.
Where to Find Out More: I have a blog post about fixing leaks in drip irrigation: Don't Forget the Routine Maintenance. It contains links to YouTube videos for more info. If you have a different type of system than me, just do a quick Google search or YouTube search to look for different videos. The information is out there!
Idea #4: Use Low-to-No Water Plants in Your Landscape
My Personal Experience: Over time, I have been replacing the shrubs that were planted in my front yard when we moved in with cactuses. I don't put them on drip irrigation (because, Hello!, they're cactuses). I just put a reminder in my phone to water them once a month or so if it hasn't rained. I'll admit that my front yard looks a little barren right now. I think I need to put some hardscaping in there to add some interest, but it has definitely cut back on the water used by my garden.
Where to Find Out More: Where do I start? There is so much information out there about creating beautiful, low-water landscapes (which quite frankly makes my barren front yard even more of a travesty). Noelle has been talking about it a lot lately. Here's just one of her posts: A Jewel In the Desert: Sustainable Landscapes Part 3. Mary Irish has written a series of books about desert plants, including the Arizona Gardener's Guide. Or maybe you could go visit the Desert Botanical Gardens to get some in-person inspiration.
Idea #5: Plant Short Season Edibles in Your Vegetable GardenThe Idea: The idea here is simple. If you pick vegetables that have a shorter number of days before they reach maturity, you'll water them for less time over the course of their life. You can determine how long it takes a plant to reach maturity from its seed packet. For instance, the Pink Bumble Bee Tomato takes 60-70 days to reach maturity, whereas the Tappys Heritage Tomato takes 85 days.
Water concerns aside, it is generally a good idea to go for quick maturing edibles in Arizona anyway, because most of our seasons are short (except for summer, which lasts foreeeeeeeeeeeever). If you plant vegetables that take a long time to mature, the seasons could change before the vegis have a chance to fully develop, and they could freeze or fry before you have a chance to chow down.
My Personal Experience: I try to pick vegetables with short maturation periods, but I admit that I sometimes forget. Like most gardeners, I sometimes get so excited about picking that perfect vegetable, that I completely lose sight of whether it's adapted to my climate, how much water it needs, whether it's the right season to plant it, etc. Sigh.
Where to Find Out More: Mother Earth News has a great article about edible gardening in drought conditions called Coping with Heat in the Garden: Drought Tolerant Crops, Resilient Perennials, and More. (The paper version of the article also included a nice list of heat-tolerant vegetables, but unfortunately, the online version doesn't seem to include that list. If you're interested, check out the June/July 2014 magazine for the list.)
Idea #6: MulchThe Idea: Add mulch around your plants to help keep the water from evaporating so quickly.
My Personal Experience: In the summer, I generally add alfalfa hay around my vegetables. One bail of hay costs about $15 and is more than enough to last me the year. I just mound it up all around and make sure that the hay isn't touching the stems of the vegis. (My daughter kind of gets a kick out of helping me with this task.) I got mine from Cactus Feeds, but I'm guessing you can find suppliers all over the valley.
Where to Find Out More: I heard about this idea in Dave Owens book Extreme Gardening. (He also recommends mulching with compost.)
Idea #7: Get a Rain SensorThe Idea: If you have drip irrigation (as many of us in the desert do), a rain sensor just turns off your normal watering if it has rained recently. Basically, it has a little cup to collect rain water. If it senses that there is water in the cup, it doesn't turn on the drip system. If it senses that the cup is dry, it turns on the drip system.
My Personal Experience: We have a wireless rain sensor, but it broke quite a while back. I have to admit that's it has been low on our list of priorities to fix it, because whenever I hear that rain is coming, I just go and manually turn off the drip irrigation system. Then I put a reminder in my phone to turn it back on a few days later. So I guess I'm the rain sensor. :)
Where to Find Out More: I recommend going to Amazon.com and looking through the reviews there for a rain sensor. I did a quick check and found one highly rated sensor for less than $20. Not bad!
Idea #8: Create Basins or Furrows Around Your PlantsThe Idea: To help water from flowing away from your plants and trees (where you need it), you can build up furrows and basins around the plants' root zones to keep in the water. Ideally you would do this when you first plant the seeds, seedling, or tree, but you can always do it after the fact if necessary. simply build up dirt around the plant and press it down hard enough to keep it firmly packed. The next time you water the plant or tree, make sure the basin or furrow that you created is holding in the water sufficiently.
My Personal Experience: I have built up these furrows around all of the vegis in my garden bed and around some of the trees and shrubs in my garden. I have found them particularly useful in the vegi beds keeping the water where I want them instead of running off where there are no plants. (For trees, it's a little bit less of an issue, since they have a wider root base.)
Where to Find Out More: This isn't exactly the same thing, but if you want to learn more about the concepts of collecting water efficiently in furrows, basins, swales, and other recessed areas of your garden, you can read about rain gardens in books like Edible Landscaping with Permaculture with a Twist: How to Have Your Yard and Eat it Too. (This book makes rain gardens and other permaculture concepts extremely accessible.)
Idea #9: Create More ShadeThe Idea: Frequently, us desert gardeners end up having to water our plants a lot more in the summer because they are baking in the direct sun all day long. Although we probably won't get away without giving them at least some extra water during 110+ weather, giving them some shade might cut down considerably on how much extra water we have to give them. There are many, many ways to create shade for plants:
- You can move potted plants to a more shaded area, like a porch.
- If you only have one or two plants that need shade but can't be moved, you may be able to do something as simple as place a lawn chair in front of them to create shade.
- If you have a lot of plants that need shade but can't be moved, you can construct a structure such as a hoop houses or pergolas and attach shade cloths or sheets to the structures to shade your plants.
- You can plant tall, heat-loving plants (such as sunflowers) to the south and to the west of plants that are less tolerant of heat to shade them.
Where to Find Out More: Noelle Johnson has a great blog post about using sunflowers to create shade in the summer: Natural Shade for Tomato Plants.
More Ideas for Saving WaterThese are only nine ideas for saving water. There are many, many more ways to conserve if you are interested. Here are just a couple of resources I recommend for finding ideas:
- For a quick list of ideas, I recommend 100+ Ways to Conserve from wateruseitwisely.com.
- For more in-depth reading, I recommend Growing Food in a Hotter Drier Land: Lessons From Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty. I was truly inspired by this book. It is full of useful ideas for how to use less water and really make a difference. Expect to see future posts on ollas, tepary beans, and other ideas I got from this book!