How to Water Your Garden (Even If There’s a Drought)
by Jayne Rising
Garden planning needs to include some consideration of how to efficiently water your garden. Methods will vary depending upon size and siting, among other things. If your garden is a few pots on your apartment lanai, bringing it a few pitchers full every day, or even twice per day, shouldn’t be a problem.
But what if you have a large garden in your yard or even a Community Gardens plot? My garden, for example, is five raised beds, three-yard areas, and a deck holding twelve containers of various sizes. That’s more than a few pitchers!
Erica Nygaard recently published the pdf book, “The Dirty Truth About Homesteading.” Even though its directed at those wanting to start a homestead, she does offer actionable points on garden planning and food production. This guide would be helpful for anyone who wants to produce what they consume.
Below are a few suggestions to help you quickly and efficiently water your garden.
A little therapy for you, a little water for your plants
One great thing about urban agriculture is the ability to hook a garden hose to the city’s water supply. Hook the hose to a spigot, turn on the water, and stand there watching the water soak in. I enjoy being out there. Using this method will help you efficiently water your garden. However, this isn’t very time-efficient. Keep in mind that the average vegetable garden needs about 1″ of water per week. I’ve found it challenging to measure the amount of water using this method. Using buckets of a known measure can help. That is how I water my trees and containers. But not my raised beds.
Have a watering system do the watering for you
Watering systems come in three primary forms: sprinkler systems, drip systems, and soaker hoses. The system is laid into the ground and attached to the central spigot. Some even put a timer on them. Watering systems are very time-efficient. I enjoy being able to get other things done while the system waters for me.
Sprinklers: Sprinklers are a bit wasteful of water. Water sprayed in a pattern around the sprinkler head tends to water the sidewalks if they are within range. And sprinklers can be expensive. Some systems are buried in the lawn and have to be dug up if there’s a problem. There goes your lawn. Cheap systems can work. Keep in mind you get what you pay for.
Drip Systems: Drip systems are more water-efficient. The system is laid into the bed or other area with a water line branching off of the main to each plant. Those lines can be buried under mulch or soil. The lines may need to be adjusted year to year if you’re planting different things in that area.
Soaker Hoses: Soaker hoses are permeable along the entire length of the hose. While not quite as water efficient as a drip system, they’re much more so than sprinklers and easier to move than drip lines. They’re also cheaper, but they do rot over time and need replacing.
Your humble writer pronged a hole in her soaker hose one day while using a hand tiller to loosen the soil. Since soaker hoses are much like balloons in terms of water flow, that large hole stopped the flow right there, and the hose became a sprinkler. Adjusting my new sprinkler so the portion of the bed past that hole got watered resulted in an extra shower every day as well.
Let Mother Nature water those plants
Soil in urban areas tends to be alkaline from cement-leached lime. The natural acidity of rainwater helps counteract that. Best of all, rainwater is free!
Rainwater is an excellent option but unreliable. While I’ve found that my plants like rainwater better than municipal, this method is a bit uneven. Some days it’s a deluge and others a sprinkle, and none might fall for days. Inconsistent rain might work well for established vegetation but not for vegetable gardens.
Collect rainwater while you have the chance
With a considerable portion of the country solidly in drought, some municipalities have begun rationing water. Home gardens aren’t always a priority for those making the rules. Granted, the concept of drought means it’s not raining enough, but when it does rain, why not save some if you can?
While it’s not illegal to collect rainwater at the federal level, some states regulate it, and others don’t. Then, of course, there are city and county levels to consider. My city allows residents to collect rainwater, but the collection barrels can’t be viewable from the street side due to “aesthetic concerns.” Guess where my downspouts are! I also live on a corner lot, which makes my entire yard viewable from the street. That presents a challenge for me.
Another consideration with rainwater collection is OPSEC. Do you want your neighbors to see that you have water when they don’t? There are many ways to decorate and disguise your barrels, of course. Good decoration might even satisfy aesthetic concerns. And, I will repeat it, good fences make good neighbors.
Use techniques that require less water.
Particularly with weather concerns, there are some ways to conserve water in your garden that Daisy wrote about in her book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide.
- Landscape with plants that grow naturally in your area. They should require little in the way of additional watering. Your county extension office can often help with this. You can also take a hike and find many lovely plants that thrive whatever you climate happens to be.
- Grow organic. Chemical fertilizers can increase a plant’s need for water. (This book has some amazing tips for organic drought gardening.)
- Use an organic mulch in your garden to help retain moisture.
- When you clean out your fish tank, reserve the water for your garden. Your veggies will love the nutrient boost!
- Devise a gray water catchment system for your shower, your washing machine, and your kitchen. This water can be used for flushing, watering plants, and for cleaning. Do keep in mind that some counties do not allow gray water to be reused, even in the midst of an epic drought. Do what you will with this information.
- Use a nozzle on your hose so that you are only putting water where you want it, not spraying it uselessly as you walk to the garden.
There are all sorts of creative ways to conserve water while keeping your garden thriving.
How do you water your garden?
Have you discovered any watering tricks for your garden? Do you face any challenges adequately watering your plants?
Watering your garden is a huge consideration. Proper planning can save a great deal of time, money, and wasted effort. Isn’t your food source worth it? Do you use any special water conservation techniques? Do you have a unique watering system? Let’s talk about it in the comment section.
Jayne Rising is a gardener and bookworm with a BS from the University of Wisconsin and a Master Gardener certification. She’s been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010 and teaching others how to do it since 2015. She’s involved in a number of local urban agriculture initiatives, working to bring a sustainable and healthy food system back into the mainstream.