Written by Ingrid Hoff
It’s all there in the name, let's get a bit “more wise” with our watering. Do you remember back in the day when we only had water restrictions during really hot dry summers, instead of every summer? Perhaps not, but I do. It seems like water restrictions are just standard now and I think we can all agree that the earth’s climate is changing. Summers seem to be hotter and drier and so I think we all have an obligation to be a little bit smarter about how and when we use water. But if I’m being honest, I also hate being a slave to the watering hose all summer.
So, how exactly do we go about being more waterwise? Luckily, we’ve got options, so here is an a-la-cart menu of tips and tricks you can use in your garden and become wiser about water.
Start off Right: If you are planning a new garden bed or are thinking of renovating an old one, then start off right by planting the right plant in the right place. If you have a hot sunny spot then choose drought tolerant plants. This is where it pays to check out the plant labels, look for terms like “drought resistant.” As a general rule you want to look for plants that have fleshy, silvery, and/or small leaves as this is usually a sign that the plant has adapted to surviving in hot temperature, low water conditions. Some of my personal favourites are lavender, nepeta and all the sedums. There is actually a term for this, xeriscaping. This is when you plan your landscape, by choosing the right type of plants, so that it needs no water other than what falls from the sky.
Don’t feel left out if you have shade, there are a number of plants called ephemerals that are glorious in the spring (when water is plentiful) but then go dormant for the summer, right as the thermometer starts to climb. Some of our beautiful native BC plants such as shooting stars (Dodecatheon sp.), dogtooth violet (Erythronium sp.), as well as the lovely bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Okay the last one is not native but it’s related to our native bleeding heart.
Lastly, if there are some plants that are “thirsty” and you just can’t live without them, consider grouping them together. That way you can concentrated what watering you need to do over a smaller area. So, consider the water needs of your plants and then place them accordingly.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch: If you only take one thing away from reading this then let it be…. mulch your garden. It’s easy to do and it may well be the best thing you can do to use less water and spend less time dragging a hose around your yard. It is the equivalent of tucking in our plants with a cozy, protective blanket. It creates a barrier on the soil that prevents erosion, drying out, and weed growth. Find the mulch of your choice; bark, leaves, compost, stones, straw and lay it on thick (5-7cm). Just make sure to water before you mulch, you want to trap the water in the soil not the other way around.
Water the Right Way: When you do water try and be smart about it. Water less frequently with more so the water penetrates deeper in the soil, this will build a bit of a “water bank.” Also, water the soil not the plant, sprinklers are fun to run through but your plants needs the water on the soil. In fact, water on the leaves just evaporates and, in some cases, ahem… tomatoes… can actually set up the conditions for disease. Consider drip irrigation or soaker hoses. Water in the morning, not during the full heat of the day when evaporation is at its highest.
Amp up the Organic: Organic matter acts like a bit of a sponge in the soil so the more you have the better the water retention. So, add some compost, manure, Sea Soil, or even last year's leaves if you got them.
Embrace a Golden Lawn: I love a lush green lawn, but I put forth an idea to you, gold is also a lovely colour. Imagine an amazing plant that changes colour over the season give you lovely green in the spring and fall, but changes colour in the summer to a golden hue. Yep, embrace your golden lawn and just stop watering it. It is perfectly adapted to go dormant and turn gold, but then green up again when the rains come. Some other tips to help your lawn be less thirsty are to let it grow longer (this also helps with European chafer beetle) and to use a mulching mower.
Bag Your Trees: I’m sure you’ve seen them about town, those green bags that are wrapped around the base of newly planted trees. In theory once a tree is well established you shouldn’t need to be watering, but for the first few years they need a little help. These watering bags are the best, you just fill them up every once in a while, and they slowly release water to the tree. One less job for you do.
Bigger is Better: If you are planning on growing in containers then just know this, small pots are like puppies and kittens, cute but a lot of work. The bigger a container is, the more soil and therefor water it will hold. Unless you like watering your containers multiple times a day then just know that bigger containers are better.
So, before the real heat of the summer starts consider how you want to spend your time, dragging a hose/watering can around your yard/patio or sitting back and enjoying the beauty of the garden. I know which one I prefer. Have a look around your space, is there something you can do to be wiser about water?