By Don Trotter

Water Saving in The Garden



Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the monthly water bill. If there is one thing that confounds gardeners during the warm season, it has to be how thirsty a garden can get and how much water costs these days. In this particular episode we will be discussing some easy-to-follow water-saving practices that will make your gardening much more rewarding at the time of the month when the bills come. So let's take a stroll outside and look for some places where we can save some of that hard-earned cash.

The garden hose is one of the places where we seem to waste a lot of water, either in the garden of washing the car. Check that new hose washers are installed in the female ends of all of your garden hoses to ensure a good seal with hose bibbs and that the attachments you connect to your hose also have new washers to properly seal the male end of your hoses. Leaks in the hose or misshapen hose ends that have been bent need to be repaired or the hose should be replaced. One thing is for certain; cheap garden hoses don't last very long and can be a real pain to coil without kinking. Good garden hoses are available at most garden centers for a reasonable price. You will get years of use from a good rubber garden hose instead of those silly, vinyl snakeskin-looking things. Well-maintained hoses are a good water- saving device.

Irrigation systems are such wonderful labor-saving devices. But we seem to think that the garden isn't properly watered until we see our precious resources running down the street in the gutters. This is not true. It is a good idea to go out into the garden when the irrigation system is on to check that all the sprinklers are facing in the correct direction. This is also a good opportunity to be sure that each sprinkler is working correctly and hasn't been damaged by the lawn mower or some other act of God. A leaky sprinkler can cost a thousand gallons of water a month. If you have a lawn service, make sure your gardener checks the sprinkler system thoroughly at weekly intervals.

I don't water at night. Too many bad things happen when watering is done at this time. Fungi and disease proliferate in these moist, cool hours and you cannot see if your irrigation system is working correctly while you're asleep. The best time of day to begin a watering cycle is around 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. depending on how long it takes for your irrigation system to complete its cycle. The wind is normally calm at this time of day, and you can get a good look at how the system is functioning. Also, if you are making mud after the irrigation system runs, you're watering too much!

Now for my favorite part of water conservation in the garden, MULCH. Yes mulch. A layer of organic matter on top of all exposed soil is the most efficient way to conserve water in the garden while improving the quality of your soil. Mulch insulates the soil from direct weathering and greatly reduces evaporation of water from these exposed soils. As the mulch decomposes it also enhances the fertility of your garden soil and feeds your best garden ally, earthworms. You will find yourself watering less to achieve greater garden success when mulch is on top of your soil.

Soil quality is one of the most critical factors in conserving water. A compacted soil does not accept water very well and runoff does the garden no good. There are several ways to conserve moisture by improving the physical nature of your garden soil. One of the best ways is to improve the ability of your soil to accept water by adding certain minerals that rearrange the magnetic fields in your soil. For compacted soils that are alkaline, calcium and sulfur are very good at this job. These minerals also free up iron so your plants experience fewer problems with yellow leaves. This is a malady known as chlorosis.

In acidic soils, calcium carbonate (lime) is very good at raising pH and freeing up magnesium which is necessary for plant growth. My favorite calcium supplement for soils is fossilized kelp, but gypsum works very well in alkaline soils and hydrated lime is very useful in acidic soils. Adding these minerals to your garden once or twice a year is a very smart way to improve soil permeability and water absorption. Calcium also extends the life of fertilizers, which also saves money.

Following these simple practices can reduce you garden watering by up to 25%. And the money you save can be spent doing unnecessary things like buying food or shoes. Next time we will be discussing com-posting . . . again. See you in the garden!

Got questions? Fax the Doc or e-mail him at . Don Trotter's columns appear nationally in environmentally-sensitive publications. Look for his book "Natural Gardening A to Z" coming in July from Hay House Publishing.

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