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7 ways to a more waterwise garden

by Timber Press on May 29, 2015

in Design, Gardening

One of the best ways to create a waterwise garden is to grow a variety of plants. These roses deflect rainwater, slowing its fall to the ground, decreasing evaporation. Photo by John Morgan

The drought in the American West has made water use–and conservation–more of a topic than ever. If you’ve found yourself pouring more water into the ground than you want (or than you want to pay for), consider these seven ways to a more waterwise garden.

Create hydro-zones

  • Group together plants with similar moisture needs
  • Put thirstiest plants in depressions and areas that receive water from natural slopes or downspouts.
  • Shelter thirsty plants from drying winds by putting drought-tolerant plants to the north and west of them.

Waterwise practices don’t have to be a design-killer. Here, a downspout feeds a vertical garden. Photo by Peter Erskine

Watch how much you water (and when)

  • Overwatering forces oxygen out of the soil and can – literally – drown your plants.
  • An easy way to determine if water is needed is to poke a finger into the soil. If there is soil stuck to your finger when pulled out, there is enough moisture still available.
  • Water during the evening or early morning when temperatures are cooler and evaporation is less likely to occur.
  • Irrigation systems should be programmed with a rain gauge and timer.

When watering, let nature be your guide

  • Periodic bursts of heavy rainfall force plants to send out roots in all directions. Water deeply but infrequently; deep watering encourages deep rooting.
  • Drip irrigation or porous pipes are an efficient means of irrigation, but beware, much of this water can be lost to evaporation.
  • Watering is best done with a watering can, or with a wand attachment from your water barrel, right at the base of the plant.
  • Deep watering takes time. Continue until water begins to run off the surface.

Collect as much rain as possible

  • The ideal is to water your garden using rainwater alone.
  • Consider connecting a water barrel to the down pipe of a house, garage, or shed.
  • Water barrels can then be used as a source for both general watering and irrigation systems.

Use grey water

  • Grey water can be saved from baths, washing machines, and sinks. Most shampoos and soaps will be diluted enough to cause no harm.
  • Keep in mind: the use of grey water in the garden is illegal in many states, contact a local authority for guidance.

Prevent flooding

  • Find ways of slowing down the return of water to the ground.
  • Aim to make at least 50 percent of the surface of your garden permeable.
  • The easiest way to slow down the return of water to the soil is to fill your garden with plants. Include a range of trees, shrubs, and perennials. When it rains, water droplets cling temporarily to leaves, branches, and stems of plants before falling to the earth or evaporating.
  • Evergreens intercept rainfall though out the winter months when deciduous plants have lost their leaves.
  • You can also slow down the return of water with the use of constructed elements such as rain chains, water barrels, and bioswales.

Bioswales and planted pockets

  • A bioswale is a planted depression designed to accommodate excess runoff from a house or garden. The basic idea is to keep rainwater on-site as long as possible.
  • A successful bioswale can be as simple as a shallow drainage channel designed to carry storm water at a rate that allows plenty of time to soak into the ground.
  • The best planting choices for a bioswale or rain garden include plants that can cope with a degree of both drought and flood. Many of these are negative wetland plants, such as iris or reeds.


1 Janet Zunot September 16, 2012 at 6:11 am

Thanks, I was just planning to built my own vertical garden according to instructions I found on one blog. I will try to include your tips. Although my garden probably won’t resemble the one on the picture in any way.

2 Brian Ridder September 17, 2012 at 10:28 am

Hi Janet,
Good luck with your vertical garden. We’d love to see pictures of it when you’re done!

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