Ways to Reduce Your Water Consumption this Summer

A working group comprised of Thom Hardenberg, Anne Seidman, Anne Harvey and Suzanne Schecter has been looking into ways to reduce water consumption this summer. Here are their recommendations:

Before you get to watering, here are some tips:

1. Amend your soil
Adding compost will both feed your plants and keep your soil draining properly. Sandy soils drain too quickly, while clay soils hold too much water. If the garden doesn’t have compost available, you can still get it for free from the Fairmount Organic Recycling Center in Fairmount Park.

2. Mulch
Covering the soil surface will slow evaporation, thus keeping the soil moisture level more even. Mulching with organic materials also adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down. The biggest plus – mulching makes gardening easier by impeding the growth of weeds.

3. Weed
Those weeds aren’t just unsightly – they’re competing with your plants for moisture and nutrients. As long as they’re not diseased, you can throw them in the compost pile and help feed the garden.

Watering: the how, when and where

1. Water deeply and infrequently.
Deep watering promotes the development of a deep, extensive root system. Deep-rooted plants are better able to survive hot, dry weather.

Frequently, light sprinkling wastes water and does not aid the growth of your plants. Daily watering should be used only when starting seeds or caring for new seedlings.

How much should you water? It depends on temperature, rainfall, what you’re growing and what stage your plants are in. The best way to know is to stick your finger in the soil – it should be damp but not soggy. Give it time to dry out a little between waterings.

A deep weekly watering should be adequate for fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. Apply approximately 1 inch of water per week, depending on rainfall and temperatures.

2. Water in the morning.
A morning application allows the water to soak more deeply and evenly into the ground, and provides the plants water to face the heat of the day. It also allows any water on the leaves to dry, which can lower the spread of disease.

Watering mid-day is both wasteful and potentially harmful to your plants as the cool water can shock them.

Although some people prefer evening watering, be aware that it can sometimes lead to mildews, rusts and other diseases because the water sits on the plants and roots. If you prefer to water in the evenings, be sure to follow the next tip.

3. Water at the base of the plants.
Adding water at the soil line will distribute it evenly, encouraging a wider root system. Keeping the leaves dry can slow the progress of diseases such as the tomato fungus in the news the last few years.

For more information, check theses sites:
– Good information on composting, water saving techniques and critical water periods for plants: Colorado State Gardennotes
– Overview & list of critical watering times for vegetables: The Gardening Channel: Watering the Vegetable Garden

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