How to save vital water in the garden

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Allie Birley explains how to help preserve our most precious resource.

Mulch your flower beds to reduce evaporation and keep your soil moist (58197571)

The recent “heat wave” was less a cheery greeting from the sun and more a cross-look at us stomping all over this planet and a warning of the worsening climate crisis.

Water is a precious and vital resource for plant growth, but it is limited and we cannot afford to waste it. Last month I shared some tips for using and wasting less water in your home – this month we’re heading outdoors to find ways to save water and save you money.

So, what do your gardens and the green spaces around you look like? Wilted flowers ? Grass like straw?

If your grass isn’t brown because you water it, then stop. The grass is very resilient and will bounce back when it rains, especially if you don’t keep it too short. Artificial turf is not the answer and its impact could serve another function.

When I had a batch, I was surprised how many growers were there at the hottest time of the day, watering the leaves of their crops for half an hour to an hour – during which time a hose or sprinkler system will use enough water to fill 12 baths.

We need to water wisely by:

  • Water in the morning or evening, when the sun is not so fierce, otherwise most of it will evaporate.
  • Make sure the roots and surrounding soil receive the water, rather than the leaves. Not only does this reduce the amount of water you need, but it also promotes stronger growth for your plants. I often “plant” an upside-down squash bottle, or similar, next to it, so that I can then refill it several times and the water goes directly to where it’s needed most.
  • Mulch, mulch and mulch again – this can reduce evaporation by up to 75%. You can use homemade compost, leaf mold, straw, bark or grass cuttings and well-rotted manure – I use alpaca poo because the plants, especially my rhubarb , seem to like him and he doesn’t need to be so rotten.
  • Use a watering can instead of a garden hose – this has the added benefit of increasing the number of steps you take each day. I have two, so I let one fill (slowly) while I water the other.
  • Make sure your containers are sitting in a dish or other container, so the water doesn’t just run off the bottom, and this gives the plants a chance to suck it up.
Use a water collector to make good use of rainwater in your garden (58197573)
Use a water collector to make good use of rainwater in your garden (58197573)

We need to start safely storing as much water as possible and maximizing how we use our water supply by:

  • Installation of water collectors. The average roof collects about 85,000 liters of rain each year, which is enough to fill a water cistern 450 times. I have one on the roof of my house, but I’m also going to put gutters along my new shed to connect to a second one. The added benefit is that rainwater is better for your plants, but it will require annual cleaning.
  • Be prepared when rain is forecast, especially after a long dry spell, by having as many containers ready as possible – trugs are ideal, so you can use the collected water to give everything a really good soak.
  • Research how to safely use “grey water”. It’s a great way to maximize your water intake. It can be collected in the kitchen, shower or sink – because obviously none of you are taking a bath after last month’s feature. You don’t want to use this water on your fruits and vegetables, and it shouldn’t be stored. Practical advice on collecting, storing and using water safely can be found on the RHS website rhs.org.uk/garden-jobs/water-collecting-storing-and-using.

As always, you can also make a difference by spreading the word; encourage friends, family and colleagues to make small changes. You can even campaign to let MPs and water company executives know that this is an important issue and that it is essential for all of us to move a little lighter by consuming and wasting a lot less.


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