How to Save Water in a Drought (Google / Suite101)

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How to Save Water in a Drought: Some Tips for Gardeners

Jul 11, 2010 Jennifer Young

Gardens can be thirsty places, but there are ways to use less water. Recycling water and choosing plants carefully can contribute to a successful dry garden

Anyone who loves gardening will know that keeping plants watered is one of the most important tasks, especially during dry periods. If water companies introduce hosepipe bans, keeping a garden watered can become a problem, but there are many different tricks which can be used to save water – and to reduce the chore of watering by hand.

Saving and Recycling Water in the Garden

There are many tips for reducing water use in the garden. The main advice is to switch from a hosepipe to hand-watering, a recommended move which saves considerable amounts of water even when there is no ban in place. The amount saved varies, but the Environment Agency’s estimate of 124 litres of water saved by washing a car with a bucket and sponge gives some idea of the flow from a hosepipe (EA “Water Saving”, actonco2.direct.gov.uk accessed 11 July 2010).

When water is in short supply, the amount used can be reduced even further by just changing the methods of watering. For example:

  • Water less frequently but give the ground a soak rather than a sprinkle. Most plants are reasonably tolerant and the Royal Horticultural Society advises that parched summer lawns will quickly recover in the autumn.
  • Water in the evening or in the early morning so that the water soaks into the soil rather than evaporating
  • Water the soil around the plant root rather than watering the foliage

Water used in the garden doesn’t have to come from a tap. Investing in a rainwater butt provides a fresh supply for the garden (or for washing the car). Gardeners can reuse domestic water, for example from the sink or the bath (not the toilet). Known as ‘greywater’, this is ideal for use in the garden although the EA recommends that it isn’t used hot and shouldn’t be used on plants for human consumption.

Planning for a Drought-Tolerant Garden

Changing habits or gardening techniques will have longer-term benefits even when there is no immediate water shortage: it will also minimise any damage should such a shortage occur. From choice of plants to methods of gardening, there are a number of opportunities to reduce actual and potential water usage.

Choice of plants is an obvious option. The Royal Horticultural Society offers detailed advice on choosing plants for a drought-stricken area, including hints on when and where to locate the plants and when to water them (RHS “Drought Resistant Gardening” apps.rhs.org.uk). In terms of the plants themselves, suggested drought-tolerant options include:

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Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.