Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
July, 2003
Regional Report

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This "leaky" hose is placed right next to the tomato and pepper stems and will then be covered with mulch.

It Only Takes a Little Effort to Save Maximum Water

I realize that we may not be in a drought, but it's always a good idea to be on top of the water situation. Here are a few tips to being water-wise and water-conscious. It will help the ecosystem and will certainly help your plants!

Prepare Your Garden Soil Well
Plants need a continuous supply of moisture, which they extract from the soil particles that surround tiny root hairs. To build rich, crumbly, water-retentive soil, work plenty of organic matter, such as composted cow manure, composted leaves, garden compost, or green manure into the beds before you plant.

Use Mulch
Planting close together and using mulch helps shade the soil and keep available moisture from evaporating. Shredded bark and shredded leaves are great for tree and shrub beds. Straw, grass clippings mixed with some soil, cocoa hulls, and compost are all effective mulches for the vegetable garden. Mulches made from organic materials add valuable nutrients to the soil as they degrade.

Plant Drought-Resistant Varieties Appropriate to Our Climate
Cluster plants that have similar moisture needs so you can efficiently water without wasting this precious resource. For example, many herbs and sun-loving perennials, such as coreopsis and yarrow, do best in a sunny, fairly dry bed. Keep moisture-loving plants like roses, delphiniums, and peonies together in a bed that can be watered more frequently.

Minimize Wind
Wind can suck moisture out of the soil and plant leaves faster than the blazing sun. Plant or set up windbreaks that allow the sun in but shield plants from strong winds in exposed garden areas.

Measure Moisture
Before setting the sprinkler, determine how much water your plants really need. You might be surprised how much moisture your beds retain, even when it hasn't rained for a week or more. Dig down into the top 12 inches of soil and make sure it's dry before you water. If you water with a sprinkler, put a bucket out to measure how much water is falling onto the ground.

Water Infrequently But Deeply
Roots grow where the moisture is. If you only water the top couple of inches of soil, that's where the roots will stay. If you water deeply, they'll extend their reach and be more able to withstand occasional dry spells. Be sure to leave the drip hose or sprinkler in place long enough that moisture reaches at least 6 inches into the soil. Take a shovel and dig down to check.

Put the water where it's needed. Plants take up water with their roots, so this is where the water should go. Build small dams around the base of your vegetable plants to act as catch basins, and direct the hose or watering can onto the ground, not over the top of your plants. Apply water slowly so it soaks into the soil rather than running off.

Consider Drip Irrigation
Use a drip system or soaker hoses to water vegetables and annuals. Overhead sprinklers waste a lot of water through evaporation and by scattering moisture to areas of the garden that may not need it, including weeds.

Weed Regularly
Reduce competition for water resources by keeping your garden well weeded. Cultivate the soil to break up compacted areas so water will absorb into the soil rather than run off.

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