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Tips for garden water conservation

Have a plan in place to maintain your garden while preserving water

When it's hot and dry, your gardens need constant watering. There are efficient ways to give your plants the moisture they need and still conserve water.

Most gardeners try to conserve water by using soaker hoses, sprinklers, and timed watering intervals. The best method is a slow and steady rain, but it doesn't always rain as often as we like in mid-summer, so Horticulture Agent Dennis Patton at Kansas State University says the best way to conserve moisture is to put down a layer of mulch.

"What a mulch layer does is cover up the soil so it keeps the sun rays from drying out the soil from evaporation, and it just holds that moisture into the soil, and it also keeps the soil cooler for the roots to grow," Patton says. "A properly applied mulch for a flower and vegetable garden should be somewhere about three-inches thick."

The ideal time to water is early in the morning. Temperatures are cooler, and there's usually less wind, which reduces evaporation. It also gives plants the chance to quickly dry off. Leaves that stay wet all night are more susceptible to disease. One way to get around wind issues is to keep the water on the ground by using flood-type irrigation or soaker hoses.

"You can put those right at the base of the plants, under the mulch, so all your water is efficiently used," says Patton. "And then the rules as far as air temperature, wind speed, watering night versus day, is all thrown out the window because the water's going directly on the soil. Not into the air, not onto the leaves, and it benefits the plant."

In general, plants need about an-inch of water per-week. It's best delivered with deep, infrequent applications. If you water lightly every day, it will evaporate before it gets down to the plants' roots. Patton says another efficient way to save on water is to group your plants by their moisture needs. Then you'll avoid running the sprinkler over the entire area.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service offers more tips for water conservation. And the University of California provides this handy water conservation checklist.

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