We use water for almost everything. Water is such an integral part of our day that it is easy to overlook how much water we actually use. Simple adjustments in our habits can have a huge effect on our water bill & the environment. Here are some tips for easy at-home water conservation.
Conserving water is important to help keep your water bill low, especially when the gardening season rolls around. However, conserving water is equally important to the environment. When you let the faucet run or water plants that don’t need it, the energy that goes into cleaning and heating water increases greatly. The less water we use, the more that can stay in our natural water sources, and the more money you can keep in your pockets!
An easy way to save water is to capture and utilize rain water. This can be done by positioning a rain barrel underneath a gutter spout to easily collect rainwater that runs off a roof. Rain barrels are an investment, but they can be relatively cheap. A simple google search revealed several options for $75 or less at places like Wal-Mart or Target. A rain barrel will eventually pay for itself since you can use this rainwater to water your gardens which will save you money on your water bill. These rain barrels have a spout at the bottom that allows you to easily fill a watering can or attach a hose to efficiently use the rainwater.
If you use a sprinkler to water your gardens, you might want to consider switching to a drip hose. While easy to use, sprinklers are very inefficient in actually watering the plants. Most of the water that leaves a sprinkler does not actually get to the plants that need it and instead waters areas of unplanted soil. By using a more efficient drip hose, you can reduce water consumption when it comes to gardening. Drip hoses have an additional benefit of preventing water from sitting on the leaves of plants which can sometimes cause foliar diseases. Drip hoses can be as cheap as $40 depending on length and quality of material. However, an even cheaper option would be using a watering can and individually watering each plant. This is more time consuming, but it has the potential to be even more efficient since you can water on a plant by plant basis. However, it is not always practical or time efficient to water in this way.
A plant’s efficient water uptake starts with the soil. Amending the soil with organic material actually strengths the structure of the soil, giving it a better water holding capacity. This allows the plant to more efficiently use water. Applying a layer of mulch to planting beds and around trees can also help keep moisture in the soil from evaporating as quickly. This gives the plant more time to utilize the water and cuts down on how often you need to water. When applying mulch to trees or large shrubs, make sure that you leave space between the trunk and the mulch pile as shown in the diagram to the right. If the mulch is right up against the trunk, it creates ideal conditions for disease.
Implementation of rain gardens can also help plants better utilize rainwater so you don’t have to supplement them with extra waterings. Rain gardens are a very cool tool for water conservation that are as beautiful as they are functional. You might remember reading about these in a previous blog post. If not, click here to learn more about rain gardens from our previous blog post. Rain gardens are relatively simple to install and are generally very low maintenance due to the nature of the plants.
As you may have read in the rain garden blog post, native plants are better adapted to the soil of a specific area and in turn can use water more efficiently. It is a good idea in general to plant native plants and also drought tolerant plants whenever possible. These species of plants often require less water than other plants, helping you cut back on water usage. A few examples of native plants that are also drought tolerant are: Agastache, Baptisia, Diervilla (pictured to the left), Echinacea, Panicum, Physocarpus, and Quercus. Another way to help cut back on water is to organize plants in your yard by how much water they need. This allows you to water water-loving plants without watering plants that do not need as much water. This may seem like a daunting task, but most plant tags have a section on the back called ‘water usage’ (pictured to the right) that explicitly states how much a water a plant prefers. This makes it a lot easier to group plants in your landscape when you buy them and when you plant them.
This tip is simple: don’t over water your plants. As simple as this sounds, most people are actually over watering their plants in fear of underwatering them. It is the #1 cause of house plant deaths. I borderline neglect my houses plants, and yet I have an orchid that has been blooming for almost 6 straight months. A good way to avoid overwatering is to get into the habit of checking the soil before you water. Even if the top layer of soil is dry, the soil underneath might still be holding water. If you check the soil in your garden about 12” deep with a shovel, this will be a good indication of whether or not the plants actually need water. Or, for a houseplant, simply stick your finger into the soil to see if there is any moisture below the surface. Watering plants at the right time can also play a part in whether or not the plants are able to utilize the water. If you water your plants in the middle of summer at noon in the heat of the day, you might as well just leave your hose running on your driveway for a few hours. Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad, but a large majority of the water will evaporate before the plants ever get a chance to use it. You are much better off watering your plants in the evening when it is cool and you won’t lose as much water to evaporation.
We use a lot of water every day. So why not reuse some of our gently used household water? Used water from things like baths, dishes, and general use is called ‘grey water.’ While it might seem strange or impractical to haul your bath water out to your garden, there are simple ways to implement this practice of reusing grey water. When I am doing dishes, instead of dumping all the half-filled abandoned water cups before I load them into the dishwasher, I use them to water my neglected houseplants. I feel better about not wasting water, and it actually helps me remember to water my plants! In case you were wondering, a dishwasher is actually more water efficient than hand washing your dishes because when you hand wash your dishes you generally leave the water running the whole time. If you really want to go for it, you could keep a tub under your sink (pictured to the left) and catch water as you wash vegetables, dishes, or your hands. You might be surprised how much water you are sending down your drain each day. Everyday soaps will have no effect on plants in your garden, but you will want to avoid watering them with grey water that has bleach and other harsher chemicals in it.
Water might not necessarily be expensive, but in the heat of the summer, your water bill can really start to add up. Simply being more aware of how much water you are using can make a difference. If you were to implement any number of these at-home water conservation practices, your plants and your wallet will thank you!
Berman, Nigel. “Six Ways to Save Water in Your Garden.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Aug. 2014, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/aug/22/six-ways-to-save-water-in-your-garden.
“How to Read a Plant Tag.” Better Homes & Gardens, 9 June 2015, www.bhg.com/gardening/houseplants/care/how-to-read-a-plant-tag/.
“Mulching, Correct on Left Incorrect on Right .” Morton Arboretum, www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-and-plant-advice/horticulture-care/mulching-trees-and-shrubs.
“Saving Water Helps Protect Our Nation's Water Supplies.” ENERGY STAR, www.energystar.gov/products/saving_water_helps_protect_our_nations_water_supplies.