“Thousands have lived without love, not without water.”
— W.H. Auden
Indeed, nothing can live without water: not plants, not insects, not animals and not human beings.
We are hearing some dire warnings about water shortages this year. Maybe some of you have adjusted to prepare for drought already. If you haven’t, we are here to help.
First off, don’t think of it as “this year.” We do live in a desert, but a very fertile one with irrigation. Where else can we grow everything from apples and hops to zinnias and zucchini? But will any of these things grow without water?
Many commercial growers are installing drip irrigation, which could be a real water saver for you, too. Drip brings water directly to where you want it and doesn’t waste it where it is not needed. Drip irrigation also allows you to add or subtract just the right amount of water and set how many hours/days you want to apply it. Drip irrigation is very easy to install and not so expensive, either. But if you need help, there are businesses that sell all you need and will install it for you.
Look for leaks in your current system, which could be wasting water you need in other locations. Check the washers on the end of hoses. Weather can be hard on them, and after time they split. Installing those tiny washers is very cheap and could save you a lot of water.
Don’t discount the tiniest bit of water that you might otherwise be pouring down the drain. Even small amounts could be put into a watering can and used for containers and houseplants. When you leave the table, pour all those half-full water glasses into the watering can. Add the water you drained from the veggies. If you rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, save the water. Over a day’s time, this adds up and you are ready to water your pots on the deck.
Consider your landscape plants. Choose those that can withstand some drought instead of planting thirsty varieties better suited to wetter climates. Plant labels tell a story about what their needs are, so read before you buy. One clue is to include plants that have gray or whitish leaves, or succulents that have thick leaves. These will do better in drought conditions. Always consider native plants because they have already proven themselves in the wild.
When you are ready to plant, do so densely to shade the soil. That also discourages weeds, which also are water thieves.
Don’t forget the magic of mulch — lay down at least 2 to 3 inches of mulch to help retain the moisture you apply; it will suppress the growth of weeds as well. The Master Gardener Demonstration Garden has a long xeric berm to show you plants that take little water. Visit it at the Ahtanum Youth Park.
We often discuss the benefits of removing some or all of your lawn. Green lawns require a lot of work and chemicals to look lovely. Lawns are real water thieves, and this might be the year to make a change. Is it time to make the deck or patio bigger, to install a basketball court or think about bark or gravel to take the place of some of the lawn?
When you water can be important, too. Watering in the late evening can be helpful because the water will not evaporate like it would in the hot sun, but you must be careful to only water at soil level. Wet leaves can invite problems such as mildew and other diseases. Your drip system will work great for this, but if you water by hand you might find yourself bending down with a hose to get the water in just the right spot.
Lastly, starting a water-saving plan can become a money-saving plan as well if you are in a city with metered water. Often, summer bills can go very high. Use irrigation water when and where you can.