Watering your lawn and garden seems like it should be a simple task. But when downpours or droughts wreak havoc with your watering schedule, you need to be smart about water conservation while still feeding your lawn and garden.
In recent years, Lancaster County has seen extended droughts. Sometimes municipalities have imposed watering restrictions, which can be frustrating when you need to water a new lawn or just keep your current one thriving. One way to beat the heat is to renovate your garden to make it more water efficient. If you live in an area that sees drought conditions or if you just want
to save water, we’ve got several techniques and suggestions for you.
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In this guide:
- Renovating your garden
- Installing a drip irrigation system
- Using a rain barrel
Renovating Your Garden
First, if you notice that you have to water about twice as much as necessary in order to get your soil to absorb into the roots of your plants and lawn, that means your soil isn’t retaining water very well. You can fix it by adding lots of compost to your soil. This not only prevents water from escaping, but encourages the plants’ roots to be healthy and able to survive more.
Second, group together plants with similar watering needs. (You may need to dig up, move and replant some of your plants.) Group all the plants that don’t require much water in one area of your garden. Next to those plants, group together plants that require slightly more water, and so on, until the final group is the one that requires the most watering.\
As a result of your new arrangement, you won’t waste water on plants that prefer dryer soil.
If your garden still seems to need more water than you can supply, you might consider replacing your plants with drought-tolerant plants. For instance, Heavenly Bamboo is a shrub that is not only tolerant of droughts, but looks decorative in every season in Lancaster County, thanks to its evergreen leaves and red berries. You can also grow drought-tolerant herbs, such as rosemary, which will grow well and give you fresh ingredients for recipes.
If you’re trying to find flowers that will still be lush and beautiful despite the lower amounts of water, look for penstemon varieties like Garnet, Apple Blossom, Moonbeam and Midnight. You can attract hummingbirds and butterflies with varieties like Cosmos and Yarrow.
Lavender is another drought-resistant plant. A large group of lavender plants looks gorgeous when they’re in bloom, with a swath of beautiful, purple blooms. Lavender hardly requires any water to flourish.
Pineapple sage is another wonderfully drought-resistant plant. This shrub grows over two-feet tall and actually smells like pineapple. It also attracts hummingbirds, and the leaves are useful to add taste to drinks.
The beauty of these drought-tolerant plants is that, although they’re rugged, they still look delicate and elegant.
Installing a Drip Irrigation System
Watering with a sprinkler, a hose or a good old-fashioned might be convenient, but most of the time you’ll end up wasting water on plants that don’t need as much water or hard surfaces, like sidewalks or driveways.
Installing a drip irrigation system is terrific way to reduce the amount of water you need for your garden beds. Drip irrigation systems use connected hoses that have small holes or perforations in them that allow a small amount of water to drip at a constant rate. Every single drop is absorbed because of the slow release of water and because you target exactly the plants that need watering.
There are two varieties of drip irrigation systems: above-ground and below-ground. The above-ground version drips small amounts of water continuously onto the ground, and allows it to soak in. Pressure regulators make sure that the water drips, rather than sprays. Pressure regulators are very inexpensive and an entire drip system can be set quickly.
Underground drip irrigation systems are only slightly more complicated to install. The below-ground system allows the water direct access to the roots for the most watering efficiency. Connect the hoses the same way you would for the above-ground system. Then, dig a small trench for the drip hose or pipe prior to any planting. Lay the hoses or pipes in, install plants, then cover with soil, compost and mulch.
To choose between the two systems, you need to take several things into account. Do you have the same plant layout year round? If it’s always changing, you probably won’t want to bury your hose. You will have difficulty digging up hoses and re-aligning them every time you change your garden design.
Even if your plant layout never changes, you need to consider how much you will mind seeing hoses snaking through your garden. If above-ground hoses ruin your aesthetic, you might be willing to do a little more work to install a below-ground drip irrigation system. Otherwise, use the above-ground system; it’s much easier to re-arrange in a short amount of time.
Most gardening stores and nurseries carry everything you need to install a drip irrigation system. These systems are an easy, inexpensive and efficient watering method that will conserve water.
Using Rain Barrels
One of the best ways to keep your garden alive during a drought is to take preventative measures. If the Farmer’s Almanac calls for drought conditions in your area, plan ahead and set up several rain barrels. Rain barrels can save you gallons of water and requires very little work to set up.
First, you need to find rain barrels, which aren’t always readily available. Rain Barrels of PA sells rain barrels made from recycled material, or contact the Lancaster County Conservancy to obtain a rain barrel.
You can also DIY rain barrels by using 55-gallon plastic drums or garbage cans. Cover the top of the barrel with a screen to filter out any unwanted leaves or debris that might fall in. Learn more about making your own rain barrel at Better Homes & Gardens.
Next, decide where to place your rain barrels. Look for a corner or area of your house where rain pours off during a storm. Place the barrel where the stream would land. This is a simple method of arranging rain barrels, but it might not be the most effective.
To save water more effectively, you should consider tweaking your gutter system. By removing a section of the downspout at the corner of your house, and angling it slightly, the water will be diverted to into the rain barrel. Put rain barrels at as many corners and downspouts as you wish. Now, your entire house acts as a trench that leads water to your rain barrels. By re-routing your gutters and downspouts, you will maximize the amount of water your rain barrels will catch.
After a heavy rainfall, each individual barrel may only have a few inches of rain. You can always dump all the water into one barrel or consider reducing the number of rain barrels altogether.
If you have a full rain barrel, but you don’t need to use its water yet, seal it and save it for when you do. Just replace the full barrel with an empty one to catch rain during the next storm.
Using rain barrels is a time-honored way of conserving water and using it wisely. You’ll be grateful to easily water your lawn or garden from your rain barrels during the next drought.
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