Lethbridge is situated in what is known as a semi -arid region, meaning we get little rainfall. And when we do it seems to be for a week straight and then nothing comes for a month. With that being said, our growing conditions are actually kind of harsh for certain varieties of plants (cough, kentucky bluegrass lawns, cough), requiring large amounts of water in order to survive our almost desert-like conditions. Having to continuously water plants that need moisture, also plays into a much larger concern of potential water shortages happening in the future. Make your garden water wise!
Plan before you plant: Know the ground you are planting in. Is it largely sand which won’t hold any water for your plants, or do you have a rich organic soil that will hold moisture for long periods. Are you going for vegetables, perennials, shrubs? Is your area full sun, partial shade, an even mix? Knowing your garden conditions and planning according to those will help you to make the right plant choices so as to reduce wasted water on a plant that isn’t going to survive in the conditions you have.
Direct & collect water: Create a water garden to help maximise water retention and filtering on your property. Consider using rock streams to direct the rainfall towards your garden and specific areas. Set up a rain barrel to collect free water for your gardens. Depending on the size of your garden you may need more than one barrel to create enough supply. Don’t have a spare barrel? Set up a few containers or buckets when it is raining to collect a small amount to use later, just make sure to cover it or it could become a mosquito breeding ground!
Experiment with xeriscape: Xeriscaping is the process of landscaping, or gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation. Use methods such as planting native species that are best suited for our growing region or try drought tolerant plant species to save on the amount of water you need. These types of plants are much better suited to our growing conditions and season, giving you more bang for your buck. To cut back on watering your lawn, try planting or leaving the white clover that grows with the grass. It is a very beneficial plant, fixing nitrogen in the soil, choking out other weeds or low maintenance. Clovers will stay green for long periods of time without browning like traditional lawns do.
Food garden for the win: Turn all that time and water you otherwise use maintaining your regular garden into a bountiful, food producing garden for your family. Oftentimes with flower or shrub gardens, we only grow them to look pretty, which in a way is a waste of water. Planting shrubs, flowers or even vegetables that will produce food for you is a much better use of water. You will still get all the colour from the blossoms as well as the vegetables or fruits themselves and you can have a delicious snack while working your garden.
Add organic matter: For most people soil is dirt and comes in a bag. However, take any soil science class and you will see very quickly how complex soil really is. If you are finding that your plants are drying out quite quickly and needing frequent watering, it would be best to check out your soil. Soils with a high sand content will let water run through it instead of retaining the moisture for your plants. Adding some organic matter in the form of compost, peat moss or even a little grass will increase the water retention in your soil. This will mean a healthier soil for both plants and the environment and less watering for you.
Drip drop to tip top: Oscillating sprinklers and rotary sprinklers often result in a lot of water loss, if you are trying to water a smaller area. Installing drip irrigation or a soaker hose will ensure maximum watering efficiency. It will also promote healthier growing as the water is applied directly to the roots, where the plants will absorb it immediately.
Good morning, good time to water: Watering early in the morning will reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. As the day heats up, the chances of losing water to evaporation increases meaning you essentially are losing water. The cooler temperatures in the morning will allow your plants to absorb as much water as possible before it can evaporate. Watering in the morning also gives your plants the energy and strength they need to get through the warmest parts of the day.
Living in a semi-arid region with little natural inputs to our water supply besides snowmelt and rainfall, it is important to conserve water where we can. Gardens are a great source of pride for many people, however they can use large amounts of water from our limited supply. Making a few small changes to your garden will allow it to continue to flourish while also saving our valuable water resources. Adapting your garden to accommodate more native species will make your garden more water wise and promote a more connected, healthy ecosystem. Take a quick Google search to see the numerous ways that people have created water wise gardens without sacrificing on the gorgeous garden part.