I live - and garden in - one of the most parched regions of the country - northern California. Indeed, my region is classified as Exceptional Drought, one dusty, dry step past Extreme. I cannot remember the last time it rained. I really cannot.
Even surrounded by this lack of water, my garden continues to bloom - a lush, verdant green. This summer, I harvested pounds upon pounds of blackberries and pumpkins erupt across the chocolate brown soil. Hummingbirds battle over the California fuchsia and finches stop to sample cosmos gone to seed.
How do I justify my large edible and ornamental garden in the midst of such thirst? By adhering to the following steps, I've managed to cut my water use in half - all that while having my tomatoes and eating them too!
The chart from my latest water bill shows how I'm continuing to use less water.
1) Add organic material to the soil. It's always a good idea to add organic material to your soil - compost, leaves, pine needles, straw, newspaper, what not. Not only does improve the fertility of the soil but it also increases the soil's ability to retain water.
Straw mulch around the base of a drought tolerant hyssop.
2) Mulch. Piling straw around the base of a fruit tree or oak leaves scattered through a native plant bed will help keep water from evaporating and reduce the overall need to irrigate. Non-organic mulches are also available and equally effective.
3) Switch to drought tolerant ornamentals. While my garden's footprint has exploded over the last couple of years, I have mostly planted are drought-tolerant plants. Succulents in pots and native plants elsewhere. Even the few non-native (but pollinator friendly) plants I have added are low-water. Last fall, I converted an entire planting bed to California natives. Because those plants are newly planted, they require weekly watering - far less than the three times a week I watered that bed last year. Moreover, next year, I can skip to twice-monthly watering and the year after, as they become more established, monthly watering.
My new, native plant garden, comprised of butterfly larvae host plants, is mulched with oak leaves and watered once a week. A few non-native annuals that have made their way into this bed but I leave them if they can survive the low water allotment.
I used up the last of my rain barrel water in July.
5) Pay attention to how water moves through your garden and plant accordingly. For years, I struggled with new plantings. Why did the black elderberry thrive in this location but not that one when sun exposure was the same? I finally realized that one, planted in a bit of a gully, received run off from my neighbors' garden. The other was in a quick, draining mound and did not retain much of the water. I have learned to pay more attention to where water collects in the garden and where it dissipates. I now group plants with similar water needs together and consider whether a plant will reap the benefit of run off. If you like this concept, check out swales and other permaculture-based ideas for using water in your landscape.
6) Add perennials - both ornamentals and edibles. The water needs of perennials and annuals has become crystal clear this dry summer. While perennials - like blackberries, grapes and fig trees - flourished, our annual flowers and vegetables were often wilted, requiring more frequent mulching and irrigation. As a result, I plan to convert one annual flower bed to primarily perennials this fall and to add perennial edibles in the form of an asparagus bed, artichokes and sunchokes to the garden next spring.
7) Water long and deep. You can coax deep roots from your plants by watering them less frequently but for a longer period of time.
8) Minimize or stop watering the lawn. After years of cutting back water to the lawn or over-planting with clover and other drought tolerant options, I finally did it! I turned the lawn sprinklers off completely. How can I justify watering when our local streams are dry and my state burns with wildfires? Because my kids still play sports on the lawn, I am not ready to replace it completely with a native meadow or other low water use alternative. The brown lawn is not as soft when you fall as green grass but it is serviceable for soccer and football and keeps the water bill low. That said, I'm open to any lawn replacement ideas...
How do you save water in your garden? Have you felt the drought's impact where you live?
This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop, Backyard Farming Connection, Maple Hill Hop, Green Thumb Thursday and Tuesday Garden Party.