Water is a precious resource and needs to be conserved, both inside and outside your home. Water conservation is even more critical in regions where bans or restrictions on water use are imposed. However, that doesn’t mean your vegetables and plants have to run dry; it simply means switching towards more water-wise gardening.
Saving water while gardening isn’t just good for your finances but also for the environment. Efficiently watering your plants to minimize wastage is also great for your plants’ healthy growth. Continue reading, and you’ll learn some hands-on tips on how to save water in your vegetable garden while ensuring a bountiful harvest at the same time.
Ways In Which Water Is Lost
We can save water in two different ways:
- Conserving the moisture that’s already present in the soil
- Applying additional water efficiently and carefully
However, to better understand how to conserve available moisture and apply more with care, you’ll need to think about the ways in which water from the soil is lost. Knowing how water escapes from the ground can help you figure out the right strategies to use this important resource efficiently.
Soil loses water in mainly four ways:
- Surface evaporation
- Transpiration of the plants
- Surface runoff
- Groundwater recharge (where rainwater or irrigation water moves downward from the soil surface to deeper layers of the water table)
17 Tips On How To Save Water In Your Vegetable Garden
Now you know how the soil loses water that the plants could have otherwise used for photosynthesis. Using the same knowledge, let’s come up with ways to minimize the loss and conserve water.
Here are some practical tips on saving water in your vegetable garden:
1. Organic Soil
Organic matter in the soil helps retain moisture for longer. Amend the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting your crops. It absorbs waters several times greater than its weight, making sure all that water is available for plant growth instead of being wasted away in surface runoff and groundwater discharge. Other than holding moisture in and allowing you to water less frequently, organic soil is also rich in nutrients and overall soil health. This includes compost which you can make from home using kitchen scraps.
2. Mulch To Reduce Surface Evaporation
Mulching the soil doesn’t just help in keeping the weeds down. It also helps keep the moisture in by reducing surface evaporation. Organic mulches keep the soil cooler during the hottest months and help lower the fluctuation in soil moisture levels.
Spread a thick, 3 to 4 inches layer of organic mulch over moist soil to keep your garden from drying out. Composted manure, compost, grass clippings, straw, shredded leaves, or any other organic material is a good choice for covering your soil. With mulching, you’ll observe that you need to water your garden less often than before.
3. Water In The Morning Or Evening
The aim is to water during the cooler parts of the day when evaporation is low. Early morning is the best time to water your vegetable garden since the sun isn’t too bright at this time, and the soil has a better chance to absorb the water deeper into its layers rather than losing it to the atmosphere. It also gives the plants sufficient moisture to lower the chances of stress during the afternoon sun, especially during peak summers.
During the summers, most vegetable crops will need a second drink during the day. Offer the first drink early morning and another one later in the evening when the temperatures are cooler so the water can soak deep into the roots instead of evaporating to the surroundings.
4. Water The Roots, Not The Foliage
Watering the foliage doesn’t just mean you’re wasting water; it also means that you’re exposing your vegetables to several diseases. Though all the green parts of the plants use water to photosynthesize, water is only absorbed by the roots, not the leaves or the stems. When using the hose or the watering can, point the spray of water towards the base of the plants to reach the roots easily, taking care not to waste any water on the foliage.
5. Know Your Plants’ Requirements And Water Just Enough
Your plants shouldn’t be overwatered. Other than wasting a precious resource, you’re also damaging your plants. Different vegetables have different watering requirements. Read the seed packet carefully to understand their weekly/daily watering needs so you can only offer what’s necessary. As a general rule for most crops, you can stick a finger in the soil to check if it’s moist 1 to 2 inches below the surface. If the finger comes out dry, it’s time to water the crops.
6. Plant Crops With Similar Watering Needs Together
Planting thirsty crops like tomatoes, corn, and melons nearby can help you water them efficiently, with little wastage. Plan your vegetable garden such that you plant the crops with the highest watering needs at one end, those with low watering requirements at the other end, and the rest of them arranged in the center.
7. Keep The Weeds Out
Weeds compete with vegetable plants for water and nutrients, meaning you’ll have to offer more to fulfill the plants’ requirements. If you’ve mulched the soil, weeds are less likely to appear in your garden. Even so, if any do find their way in the garden, pinch them out, so they don’t take up the plants’ water.
8. Waffle Garden
An intelligent way to prevent irrigation water from running off is to build a waffle garden. It’s simply rows of square cells separated from each other by earth berms. This creates a reservoir around your vegetable plants to hold the water until the soil gradually soaks it. This technique prevents wastage by surface runoff, making sure all the water is utilized by the plants.
9. Consider Pot Material
If you’re growing vegetables in raised beds or containers, consider the material. Different materials offer different levels of water retention. Metal, for instance, heats up fast, causing faster evaporation from the soil. If you want to save water in your garden, metal pots and galvanized raised beds aren’t a good choice.
Unglazed terracotta pots also lose moisture faster than other materials because of their porous surface. With these pots, you’ll find yourself watering more often than what’s typically required. Instead, choose glazed clay pots or plastic pots since they prevent water loss through the sides. On the downside, such pots may be a problem for gardeners who tend to overwater.
10. Moisture Meter
Take the guesswork out of the way by using this inexpensive tool to know precisely the level of moisture your vegetables need. It’s easy to use and tells you if your plants need watering within seconds. Just push the probe into the soil and take the reading on the meter. If it’s between 0 to 30%, the soil is dry and needs to be watered. If it’s between 40 to 70%, the soil moisture is just right, so don’t water it yet. Moisture level above 80% indicates the soil is wet and the plants are being overwatered.
11. Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation is one of the most efficient ways to water crops while ensuring minimum wastage. According to a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, drip irrigation can reduce water consumption by a farm by as much as 60% while increasing yield by 90% compared to traditional irrigation techniques. Overhead irrigation wastes more water to stems and leaves and allows faster evaporation. In contrast, drip irrigation offers a steady drip of water right next to the plant’s base so that it’s quickly absorbed by the roots – just where it’s needed.
12. Olla Irrigation
Used for over 4000 years, olla is a traditional irrigation technique most popular in the arid regions of the world. The traditional design of an olla is a rounded terracotta vessel with a narrow neck. They’re buried under the ground, with just the neck exposed. When installed between vegetable crops and filled with water, ollas will slowly release moisture into the surrounding soil giving water directly to the roots. No water is wasted to evaporation or runoff.
Though ollas can be very expensive, you can build your own using cheap terracotta flower pots. Use pairs of equally-sized flower pots to create your own DIY ollas.
- Seal the drainage hole of one of the pots with silicone.
- Place the other pot upside down over the first one and seal their rims together using some waterproof glue.
- Let the arrangement dry for several hours.
- Test the seal by filling the olla using a hose. If there’s no leakage, your olla is ready to use.
- Repeat the steps to make as many ollas as you want!
Bury your DIY ollas into the ground, among your vegetables, leaving 1” to 2” exposed above the soil. Fill them with water and cover the hole with a stone. Periodically, you’ll need to refill the ollas to maintain a consistent supply of moisture to the roots. These ollas are especially helpful in conserving water and ensuring your plants don’t go thirsty during the hot summers.
13. Plastic Bottle Irrigation
You may not have ollas, but literally, every household has an endless supply of plastic bottles. Here’s a good way to recycle it and save water in the process – double the favor for the environment! Just take a plastic bottle and poke 5 to 7 small holes in the lower half of the bottle and plant it between your vegetable plants. Repeat with multiple bottles, planting them at intervals between your vegetable crops. Fill the bottle with water and screw on the caps. This smart technique makes sure that moisture is slowly released a few inches below the soil and nothing is wasted.
14. Reuse Water
You continuously use water in the home. Think of ways you can reuse all that water to irrigate your crops. The water that you use to boil vegetables can be cooled and used in the garden. Fish tanks or shower water can also be used to water vegetables. Some gardeners also use dishwashing water from the kitchen sink to water crops. Ordinary dish soap, free from boron or bleach, is OK for the plants.
15. Save Rainwater
All that downpour can be used to water plants days after the rainfall. Don’t let it go to waste. You can attach a water butt to the house’s downspout system and use the collected rainwater to water crops. In fact, rainwater is the best source of water for your plants. I use one or more IBC tanks, they hold 1000 liters and you can buy them used from farmers and auction websites. You can buy standard tap fittings and fill them from the guttering in shed roofs and outbuildings.
16. Plant in Blocks
Instead of the traditional row planting, start planting in blocks. A square foot garden is a good example of the technique. When planted in rows, the soil on the sides is exposed to the sun’s heat and loses water very quickly. Instead, when you plant crops in blocks, foliage shades the soil and reduces water loss through evaporation. This is especially helpful in regions where summer temperatures are typically very high.
17. Avoid Overwatering
This may seem obvious, but overwatering often wastes a lot of water without you realizing it. Water just enough to moisten the soil and no more than that. Overwatering prevents the plants from forming a strong and deep root system, making them more dependent on frequent watering. Other than wasting water, it also raises your water bills, leaches nutrients out of the soil, and encourages root rot.
So you’ve learned several tips on how to save water in your vegetable garden. Employ as many of these as you can in your watering routine and you’ll be surprised on how much you can save on your water bills. Not to mention, the environment will be thanking you for the huge favor!