Outdoor Water Use in a Dry Year

It’s dry out there. Very dry. So how do we grow vegetables, and have beautiful flowers and lawns without wasting tonnes of water (and the energy it takes to pump and treat that water)?

  1. (Easy): Water early in the morning. If you water in the middle of a hot day, about half the water evaporates before it hits the ground! Even more if it’s windy out. If early morning doesn’t work for you, evening is also a good choice.
  2. (Easy): Don’t overwater. Your lawn really only wants 1” of water per week. Set a few dishes out around your lawn. Run your sprinkler and see how long it takes to get 1”. Helpful tip – a frizbee and a tuna can are each about 1” deep.
  3. (Easy): Leave your grass long. Set your mower about 3” above the ground. Long grass shades the root zone, reducing heating and evaporation. Also, long grass looks greener than short grass.
  4. (Easy): Use wood chips, grass clippings or dry leaves to cover the soil between plants. This holds in the moisture and helps keep weeds down.
  5. (Emotionally harder): Don’t water. If you let your lawn get really brown, yes it will die. But it can be a bit brown and be OK.
  6. (Emotionally easy, but a bit time consuming): Only water plants that need water. Instead of setting up a sprinkler to do your whole yard, use the hose to give a drink only to the plants that need it. And only the plants, not the dirt between them.
  7. (Planning ahead for other years): Instead of thirsty plants that need lots of water, choose plants that are suited to our climate. Xeriscape part or all of your yard. Sara Williams has a great book on this: Creating the Prairie Xeriscape. Xeriscaping won’t help you this year, because the plants need to be watered initially, until they are established.
  8. (A bit time consuming, but easy if it would rain a little): Use rain barrels to capture the rain we do get, and feed it to those thirsty plants. But we need rain to fill those barrels.
  9. (Takes a little more commitment): Capture water you are wasting indoors and take it out to your plants. We have a bucket in the bathroom and one in the kitchen. When we run the tap waiting for hot water, we run it into these buckets. We aren’t (yet) catching water from showers, washing vegetables or dishwashing. Our family of 3 is capturing about 18 litres a day, which is enough to water 5m2/week.
  10. (I’ve never understood this anyway): Don’t wash your sidewalk. What are you washing off? Could you sweep it instead? Unless all the water you are using for washing will run off into plants that need the water, washing your sidewalk is a big waste of water.

What is happening in my yard this summer? About ½ of my front yard is a Xeriscaped garden, and I haven’t watered it for 10 years. However, a few plants in it are starting to look sad, so I have started spot watering certain plants. The day lilies, hostas, bergenia, and anemone still look great. (Well, OK, the hostas are small this summer, but healthy looking). My sedums need a drink. The campanula look good, but there are fewer than usual.

I have a pretty big vegetable garden for a small, shady yard. Since it grows food, I’m watering it. I used the water from the rain barrels when I could – two full barrels watered 2/3 of the garden. However, they are dry now, so I’m using the sprinkler.

The grass is getting brownish. I plan to water it a bit. Maybe an inch every two weeks; maybe less. I plan to water it just enough to keep it from turning totally brown.

Angie 220 photo

Angie Bugg manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church. You can contact her at angieb@environmentalsociety.ca

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)


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