Did you know there are hundreds of gallons of usable water going to waste in your home every day? With a little know-how, you can save much of this wasted water and use it for your garden. Many of these water-wise gardening strategies serve more than one purpose, reducing water usage, improving garden soil, protecting plants, and saving money on your utility bill, too. Here are the best ways to repurpose water that would otherwise go to waste and water your thirsty plants.
An estimated 78.5 percent of the water that enters a home goes down the drain. For the average urban home, this equates to over 30 thousand gallons a year. Each time we flush a toilet, wash our dishes, or take a shower, the bulk of the water used is sent down the drain and treated as wastewater. One sustainable homesteader estimated she could keep an extra 25 fruit trees well-watered through the summer months with water which had just been going into her septic tank.
A lot of the water that comes from the bathroom, laundry, and kitchen can be recycled around the home. Wastewater from these sources could be recycled for use in flushing toilets or watering the garden. Rather than letting this water go down the drain, you can reroute it and use it on your landscaping. Use bio-compatible soaps and check local ordinances for rules on the storage, purification, and drainage of gray water.
Water from your air conditioner
Whether you have a whole-house air conditioning system or just a window unit, it drains water that you can collect for use. As an air conditioner runs, it pulls moisture from the air, which is drained outside the home, usually through a condensation pipe that directs the water away from the house. The water slowly drips from the pipe, and though it doesn’t seem like much water, the constant dripping adds up. This water can be caught in a bucket placed below the drip outlet.
Condensate water is essentially distilled water that is safe for plants, though it may be corrosive to metals. It may contain heavy metals from the air conditioner coils with which it comes in contact, so don’t use it on edible plants if you are concerned about ingesting these metals that may be taken up into plant tissues. To be on the safe side, use the run-off water for ornamental plants only.
There’s a reason a garden appears more refreshed after a rain shower, rather than a douse of town supply. Rainwater contains nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is absorbed by plants through the soil. Studies have shown that rain-watered plants will be greener and have higher rates of growth than those given tap water, which often includes chemicals such as fluoride and chlorine.
Using rain barrels to capture the rain that runs through your home’s downspouts can save 1,300 gallons of water throughout the summer. While there are many store-bought models and kits available, you can build one yourself and use the water for your garden, lawn, and even watering your backyard chickens.
How to reduce water use in your garden
Although you can collect water, you can also design a garden that uses less water in the first place. We all have a role to play in preserving our natural resources, and a water-wise garden is one of the ways to do that regardless of the amount of rainfall in your area.
Understanding how water is lost from the landscape helps us plan strategies that make the most of this precious resource. Here are some ways to create a garden that naturally preserves water.
In areas of the garden that don’t have nearby trees or other sources of natural shade, you can provide some help. Using layers of garden tulle or shade cloth, shade the soil while still allowing enough sunlight to produce tasty veggies. Draped all the way to the ground, a shade cloth also reduces temperatures and protects plants from pests. Keep in mind that bees cannot get to vegetable flowers that are draped to the ground, so you will have to roll back the covers in the mornings when bees are active.
Shading the soil surface with a thick mulch made of compost, leaf mold, grass clippings, straw, etc – will slow down evaporation so your plants will need less water. This will also help incorporate lots of organic matter to improve soil structure and its water-holding capacity over time.
Water from below
Wicking beds are a unique way to grow vegetables that waters them from the bottom up. Unlike traditional gardens that require good drainage, wicking beds are self-contained, highly productive garden beds with water reservoirs that supply moisture to plant roots from the bottom up – transforming not only how you water your garden and how often, but also how much water you need to use to keep your veggies happy.
Protect plants from wind
Wind can ruthlessly strip fleshy-leaved plants of their moisture, turning them floppy in a matter of minutes. Windbreaks are the solution to overcoming drying winds and can be permanent (such as hedges) or temporary (like netting). Micro-sized relief from wind can be offered for delicate seedlings too. Plant into shallow depressions, build up miniature berms to the windward side, or stab tiny windbreaks of densely-packed fronds, stalks, or pea sticks into the ground.
Group plants together
Pots and containers can be grouped together to save water. Transpiration from leaves creates a humid microclimate around grouped pots and containers, and massing a few together will help reduce water loss. Standing pots in the shade or placing them in saucers of gravel can help plants survive if the weather is hot. This way, any water that does run through the compost is captured in the saucer and released into the air, creating humidity. Localized higher humidity reduces water loss from leaves.
With a combination of water-collecting and water-saving measures, you’ll be able to enjoy a vibrant, green garden all year round with less cost, while doing your part to save the planet.