With seasonal rains ending, grass and gardens need water. But how much? Too much water is costly and can cause fungal problems. Too little water stresses lawns and plants, making them more susceptible to diseases, weeds and insect pests. Finding that watering sweet spot helps your yard thrive, reducing problems that might lead to the use of pesticides. And of course, saving water also saves time and money.
Try these techniques for efficient watering.
First, fluff up the soil
Fluffy soil tends to be healthy soil. It soaks up water and transmits nutrients to your plants. Fluff soil before you plant with a digging fork and compost. Once plants are in, top the soil with mulch. Weston Miller, community and urban horticulturist at Oregon State University Extension Service, recommends a 3- to 4 inch-thick layer of mulch around plants, keeping about 6 inches of clearance around stems.
Then, water low and slow
If you direct water only where plants need it, you’ll use less, and have fewer weed and pest problems too.
When planting a new addition to the garden, Weston says, “You want to have wet roots going into wet soil—especially vital this time of year.” While the plant is still in its pot, soak the whole thing in a larger container of water. Then transplant the plant into a well-watered hole.
For established plants, an easy way to provide steady watering is to punch holes in the bottom of a milk or juice jug, fill it with water, screw on the cap and place the jug next to a plant. Fill it when it empties.
Or go for a little more infrastructure. A sprinkler is fine for the lawn but overhead watering of flower and vegetable gardens causes two problems: it encourages weed seeds in the soil to sprout and it can create ideal conditions for fungal diseases. Instead, use soaker hoses in your garden or shrub beds; for your veggie beds, try T-tape, a thin-walled drip line sold in flat rolls. For a larger vegetable garden, Weston says, “It’s the cheapest form of irrigation and very efficient: water flows directly to roots.”
Water early or late, and time it
Water when the sun is low, to minimize evaporation and avoid daytime winds that make water drift from targets.
Time your watering, too. Use an old-fashioned egg timer or a smart phone version. If you aren’t sure how long to water, find your weekly watering number (tailored by zip code), through the Regional Water Providers Consortium, a partnership of 21 water providers and Metro.
Or get a bit more garden-specific with a hose-bib attachable timer or controller, recommended by Kevin McCaleb, water conservation specialist at the City of Lake Oswego. Options start at about $15 and include a simple, wind-up timer that you reset with each use, or a battery-operated timer you can program to turn the water on and off.
Lastly, watch the forecast! If it’s going to rain, turn off the spigots!
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