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Tread Lightly: How to save vital water in the garden

Allie Birley explains how to help preserve our most precious resource.

Put down mulch on your flower beds to reduce evaporation and keep your soil moist (58197571)
Put down mulch on your flower beds to reduce evaporation and keep your soil moist (58197571)

The recent ‘heatwave’ was less of a cheery hello from the sun and more of a cross glare about us stomping all over this planet and a warning about the worsening climate crisis.

Water is a valuable resource and vital to plant growth, but it’s limited and we cannot afford to waste it. Last month I shared some tips to consume and waste less water in your home - this month we head outdoors to look at ways to save water and save you money.

So how are your gardens and the green spaces around you looking? Flowers wilting? Grass like straw?

If your grass isn’t brown, because you are watering it, then stop. Grass is very resilient and will bounce back again as soon as it rains, particularly if you don’t keep it too short. Artificial grass is not the answer and the impact of it could fill another feature.

When I had an allotment, I was surprised about how many growers were up there at the warmest part of the day, hosing the leaves of their crops for half an hour to an hour – during which time, a hose or sprinkler system will use enough water to fill 12 baths.

We need to water wisely by:

  • Watering in the morning or evening, when the sun is not so fierce, otherwise most of it will just evaporate.
  • Ensuring that it’s the roots and surrounding soil, which is getting the water, rather than the leaves. Not only does this reduce the amount of water you need, but it also promotes stronger growth in your plants. I often ‘plant’ an upside-down squash bottle, or similar, alongside, so I can then fill this up several times and the water is going straight to where it’s most needed.
  • Mulch, mulch and mulch some more - it can reduce evaporation by up to 75%. You can use homemade compost, leaf mould, straw, bark or grass cuttings and well-rotted manure – I use alpaca poo because the plants, especially my rhubarb, seem to love it and it doesn’t need to be rotted down as much.
  • Use a watering can instead of a hose – it has the added benefit of increasing the number of steps you do each day. I have two, so that I leave one filling (slowly) whilst I am watering with the other.
  • Make sure your containers are sitting in a dish, or other receptacle, so that the water doesn’t just pour out of the bottom, plus it gives the plants the chance to draw it up.
Use a water butt to make good use of rainwater in your garden (58197573)
Use a water butt to make good use of rainwater in your garden (58197573)

We need to start safely storing as much water as possible and maximising how we use our water supply by:

  • Installing water butts. The average roof collects around 85,000 litres of rain each year, which is enough to fill a water butt 450 times. I have one from my house roof but am also going to put guttering along my new shed to connect to a second one. The added bonus is that rainwater is better for your plants – but it will need an annual clean.
  • Being prepared when rain is forecast, particularly after a long dry spell, by having as many containers as possible ready – trugs are ideal, so you can use the water collected to give everything a really good soaking.
  • Researching how to safely use ‘grey water.’ This is a great way to maximise your water usage. It can be collected from the kitchen, the shower or basin - as obviously none of you are having baths after last month’s feature. You don’t want to be using this water on your fruit and vegetables and it should not be stored. There is some handy advice about the safe collection, storage and use of water on the RHS website rhs.org.uk/garden-jobs/water-collecting-storing-and-using.

As always, you can also make a difference by spreading the word; encouraging friends, family and colleagues to make small changes. You can even campaign to ensure that MPs and water company executives know that this is an important issue and that it is essential for us all to tread a little lighter by consuming and wasting a lot less.

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