Did you know there is as much water in the world today as there was millions of years ago? Actually, it is the very same water recycled through the hydrologic cycle. The water you drink or use in your garden today may contain the same molecules our ancestors or even the DINOSAURS once drank. Then why is water conservation so important? Even though there is an abundance of water, clean water is a very precious commodity and in some regions of the world a scarce resource.
There are numerous methods and strategies you can teach your children when it comes to the topic of water conservation. Taking steps to help your children understand the benefits of water conservation will help you conserve, retain and recycle water.
Here are several easy steps to reduce your water use at home. You may wish to discuss some of these steps with your children. Better yet, implement some of these conservation strategies and rainwater harvesting techniques in your garden this year!
1. Cluster your moisture-loving plants. If you choose to grow plants that require lots of moisture, place them together in one landscape bed to save time and money by watering just one area of your landscape rather than multiple areas.
2. Install a Rain Barrel. To install a rain barrel, choose a downspout adjacent to a garden where you intend to recycle the water. Make sure the barrel can be placed on a level surface. To help with leveling, place a three inch layer of crushed gravel or stone dust below the barrel location.
3. Add mulch. Mulch helps in many ways to conserve water. First, as a buffer, it helps balance soil temperatures. Second, mulch serves as a blanket of protection for the soil which greatly reduces water loss by evaporation. Third, it suppresses weed growth which reduces the competition your plants have to obtain moisture. Finally, mulch helps control water runoff by improving infiltration. This helps keep the water where it's intended – your landscape plantings.
4. Add organic matter. Adding organic matter (i.e., peat moss, manure, composted leaves, grass clippings, kitchen and vegetable scraps) to the soil helps improve soil structure and enhances its water-retaining capabilities.
5. Add soil polymers. Soil polymers are a small “jelly-like” spongy substances, also called “water crystals,” which retain and slowly release moisture to the soil. Soil polymers effectively help your plant bed retain moisture for long periods of time.
6. Planting drought tolerant varieties. One of the best steps for conserving water in your garden is to choose species and plant varieties that can handle a drier environment. Many native varieties fit this category. If in doubt, contact your local Extension office for a list of drought tolerant varieties for your region.
7. Adding a rain garden. A rain garden reduces stormwater runoff by creating an area where the water can soak into the soil and recharge the groundwater supply. Instead of letting the rainwater wash into a storm drain or continue to runoff along the surface where an erosion problem can occur, a rain garden provides a shallow and vegetated space where stormwater is purposely directed, collected, and filtered naturally with plants and soil.
8. Aerate your lawn. Aerating your lawn in early spring and in the fall will help increase water absorption and retention.
9. Don’t over water your lawn! Water your lawn only when necessary. In general, lawns only need about one inch of water per week. You can check to see if your lawn needs water by stepping on it. If grass blades quickly spring back up you don’t need to water. If they remain flat then it's time to water the lawn.
10. Water early. The best time of day to water is between the hours of four and six in the morning. Water evaporates more quickly in the middle of the day under direct sunlight, limiting the amount that goes to your plantings.
11. Adjust mowing height. Set your mower at a higher cutting level and mow frequently enough that you are not removing more than one-third the height of the grass blades at each cutting. The higher the grass blades, the more moisture the soil retains.
12. Install a drip irrigation system or soaker hose. A drip irrigation system of tubes and hoses placed above or below ground helps direct water to the roots of your plants. A sprinkler system broadcasts water and a higher percentage is lost to evaporation and overspray.
13. Never water when very hot, windy or rainy. As mentioned previously, watering during extreme heat results in greater water loss due to evaporation limiting the amount that goes to your plants. Keep in mind, your lawn may naturally go dormant during a hot summer. High winds can easily carry small particles of water into the air and direct them away for the desired plants. Be sure irrigation systems include a rain gauge so you don’t run the system during rainy periods.
Always keep the weather in mind when watering your yard or landscape beds.
14. Use pervious pavers instead of solid surfaces. Pervious pavers help promote the infiltration of rainwater and capture stormwater runoff. Because pervious pavers are uniquely designed to create voids or pockets where the water can soak into the earth (infiltration), they help conserve water.
Saving and infiltrating stormwater on-site will help protect our lakes, streams, and rivers. We hope these simple tips will help you understand some easy techniques you can try with your children to conserve water in the garden this year.