There are two strands to the use of water in the garden – and I am talking watering plants here, not choosing water features. These are reducing the need for watering and efficient irrigation in a domestic garden.
Mulching is a good way of reducing water loss by evaporation from the soil surface. It has the added benefit of inhibiting weed growth by excluding light and this also helps with water conservation by reducing competition for water from weeds. You can mulch with a variety of loose materials including stones & recycled glass chippings. Technically landscape fabric and black plastic also count as ‘mulch’ but are not decorative enough for a domestic garden. Permeable landscape fabric can be useful in shrubberies with a layer of a more attractive loose material on top but plastic is not recommended because it will not allow rain to soak into the ground and reach plant roots.
The best mulch is well rotted organic matter as this brings a 3rd benefit: over time worms will drag it down into the root-zone and enrich the soil structure and nutrients. ‘Organic matter’ includes garden compost, leaf mould, composted manure or local authority green recycling which is effectively a community composting scheme. Making your own compost is a great solution but most people cannot make enough for their whole garden so have to buy in some to supplement. Chipped wood or bark makes a good mulch around established shrubs especially if you add a balanced granular fertiliser underneath.
Although it is well understood that our lawns do not need to be watered even in the driest of UK summers as grass always recovers the following spring, there are parts of the garden where we may want to supplement rainfall in dry periods. If fruit and vegetables suffer water stress they often drop the fruit or bolt (run to seed) and your crop is lost. In this case there are great advantages in either porous pipe or drip irrigation systems instead of a wasteful sprinkler. These supply water all along the hose at a steady rate that is absorbed by the soil & you do not risk the water simply running off the surface of the beds or falling straight onto hard surfaces.
Porous pipe is usually made from recycled car tyres (very eco friendly) and slowly leaks out the water right along the length; it is best buried just below the soil surface or under a layer of organic mulch. Drip irrigation, also called micro-irrigation, consists of narrow hose pipe with tiny drippers at approximately 30cm intervals along the length; the effect is similar to porous pipe but is recommended if you want to lay it on the surface or under a bulky mulch (eg bark chips) not buried in the soil.
Another advantage of porous pipe & drip irrigation is that they operate at lower pressure and some systems can be fed from a water butt as well as from the mains via a length of regular hosepipe so you use that captured rainwater. Adding a timer to the system means that you can water in the evening when evaporation is reduced without standing outside with a hose and can look after your garden even when away on holiday.
Happy Gardening, Alison
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