No matter where your garden grows, water is the most precious tool. And in a time of record temperatures and more frequent droughts, it’s important to know how to conserve and use it wisely in your own backyard.
“Water is the most local thing we have,” says Signe Danler, an instructor in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University in Corvallis and a Master Gardener program trainer with the OSU Extension Service. “In most places, [the water] isn’t being pulled from that far away. It’s local. That’s where it needs to be dealt with.”
The average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water a day — about 30 percent of it outdoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In some regions, there’s a shortage due to drought; in other areas, there’s low water supply or increasing demand due to development. Besides raising sustainability questions, access to that water can translate to widely varying costs for homeowners across the country — topping out in West Virginia, where the average water bill is $105 a month.
If you’re a gardener who wants to save water resources and money — and who doesn’t? — there are many smart steps you can take.
In her book, The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden With a Lot Less Water, author and garden designer Pam Penick of Austin, Texas, highlights three basic strategies: Capture the water you get, plant for water conservation and use water efficiently. Some actions, such as rethinking your plant choices, are simple; others, like building sunken “rain gardens” to absorb runoff, take muscle or money. But most water-saving steps are scalable, meaning you can start small, see how it works and then expand when you have the time or budget, Penick says.