Summer is here and you can expect some of the first 90-degree days this week. Living in North Carolina, we all know how hot summers can get so we put together some of our favorite ways you can conserve water while keeping your garden looking great all summer long!
Prepare your garden for high temperatures by keeping plants well-hydrated leading up to and through the heat. Water deeply one to two days before the onset of a heat wave to lower the air and soil temperature around the plants as well as provide much needed moisture.
Water in the early morning or evening as less water is wasted due to evaporation. For mildew-prone plants such as garden phlox or bee balm, watering in the morning is best as it prevents moisture from sitting on the leaves all night. Water your gardens deeply rather than daily; frequent shallow watering encourages shallow roots/less healthy plants and also can increase weeds.
If you travel frequently or really don’t have the time for regular watering, try installing efficient drip irrigation systems or sprinklers on timers. We also recommend purchasing some watering tubes/pipes or watering rings for your larger trees and shrubs - this enables slow deep watering, in particular if you use a pipe that gets water further down the root zone. These are especially helpful if you have trees and shrubs that need planting mid-season and will therefore require more water.
Keep in mind that containers and hanging baskets need more water in general and will likely require water one to two times a day during periods of extreme heat and as plants mature. Note that watering containers more frequently will wash nutrients out of the soil, so you may also need to increase the frequency of your fertilizing or mix in some slow release pellets to keep things blooming and happy.
Improve your soil’s water retention by mixing in compost and then topping with mulch. Mulching can save a lot of work in the long run – choose natural mulch without chemical treatments (finely ground cedar or pine bark is good), and insulate the surface of the soil with about 2-3 inches of mulch. Mulching can reduce weed problems by up to 90% and watering needs by up to 50% if done properly and maintained. You are protecting the soil (and shallow roots) from direct sun exposure and reducing evaporation when applying mulch.
Visit this link for an in depth guide on to how to mulch, pros and cons, different types, and things to avoid - for instance, it’s very important not to mulch up to the base of trees and shrubs as that can suffocate them!
The average roof collects up to 600 gallons of water per 1" of rain - that's a lot of potential water for collection, saving homeowners money and significantly aiding with freshwater conservation efforts! With increasingly problematic droughts, rising costs of municipal water, and more environmental awareness, rain barrels are becoming more popular. They have also proven very helpful in reducing erosion in homeowners yards, and decreasing flooding and erosion damage caused by stormwater runoff - thereby benefiting the surrounding area as well. With endless styles and sizes to choose from, we highly recommend considering rain barrels as a simple way to reduce your environmental footprint and provide free water for your gardens! This article by the World Wildlife Fund covers it all!
ADD SHADE TO YOUR YARD
The simplest way to keep your plants cool is to manage the sunlight that hits them. You can do this through strategic planting under trees, decks, or whatever else may create shade in your garden. Adding native shrubs and trees to your yard is not only a way to provide much-needed support to wildlife and pollinators, but also a great way to provide partial to full shade in areas of your yard for water conservation and cooling of your gardens as well as shade/cooling for personal enjoyment. You can also add shade in your garden with sheets, tarps, or patio umbrellas.
In addition to mulching, there are other ways to conserve water and create a garden that has low water needs (and therefore requires less time!). Try grouping plants with similar water needs to save water and time, and dig a shallow depression for those that require more water to help collect rain and water runoff. One obvious tip is to plant heat and drought-resistant plants. For vegetables, try eggplant, mustard greens, okra, peppers and green beans. Some varieties of tomatoes and squash are also bred for drought resistance (we are out of most of our veggie starts, but it’s not too late to get some green beans sown or plant some pepper starts!). For herbs, try chives, catmint, thyme, chamomile, lavender, oregano, rosemary and Russian Sage (we do have these!). Some of the showiest drought-tolerant perennials include yucca, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, coreopsis and salvia (which we have PLENTY of, and at amazing prices right now!). Note that many of the more drought tolerant perennials are natives - there’s a reason for that. Natives have evolved to do well in our specific region, so they therefore are much more tolerant of drought (and also of heavy rains) than most non-natives. We always advocate planting gardens over big expanses of lawn, as smart gardening can require less water than a lawn and is of course much, much better for the environment and local wildlife (supplying food for pollinators and birds, reducing CO2 emissions from lawn mowers, etc). However, we do of course recognize that most of us still have some grass to deal with - one way to reduce water needs of your lawn is to mow no shorter than two inches in hot weather as it will need less water and stay greener when allowed to grow a bit taller (longer grass is also better for insects and wildlife).
Here is an excellent guide to gardening with water conservation in mind, including ideas for low-maintenance plantings, easy ways to set up automatic watering, and ways to save water on your lawns.
With increased heat please take precautions to stay hydrated and cool. During extreme heat we recommend tending your garden in the morning or evening and take breaks as needed!