ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot
RENOWNED FOR its lakes, rivers and streams, Canada has nine percent of the world’s available supply of fresh water so it’s hard to believe that Canadians should be concerned about fresh water shortages. You might think commercial and industrial demands put the most strain on the water supply, but Canadian households actually use 60 percent of all the water (second in per capita use only to Americans).
Residential use, including flushing toilets and watering lawns, is the fastest growing sector of water usage across Canada. On average, BC residents use 440L (96 gal) of water per day, but at least half of this is wasted, in some part, due to leaking faucets, high flush toilets and excessive outdoor water use, especially in summer when our water usage more than doubles. Imagine nine billion bathtubs full of water because that’s the amount of water wasted each year in Canada.
When we over-water lawns, wash down the driveway or leave the hose running, we are wasting a precious resource that one day may be in short supply. Over-watering the lawn is the most wasteful practice, as half the water we pour on our lawns is lost to runoff. It takes only one inch of water per week to ensure that roots grow deep enough for the lawn to stay healthy during periods of hot weather. To measure this, check how long your system takes to fill a tin can to a depth of one inch. That’s how long you should water your lawn once a week.
Most gardeners don’t realize that the most commonly available plants require no more water than Mother Nature supplies and many plants are watered unnecessarily. All plants need regular watering from the time they are planted until they are well rooted, so there is no such thing as a drought tolerant plant until it is well established. Most plants require only one growing season to establish; trees and shrubs can take two or more seasons. Once established, plants can be weaned off watering to the point where natural rainfall will satisfy their needs.
Did you know?
Mulching on steep slopes, windy sites and between exposed plants reduces evaporation, protects plants and smothers weeds. A mulched border can go seven days between watering. Light sandy soils need more watering than heavy clay soils. Water runs off slopes and berms quickly without soaking in. Terracing helps prevent runoff. Lawns are major consumers of water. One good, deep, weekly watering encourages roots to grow deeper and is better than brief, daily watering, which causes surface roots vulnerable to desiccation. If it’s cool at night, water in the morning. Young plants don’t enjoy cold, wet soils, which lead to fungal problems, such as damping off. If a plant is seriously wilted, water it regardless of the time of day. An eco-meadow of yarrow, speedwell, clover or English daisy needs very little water and no fertilization and looks beautiful in bloom. Best yet, it only needs mowing once every four weeks.
Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.
When watering, avoid excessive water loss from evaporation by watering in the early morning, ideally before 9:00 AM. Avoiding windy days prevents wastage due to wind drift. Add organic amendments to the soil to increase its water holding capacity. Mulching garden beds with compost, leaves and manure locks in moisture for drier periods. A brown lawn, which recovers in winter, is a small price to pay to protect such a precious resource. With increasing populations and decreasing supplies, using fresh water sparingly and with greater respect now ensures there will be plenty left for others to enjoy in future.