Nights are getting stickier and days are getting longer – summer is well and truly in the air. After a long winter of hibernation, everything is looking a little unruly, especially our gardens. With shorts and beer weather on the horizon, it’s time to get out your mower and hose and tame the backyard jungle.
A lot of Australians are looking for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle, with drought and fires still fresh in our minds. Tending to a garden used to mean a hike in water bills and litres of wasted water, but not anymore. We’ve compiled a list of wallet-friendly, eco-friendly tips to save water, and ensure your garden thrives through the harsh summer months.
1. Install a water tank
Take advantage of El Nino this year and install a water tank to capture the rain. If you’re feeling especially at one with Mother Nature, you can choose a tank big enough to supply water to your whole house. If you lack the space, and the budget, there are plenty of smaller tank options out there that will hold enough water to tend to your garden generously. Newer model tanks are compact and add a decorative touch to your backyard.
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2. Utilise recycled or greywater
Households use and discard hundreds of litres of water every day. From showers to cooking spaghetti, washing up or washing our hands – all that perfectly reusable water goes down the drain. You can capture greywater with high-tech filtration systems or a couple of buckets in the shower. If you aren’t filtering your greywater, you will need to be careful with the shampoos and detergents you use, as products with high sodium can mean big trouble for your garden.
3. Water your garden at the right time
Watering your garden at the right time is a simple way to reduce water wastage. Give your garden a drink in the early morning or evening to avoid the evaporation that occurs in hotter parts of the day. The general rule of thumb is never to water your plants when they are in full sun, as the water will evaporate before it has time to penetrate the soil. During heat waves, save your watering until the sun goes down, giving your garden plenty of time to soak it all up. Also, put the sprinkler away on windy days.
4. Fix leaky taps and hoses
A leaky tap can potentially waste thousands of litres of water a month. Next time you’re checking your household taps for leaks, take a look at how your outdoor fittings are faring. Replace leaky faucets and opt for high-quality nozzles and hoses that won’t leak or break.
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5. Utilise a moisture-holding mulch
Mulch is one of the best tools in the water-saving arsenal. By shielding the soil from the elements, mulch helps soil to hold moisture, potentially reducing the watering time by two-thirds. Specialty moisture saving mulch is darker in colour to keep the soil cool and moist, clinging onto the water to prevent evaporation. Mulch also fends off weeds that will steal water and nutrients from your plants.
6. Choose the right plants
Native plants are beautiful and hardy, requiring a lot less water than foreign varieties. Native flora has evolved to survive in our harsh climate, meaning they need less water, pesticides, fertilisers, care and money. A native garden is also excellent for the environment, supporting biodiversity and providing food and shelter for our native wildlife.
7. Get a water-saving nozzle
Just like your showerhead, a water-saving hose nozzle can potentially knock litres off your water usage. A trigger nozzle is a great way to limit water waste, as it gives you more control over how much you are using. In fact, a lot of states require the use of a trigger nozzle to comply with water restrictions. Some councils even off a trigger nozzle exchange program, where you can exchange your old school hose nozzle for an efficient trigger one.
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8. Reduce foot traffic
It may defeat the purpose of having a lush green lawn, but reducing foot traffic on your grass can help save water. High foot traffic condenses the soil, making it difficult for your lawn’s roots to reach the moist layers of soil.
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9. Use a wetting agent
A biodegradable, water-soluble, non-toxic wetting agent is a secret weapon to getting the most out watering your garden. Wetting agents reduce the surface tension of water, helping it to be absorbed more easily into your soil. Take care when choosing your wetting agent, as some can be toxic to animals. If you can’t find a non-toxic version, you can make your own with food-grade gelatine or agar.
10. Let your grass grow
The longer the grass, the more moisture it can retain – so waiting as long as possible between mows will reduce your lawns watering needs. When it’s time to trim the grass, raise the height of your cut 10mm or more.
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11. Control moisture stealing weeds
Weeds are sneaky little plants that suck up water and nutrients from other plants. Controlling the weed population in your garden will guarantee that all the water goes to your beautiful plants, and none of it goes to waste.
12. Sharpen your mower blades
Dull mower blades rip and tear your lawn instead of cutting it, leading to poor lawn health. Sharpening or replacing your mower blades will ensure a clean cut and healthier grass that requires less water.
13. Increase organic matter
Increasing organic matter in your soil will allow it to hold considerably more water. Whether your soil is clay or sand, adding organic matter will help it hold on to moisture better and longer. Compost is an easy way to get organic matter into your soil, which will also increase soil health as it continues to break down. You can buy ready-made compost, or invest in a system to make your own. They come in a range of sizes so that you can even create compost in the tiniest city backyard. Compost also helps to drought-proof your soil, which is essential in Australia’s climate.
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14. Use a moisture meter
A moisture meter is a relatively inexpensive tool that can help you identify when and how much you need to water your garden. The gadget will determine the percentage of moisture in the soil, and what action to take depending on the result – 10-30% being too dry, 80-100% too wet and 40-70% is just right.
15. Don’t overwater
Don’t kill your lawn with kindness, whilst washing precious water down the drain. It might be an obvious tip, but overwatering your yard is big water waster. If you aren’t into gadgets, there are a few other ways besides a moisture meter to tell if your garden needs a drink. If your lawn springs back when you push down on it, it means it’s nice and moist. The amount of water need is also dependent on the weather. If it’s hot and dry, you’ll need to water more frequently, and if it’s raining, put your feet up for a few days and let nature work its magic. Remember that plants and grass prefer fewer long soaks, to daily sprinkles.
Words by Nell Matzen
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