We may or may not see a strong El Niño this winter, so it makes sense to be mindful of our water usage even as the change of weather brings more moisture to our gardens.
Learning how to maintain a healthy green garden during the drought not only saves on water bills, it can help you garden more efficiently, avoid fines by state regulators, and keep you from landing on a drought-shaming app.
Even if we do get pounded by rain this winter, water conservation in a changing, uncertain climate should always be a priority. Here are our top five tips for gardening during the drought and beyond:
#1 Water your garden early in the morning.
Early-morning watering is most effective when done before 8 am. The cooler, calmer weather helps reduce water loss through evaporation and prevent water drift caused by wind. Watering in the morning also lessens the likelihood of fungal diseases, as plants will have a chance to dry out before nightfall. If you're not able to water in the morning, water in the late afternoon or evening with a soaker hose or drip system, which only moistens the soil and keeps the leaves dry.
#2 Adjust automatic watering systems every season.
At minimum, all automatic watering systems (such as sprinklers, soaker hoses, or drip irrigation) should be adjusted for winter/spring (when rainstorms are common) and summer/fall (when more irrigation is needed). During periods of rain, turn off your automatic watering systems, or invest in smart irrigation (such as weather-based irrigation controllers, or WBICs) that automatically adjusts the watering to current weather conditions. (As an incentive, the SoCal Water$mart program offers rebates for homeowners who install WBICs.)
#3 Water less often but more deeply.
Most gardens using sprinkler systems are either underwatered (by shallow watering that contributes to high water waste through evaporation) or overwatered (by poorly positioned or faulty sprinklers). For established plantings, adjust the frequency to twice a week in summer, or once a week in winter, and increase the watering time by 50% to 75% to encourage deeper root development. Deeper roots lead to stronger, healthier plants. On average, an inch of water per week is sufficient for most plants.
#4 Amend your garden soil with compost.
Well-aged compost (either homemade or store-bought) dug into your garden beds every season helps retain moisture, allow beneficial bacteria to proliferate, and provide nutrients to new plants. Check out our Lazy Gardener's Guide to Composting for foolproof methods on composting in your own backyard.
#5 Mulch your garden beds.
Layer a few inches of organic mulch on your beds to suppress weeds, improve soil fertility, and most importantly, protect the soil against moisture loss. Mulching can cut the amount of water needed for your plants each week, making your garden more eco-friendly during the drought as well as wallet-friendly. Here's the lowdown on organic mulch (and even how to get it for free!).