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10 ways to waterwise your garden

​Beginning to think brown is the new green? Worry not, Northwest Profile No. 52, P-Patch People! Your bodacious beans and awesome artichokes needn't brand you as a water-waster! You can enjoy a green garden guilt-free with these waterwise tips:

  1. Mulch more. Soil rich in organic matter holds water better. Add compost – grass clippings, leaves, and other organic matter – to the soil before you plant.
  2. Don't water the weeds. Not only do weeds crowd out the plants you want, they also compete for water. To get an unruly weed patch under control, set a timer and pluck for 20 minutes every day. Then stop. The short burst will save you from feeling overwhelmed (not to mention straining your back) and when you stick to it, you'll soon see results in healthier plants.
  3. Water only where it's needed. Swap out sprinklers (only 40-50% efficient in delivering water to your plants) with drip lines and soaker hoses (up to 90% efficient). They slowly seep water right at the plants' roots and work especially well for straight rows on level ground. Since the holes in the hose are tiny, they sometimes can get clogged with soil, so you'll want to check periodically for dry patches in the garden.
  4. Plan before you plant. Group plants with similar water needs together. That way, you won't overwater your spuds to satisfy your thirsty lettuce.
  5. Choose sippers, not guzzlers. Check out these suggestions from Oregon State University for water-thrifty vegetables including pole beans, zucchini, even tomatoes.
  6. Try milk jug reservoirs. Here's how to keep a steady water supply for plants like peppers that you tend to plant in groupings. Fill a gallon plastic milk jug with water and freeze it. Then, drill tiny holes into the jug and bury it in the ground with the neck sticking out. Plant your seedlings around it, and keep topping off the water reservoir as the plants drink.
  7. Consider a sunken garden. Make the most of summer rainfall (however scant) and provide a berm of shade around plant's roots. In two- or three-foot squares, excavate soil into ridges along planting areas (envision a giant dirt waffle) and scatter seeds in the depressions of the waffle. Those depressions will hold water better than a completely flat planting area.
  8. Water mornings and evenings. Avoid watering in the heat of the day, when much of the precious water will be lost to evaporation.
  9. Grow, don't mow. Lawn, it turns out, is one of the thirstiest ways to landscape. Reduce the size of your lawn in favor of native plants, low-maintenance perennials, and thoughtfully chosen vegetables. And for those areas you do keep in lawn? Raise your mowing height to 3 inches to shade roots and curb evaporation.
  10. Keep 'em healthy. Healthy plants need less fertilizer, water, and pest controls than stressed plants, a good incentive to keep up on that weeding, thinning, and pruning.

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