Water Conservation and Recycling

The increased frequency of summer water shortages over recent years, coupled with a growing awareness of the wider need to conserve water resources has led to many gardeners adopting a number of measures to cut down on the amount they use.

While some of these are relatively new, others, such as collecting your own rainwater, are as old as the hills and have been enjoying a widespread resurgence of interest in these increasingly “green” and eco-conscious days.

Creating specifically drought resistant styles of garden using plants from the Mediterranean and other drier parts of the world has risen enormously in popularity as one way of reducing water use – and bills too, where water is metered.

However, if this style of gardening simply holds no appeal, there are still plenty of ways you can reduce water use without changing the whole look of your planting scheme.

Cut Your Losses

When around 3.5 billion litres of water is being lost from British pipelines every day, the idea of reducing losses from your own garden can seem rather small-scale, but even so it is still worthwhile – if only to reduce the amount of work involved in watering. Many of the best ways of cutting out loss are just straightforward good gardening practice anyway.

Destroying competing weeds around your plants, for instance, ensures that resources are not wasted supporting unwanted growth, while a good thick layer of mulch – 2 inches (5cm) or more – laid on bare ground will slow down evaporation from the soil.

Other ways which can also help include good ground cover, although obviously the plants will need water themselves, and improving the water retention of the soil by digging in bulky organic material, such as compost or well rotted farmyard manure.

Waste Not, Want Not

Collecting rainwater in a butt has never been easier, with the wide range of sizes and finishes of the butts themselves and the easily installed ingenious devices available to divert water from your down-pipes. Link a series of rain-butts together by fitting pipes between their overflows and you have an instant, huge storage capacity, able to hold the rain from the heaviest downpour.

Water from the tanks can then be emptied directly into a watering can, or form the start of a garden-wide irrigation system using seep-hoses or trickle watering heads to supply water very accurately where it is needed. Where there is not enough drop in the land to allow water movement in these systems to be driven naturally by gravity, there are even sump-pumps available to help.

Grey Water

Used domestic water from sinks and baths is termed “grey water” and can be a valuable resource for the gardener, particularly in times of hosepipe bans and droughts. Although it can be taken directly from the bath with a bucket, if you intend to make use of this source of water for the garden, it is often more convenient to attach a diverter to the drainpipe – but remember to set up a dedicated butt to collect it separately from rainwater.

Obviously, only grey water that is not over-contaminated with household chemicals such as soap, detergents or bleach is suitable for watering and it needs to be used very soon after it has cooled, as it may prove a breeding ground for bacteria if left for more than a few hours. It is also unsuitable for fine-nozzle sprinkler or irrigation systems, since it tends to clog them very rapidly. However, for many uses, grey water can prove a literal life-saver for drought-stricken beds and borders.

Meeting the water needs of the plants you grow is, obviously, fundamental to having a healthy garden. There are however, times when today’s environmental and economic pressures can complicate achieving this simple goal – but fortunately there are enough ways to get around water shortages without being forced to change your garden out of all recognition.