Soil amendment
  • Knowing what kind of soil you have and how to improve it is critical for a successful Water-Wise garden. Fortunately, the solution to the problem of sandy or clay type soils is the same:  Add organic matter.
  • Organic matter in the form of compost, chopped up leaves or composted manure will improve the texture and water holding capacity of your soil and provide a better  environment for roots.
Efficient irrigation
  • Soaker hoses and drip irrigation ensure that up to 90 percent of the water you apply to your garden is actually available to your plants.
  • Use mulch to retain water
  • Using a 6-8-inch layer of mulch (bark chips, post peelings, straw, compost, shredded newspaper and stone or rock) can cut water needs in half by blocking thirsty weeds and reducing evaporation.  It also cools the soil and prevents soil erosion.

Use free water

  • Rainwater is the best choice for your plants. It is clear, unchlorinated and free. Use rain barrels or a cistern to collect water from your downspouts.

Choose plants carefully

  • A plant that is satisfied getting most of the water it needs from natural rainfall will require a lot less work from you. Choose drought-tolerant perennials that are native to your area (or a region with a similar climate). These plants will have adapted to your climate and soils.
  • Place plants close together, allowing the leaves from neighboring plants to shade the soil, helping to conserve surface moisture and reduce weed growth. Where possible, choose bush varieties that grow low to the soil as they will lose less water through transpiration than those that spread rampantly or twine up to the sky.
Reduce your lawn
  • Turfgrass is one of the most thirsty and labor intensive types of “gardens” you can have. Consider planting groundcovers or low-maintenance perennials instead.
Plan before you plant
  • By planning your garden before you plant, you can take advantage of the characteristics of your site, such as sun, shade, wind and soil. Group plants with similar water needs. Plan how you are going to deliver the water your plants will need, ideally before you plant them.
Take care of your plants
  • Healthy plants need less water, fertilizer and pest controls than stressed plants. By keeping on top of tasks such as weeding, thinning, pruning and monitoring pests, you’ll water less frequently.
Sue Sanchez is a Master Gardener and served as project leader for the Hood River Library Water-Wise garden.

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