Hands on Gardener Water: How to Use and Conserve Our Most Precious Resource


A commonsense approach to water-conscious gardening

Clearing up one of the most common yet mystifying problems gardeners face O how to deliver the right amount of water to the right plant at the right time- WATER is a fully illustrated guide with an emphasis on conservation, and includes an encyclopedia of over 100 plants that require low-to-moderate water use.


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A commonsense approach to water-conscious gardening

Clearing up one of the most common yet mystifying problems gardeners face O how to deliver the right amount of water to the right plant at the right time- WATER is a fully illustrated guide with an emphasis on conservation, and includes an encyclopedia of over 100 plants that require low-to-moderate water use.

THE LESSONS OF XERISCAPING O The beauty of mulch. The importance of humus. Choosing plants according to their needs, and avoiding lawn envy.

DRAINAGE & SOILS O Know your dirt: clay, silt, sand. The drainage test. Wetting agents and water-holding gels.

SELF-RELIANT PLANTINGS O Encouraging vigorous roots. Spacing plants further apart. Dealing with wind, sun, slopes. And letting a plant go dormant when it wants to.

WISE WAY TO WATER O From watering cans to sprinklers to soaker hoses to a customized system. Recycling water an gray water. A season-by-season guide to efficient watering practices by climate.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Susan McClure is the author of Smith & Hawken: Seeds and Propagation. Her other books include The Herb Gardener, The Harvest Gardener, and The Gourmet Gardener.
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Read an Excerpt

Water in

Your Own Backyard

The gardener is never alone. Even if nobody else sets foot in the garden, the earth and the environment are constant companions. They change with the season, bringing new life and carrying away the old. The sun warms the shoulders on a crisp day and the rain mists the memory as it moistens the earth. The sun, wind, soil, songbirds, earthworms, and butterflies are as familiar as lifelong friends. They brighten most days with ready camaraderie but, as occasionally occurs in friendships, also may be headstrong and

contrary. Natureís physical resources stand beside the gardener, providing the raw clay from which to mold a bed of flowers, or the processes by which those flowers need to grow.

Gardening makes a connection to the larger world around usóbeyond deadlines and obligations. It opens the senses to the warmth and potent energy of the sun, the power of the rain, and the galloping passage of the seasons. It allows for combining the mind, body, soul, and spirit with the eternal elements of nature to communicate in the language of growth. One of the most powerful of these elements is water, which is essential for life in and out of the garden.

Water is transparent, tasteless, and odorless, yet powerful enough to carve the Grand Canyon from solid rock. A medium of contradictions, it runs with apparent freedom from the tap at home, but in the desert may only be found in the heart of a cactus. It may swamp the earth with drenching downpours one week only to leave it parched and languishing the next.

ýWater, thou . . . canst not be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, thou fillest us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses,O wrote French novelist Antoine de Saint-ExupEry. Where rainfall is abundant many of us take it for granted. While a brief, gentle April shower in Boston, Chicago, or Atlanta may produce the pleasures of which Saint-ExupEry writes, all too often spring rain arrives in seemingly endless torrents, making the garden too sodden for outdoor activities and bringing gray skies day after day.

But for the same blessing of rain, inhabitants of many drier parts of the countryóincluding Tucson, Flagstaff, and Denverówould gladly put up with these minor irritations and more. While continual sun and blue skies may be perfect for picnics, they are also the escorts for drought. Without natural rainfall or a gardenerís attention to watering, the soil dries up and the plants in it shrivel. Cracks open in sun-baked soil. Plants that were once plump and healthy are reduced to hollow, crumbling skeletons. The gardener must intervene, applying the gift of water with a conscientious hand.

The power to irrigate is one of the greatest forces in modern civilization. By defeating the effects of drought, it staves off famines and doubles the productivity of ordinary land. It allowed the rise of ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Aztec cultures as well as our own agricultural green revolution. Today, irrigated farmland produces about one-third of the worldís food supply. Fully 90 percent of the apples, carrots, lettuce, and other fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle at your grocery store come from irrigated cropland. ýThere is . . . no doubt that irrigated agriculture is critical to our nationís and the worldís food supply. Without productive irrigated agriculture, hundreds of millions of acres of rain forests and marginal lands in more humid areas would have to be cleared to produce food for the growing population,O writes Thomas Trout of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, in a recent Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.

If irrigating with a little water is good, then it stands to reason that using a lot would be better. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Water is a finite resource. More than 97 percent of the planetís water resides in the sea as salt water, and the remainder recycles from the atmosphere to the earth and back again. There will be enough water worldwide for good works only if we use ingenuity to increase the efficiency of irrigation.

The Water Cycle

The flow of water is not confined to rivers or the inner workings of plants; it also circulates on a larger scale from the atmosphere to the earth and back. Approximately 300 million gallons of water change places constantly. Water evaporates from the groundófrom lakes, rivers, even drippy faucetsóand rises as water vapor into the atmosphere. It condenses into cloudsópuffy white cumulus or dense dark thunderheadsóand returns to earth in the guise of drizzle, rain, downpour, hail, sleet, and snow.

This moisture may soak down

into the soil, percolating deep into underground aquifers. Or it may run off into drainage ditches, streams, rivers, and oceans. It may be absorbed into plants and transpire or evaporate back into the atmosphere.

For example, in Ohio, which averages 38 inches of rain per year, 10 inches run off into streams and rivers, 2 inches evaporate from the surface of the ground, and 26 inches soak down in the soil. Of the total water in the soil, 20 inches evaporate back into the atmosphere and 6 inches percolate down into subsurface groundwater supplies.

Water Conservation

Conserving water is a critical task for the home gardener, and success depends largely on what is planted. Green lawns, succulent vegetables, thirsty perennials, newly planted trees and shrubs, and those greedy flowerpots that look so good on the patio all need water. When the rain that fell so relentlessly last weekend is only a memory, panting petunias and sulky impatiens will continue to demand water.

Instead of constantly reacting to a limp leaf or wilty bud by turning on the hose, a gardener can become proactive, planning ahead to avoid being a slave to the faucet. Shaving gallons off daily water use may be as easy as planting trees and shrubs that are naturally compatible with the local rainfall. Improving soils so they will retain moisture and mulching to slow the return of moisture to the skies can slow the drain on municipal water or well reserves and lower the water bill. Remember that mankind masters nature not by force but by understanding, according to British scientist Jacob Bronowski.

Identifying Local Water Needs: The first step in water conservation is to determine the average annual rainfall in your area and find out whether it is prone to droughts. Examples of average annual rainfall for U.S. cities are listed on page 5. For more details, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for the United States Department of Agriculture.

Variations in the quantity of rainfall occur season to season and month to month. Knowing the natural rhythm of rainfall in the region allows a gardener to plant when moisture is abundant.

Xeriscaping: When it comes to making the most of limited water, an arid-climate gardener has many resources. The challenges of creating a beautiful landscape despite precariously little water have spawned one of the most exciting revolutions seen in horticultureóthe birth of xeriscaping, or gardens designed to need little or no watering. Xeriscaping is not limited to dry lands, however. It focuses on selecting plants according to a regionís rainfall.

In Denver, which receives only 13 to 15 inches of rain a year, water conservation has been a priority since the early 1980s. The Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado and Denver Water joined forces to plan for future water limitations and began experimenting with ways to garden with minimal irrigation. Such gardening basics as mulching, building organic-rich soils, irrigating efficiently, and combining landscape plants according to their water needs quickly showed promise.

In 1983, Nancy Leavitt, an environmental planner for Denver Water, coined the word xeriscape to describe water conservation through creative landscaping. Like the name, the concept has spread throughout arid regions. Heavily irrigated Tucson gardens, lush 1970s landscapes of lawns and palm trees, now include drought-tolerant native speciesóa natural progression inspired, at least in part, by rising water bills. Today, Tucson has one of the lowest per capita rates of water use in the United States. The gardening techniques and drought-tolerant plants used in xeriscaping can encourage productive gardening anywhere.

Excerpted from Water. Copyright (c)2000 by Smith & Hawken. Reprinted with permission by Workman Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents


-The Water Cycle"3

Water Conservation"4

-Average Annual Rainfall"5

-Variations in the Quality of Rainfall"6


-Nitrogen and Water"10

-Water Quality"11

WaterIs Role in Plant Life"11

-Water pH and Plant Preferences"13

-Temperature for Temperamental Seeds"16

-A Timetable for Sowing Seeds Indoors"20

-Plants for Direct Sowing Outdoors"22

How Plants Make the Most of Limited Water"23

-Using Leaf Shape to Estimate Water Needs"24

-Measuring Water in the Garden"25


Underground-Water Flow"28

The Soil Connection, a Powerful Variable"30

-Clues to Soil Moisture"31

-An Easy Drainage Test"33

-Some Salt-Tolerant Plants"34

Soil Moisture Levels"35

-Dry or Killing Dry?"37

Making the Most of the Soil"38

-Trees and Plants Preferring Wet or Dry Soils"41

Composting for Every Lifestyle"44


Root Reach"48

Tips for Self-Reliant Plantings"50

-Planting Trees and Shrubs"52

-Reduce Evaporation from Potted Plants"54

Separating Plants According to Water Use"55

Planning a Water Efficient Garden"56

-Roaring 20Is Mulches"60

Mulching to Minimize Moisture Loss"63

-Mulch is Cool"64

-Earth as Mulch"67

-Vegetable Gardening with Plastic Mulch"68

-Common Mulches in a Nutshell"69

-Maximum Mulch Application Depths"70


-Avoiding Wasteful Watering"72

Choosing the Most Efficient Irrigation Systems"73

-Watering Alternatives for Potted Plants"77

-Catch Pests Cold"81

-A Seasonal Guide to Watering and Water Conservation"82

-Planning the Vegetable Garden for Efficient Sprinkler Watering"86

-Installing a Soaker Hose"90

-Comparing Soaker Hoses and Drip Irrigation"91

-Drip Irrigation Studies"95

-Installing Drip Irrigation in a Vegetable Garden"97

Recycling Leftover Household Water and Rain"98

-Harvesting Gray Water"99


-Making the Most of Spring Rains"103

Encyclopedia of Low-to Moderate-Water-Use Plants"103

-Local Alternatives"104

-Critical Times for Irrigation"108


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