Water Conservation Gardening

Desert Regions USA

Desert Flowers

The vast majority of the population considers the desert to be a barren wasteland that is only filled with tumbleweed, rattlesnakes, and the occasional cow skull. If you lived in the desert you would know that the ratio of cows to people is zero! In addition, the desert is far from barren. It is teeming with gorgeous wildflowers, cactus, and grasses. One step outside during the early morning sunrise will bring the fragrant aroma of Cleveland sage as well as the song of a gilded flicker in the distant sky. There are few better ways one can live than in the gorgeous surroundings of the desert.

The scientific definition of a desert is an area that receives less than 10 inches of rainfall per year. However, that number can vary widely, with some years producing little to no rain at all. The year 2015 brought extreme and exceptional drought conditions to the Southwest area. Other parts of the desert are experiencing moderate to severe conditions. At the time of this writing Lake Mead is sustaining the lowest water levels since it came into existence in the 1930s. There is no question that the situation is bad for area residents.

While current conditions are worrisome, scientists are expecting to see mega-droughtî conditions within the next 85 years. While for many of us this should be of no concern, it will be for our children and their children. What effect would a mega drought hold for the residents of this area? In the 1200s mega drought conditions have been linked to the decline of the Pueblo people. Will that same fate hold true for future generations that would like to enjoy desert life?

Scientists believe that if the world and our nation stay on the current course there is an 80% chance of a mega drought taking hold of the American Southwest for more than a 30 year period. While it may sound like the plot of a blockbuster science-fiction movie, there is a real possibility that our future generations are looking at a disturbing scenario.

While there have been discussions for years about new forms of irrigation systems and water conservation efforts, little action has been taken. The last ten years have brought drought conditions to much of the area, causing a direct impact on water supplies, agricultural efforts, and the balance in ecosystems.

As a community, more needs to be done on an individual and local level. Residents need to begin taking further action without the proclamation of the government telling us we need to do it. While there are water regulations in effect for not washing cars, driveways, and allowing outdoor irrigation only on certain days, more can be done. Water conservation begins with the individual.


Understanding Real Water Conservation

The vast majority of people across the nation are doing their best to conserve water. However, they are doing it all wrong. While taking quicker showers, turning the water off while brushing teeth, and even reducing the amounts of flushes are excellent, they account for an insignificant amount of water. Many homeowners would be surprised to learn that 70 to 90 percent of all water used is for outdoor needs.

The vast majority of the water being used is wasted through evaporation, leaks, and run-off. Homeowners are not using the most efficient ways to water their landscaping and gardens. Not only are they wasting water, but they are increasing their monthly water bills. There are many ways that desert residents can have the gardens they desire while conserving precious water.


Water Meter

Monitor Your Plants' Water Levels

One of the most important aspects of gardening is keeping water levels accurate. Too many home gardeners either over-water or under-water their garden. Either scenario is setting your garden up for failure and wasting water.

Over-watering - So many gardeners believe that the more water a garden gets the better the vegetation will grow. This could not be more wrong, and is actually more harmful to plants than under watering them. By using too much water, vital nutrients are washed away. In addition, plants are more likely to suffer from rot and disease.

Under-watering - When plants that are not drought tolerant go without water for extended periods of time it will lead to stressful growing conditions. These plants will grow weak and not be very productive. In addition, gardeners will try to revive them with gallons of water once again leading to water waste.

The best solution is to know how much water your individual plants require for optimal growth. All plants are different and have unique properties. However a general rule of thumb requires an inch of water per week. Living in an arid area such as this, you can expect to double that number per week. With this knowledge and an inexpensive water gauge in the garden you will be able to better estimate how much water your garden is actually getting.



Reduce Evaporation

One of the biggest wastes of water in our gardens comes from the natural process of evaporation. However, this can easily be combated by adding compost into the soil as well as a thick layer of mulch on top.

Start with Compost - For your efforts it is best to add compost material into the soil before you plant. Compost that has been added to the soil will give your plants more of an ability to store water due to the absorbent nature of compost.

Finish with Mulch - Mulch is an important step in controlling weeds and conserving water. In desert areas the best types of mulch to use are those that help to reflect sunlight. Consider using red mulch or even mylar mulch, which has incredible benefits for the desert gardener.


Drip line

Irrigate Efficiently

There are many components that go into proper irrigation, including watering in the early morning hours or late evening. It is also recommended to turn off any irrigation systems during rain showers. However, there are more efficient ways to water your garden and conserve.

Drip Irrigation - Perhaps one of the greatest contributions you can make as a home gardener is installing a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation allows for the proper amount of water to reach the plants' roots. A series of tubes and emitters are placed throughout the garden, with each emitter watering an individual plant. Water can be regulated through the use of a timer, saving even more water.

Barrel Irrigation - Through the use of a barrel, the homeowner has the ability to capture rainwater as it flows down a spout from the roof. However, in desert areas it may not always be that effective. This is especially true in years with little to no rain. However when the drip irrigation tubes are used in conjunction with barrel irrigation you have created a powerful water conservation effort.

Make Long Term Changes To Your Gardening

While some of the above measures can be started today, we all need to plan for the future. One of the most important steps we can make is by choosing our plants more wisely. Native plants should be used for landscaping purposes, while drought resistant plants are better suited for vegetable gardening.


Gorgeous desert landscape

Natural Low Water Landscaping

The following plants added together will create a gorgeous garden that is low water tolerant. These plants have also been specifically selected for their ability to draw in various wildlife.

Argentine Hedgehog - This cacti makes a wonderful addition to any native landscaping project. Features brilliant red and orange flowers on evergreen foliage. The Argentine hedgehog will grow up to 2 feet in height and features a clumping growing pattern 3 feet wide.

Arizona Poppy - This annual flower is stunning around borders for its bright orange flowers with dark orange centers. With a height up to a foot tall these are guaranteed to be little show stoppers.

Autumn Sage - This perennial is another favorite for planting around borders and edges. Reaches a height of up to 2 feet and features red, pink, or white flowers.

Bamboo Muhly - A touch of lush green grass is always a welcome sight in an arid desert landscape. Bamboo muhly offers a deep green coloring with a generous 4 foot height. The only downside is that this grass generally requires a more moderate amount of water than the others on this list.

Bee Brush - This shrub is a perfect backdrop for the rest of your plants. Features a height up to 6 feet tall with white to light purple flowers. The shrub is excellent for very low water conditions, just watch out for those small thorns that are hidden on it!


Vegetable Gardening in the Desert

Drought Resistant Vegetable Gardening in the Desert Regions

Few things can beat fresh vegetables from your own garden. Whether creating a luscious garden salad or roasted vegetables on the grill, you cannot go wrong. The following are some of the best vegetables you can grow in your home garden with limited water resources. With the addition of compost, mulch, and drip irrigation, you can have a bountiful growing season.

Beans - Without a doubt one of the hardiest vegetables to grow in the Southwest are beans. Tepary beans are some of the best, they mature very quickly and taste amazing. However, lima beans, black-eyed peas, and even pole beans are excellent choices.

Corn - I know you are might be thinking that corn has very high water requirements. However, I cannot resist a delicious ear of corn slow roasted on the grill and smothered with butter, so I was determined to find a way. There are several varieties that have incredible drought resistant properties such as Hopi blue corn or Cherokee long ear.

Tomatoes - While they are not exactly marketed as drought resistant they are an incredible asset to any home garden. Tomato plants grow long roots that seek out any water, and they produce up to 30 pounds of produce within the season. With proper deep water irrigation methods you can have incredible results.

Amaranth - This leafy green isn't known to many home gardeners, which is a real shame. Many of the healthy leafy greens that do the body so good, do not do well without water. However, amaranth is an exception to that rule. This makes an exceptional replacement for iceberg lettuce in salad!

No one knows what the area will hold in the next 100 years for sure. Is it possible our region will be in the midst of a mega drought? That is a very likely situation according to scientists. However, we can't do anything about an event that may or may not happen in a hundred years. We do have the ability to make life better right now. By conserving water through better irrigation methods and planting drought tolerant plants we can make a difference today.


About the Author

Jonathan Leger is a sponsored member of the Garden Writer's Association and a gardening enthusiast. He runs a small site dedicated to the history, education and care of a variety of roses at CabbageRoses.net.

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