Gardening the water-wise way


By Andrew Grubb

In honor of Earth Day, the gardeners at Homegrown Co-op in Point Roberts offer these tips for maintaining a healthy and environmentally friendly garden.

Water-wise gardening

An efficient irrigation system is critical to any water-wise garden. Sprinklers and overhead irrigation are the most common, yet least efficient, methods of watering a farm or garden.

Drip irrigation is much more efficient because the water goes where you need it: directly onto the plants’ roots. Irrigation lines can be laid down underneath the mulch and are invisible in the garden. The economical eco-agrarian will be pleased to learn that the co-op was able to reduce its water use by a third, while simultaneously doubling the amount of irrigated land, all because we  adopted drip irrigation.

Located in the center of the Blue Hole, a Salish Sea climatic phenomenon that blesses mulch1the Tsawwassen/Point Roberts peninsula with significantly less rain than our Cascadian and Fraser Valley brethren, water-wise gardening is an essential skill in Point Roberts.

The following are a few of the ways we conserve this essential resource and make the most out of our unique microclimate. Learning to be good stewards of our water resources now will make our local knowledge base an important resource for the greater bioregion in the future.

Mulch’n the garden

Mulch is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to conserve water. By insulating the soil with a thick covering of organic mulch, evaporation and evapo-transpiration are greatly reduced and significantly less water is wasted.

Mulch is any material (preferably organic and locally sourced) that can be applied to the surface of the soil to add protection from the elements, smother weeds and feed the soil.

The three types of mulch we use most are wood chips, straw and leaf mold. Chips are used in pathways to suppress weeds and return carbon to the soil. Straw is a perfect material for covering bare soil around established plantings and suppressing all but the most formidable weeds, as long as the mulch is at least 5 inches deep.

Leaf mold is another wonderful and abundant mulch that can be used to both cover and feed the soil; however, leaves should be shredded prior to use to prevent the mulch from matting. This can be accomplished by running over your leaf pile with a mower or collecting the leaves with an electric leaf blower/shredder.

Other great mulches include seed-free lawn clippings, green manures, seaweed and the inedible cuttings of harvested plants. Using green mulches, such as comfrey leaves, has the additional benefit of returning nitrogen to the soil.

While black plastic landscape fabric is technically mulch, we highly discourage using impermeable layers in your garden. Strips of cardboard, cleaned of tape and staples are a cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative with about a two-year lifespan when covered with wood chips.

Go native

One of the most practical ways to maintain a healthy garden is to use plants that grow here naturally. We are fortunate to have such a beautiful and diverse variety of plants to choose from.

Re-establishing native landscapes is one of the most effective ways to create wildlife habitat as well as a lush refuge from the “one size fits all” suburban template.

Some excellent native plants include evergreens (such as hemlocks, western red cedar, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, shore pine and madrona); deciduous trees (such as maples, willows, cottonwoods, hawthorn, Oregon ash, white oak, red alder and dogwood); and native blackberries.

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