The key to conserving water lies in the soil. Well-structured soil that
is high in organic matter retains more moisture than free-draining sandy
types; heavy clay holds moisture but plants cannot always extract from
it the amounts they need.
Whatever soil you have, you can improve its water-holding capacity by
following these simple steps:
- Dig in bulky organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted
manure, in the vegetable plot. Do this every spring in sandy soil and
every fall in heavy soil.
- Seal in the moisture with a mulch applied when the soil is moist after
rainfall in spring. The best mulch for this is bulky organic matter
such as manure or compost; otherwise, use damp newspaper or landscape
fabric (geotextile membrane) covered with bark chips or gravel. Plants
in containers can be mulched with decorative materials that may be too
costly for large areas.
Avoid planting and digging during dry spells. This brings moist soil
from the lower depths to the surface, where it will dry out, and sends
dry soil from the surface to the lower depths, where the roots need
- Keep weeds at bay, because they compete with plants for moisture. Pull
them up, or hoe them off while they are young; dig out perennial weeds
with the complete root system, or apply a weedkiller.
- Provide shelter to prevent wind from drying the soil and increasing
the rate at which plants lose water through their leaves. Add a fence or
hedge to shield your garden from the prevailing wind. Newly planted
trees or shrubs will establish better if protected by a windbreak for
their first year; staple windbreak netting or burlap to posts on the
plants’ windward side.
- Use water-retaining gel in containers and hanging baskets,
particularly those on a sunny patio. This is generally too expensive to
add to all beds and borders, but it may be worth considering using it
around vulnerable and precious new plants or recent transplants.
- Choose drought-resistant plants if you live in a particularly dry area or have a hot spot in your garden. Once established, though, most plants will survive spells of drought.