Using rain barrels takes load off municipal water systems

Each time the temperatures soar the employees in municipal water departments cringe as water consumption increases.

Each time the temperatures soar the employees in municipal water departments cringe as water consumption increases.

Municipalities have their own way of dealing with water consumption issues: water bans, odd and even water days or increasing the cost of water. Gardeners can do their part to conserve water with the most obvious being collecting rainwater.

Rain barrels can be purchased or made from large drums that are cleaned and have spouts added.

Either way they are placed under the downspouts and fill quickly in a rainstorm.

The collected water is then used on the garden through gravity feed or hand watering. Research has found that less water is used when gardens are watered by hand but the garden still thrives.

As hand watering is hard work and time consuming, the water is placed on the plants and not wasted on soil between plants.

Lawns need less moisture if they are allowed to grow taller. Instead of setting the lawn mower at 2 inches (3 cm) raise the blade an inch to 3 inches (4-5 cm). At this height grass will still stay upright, look good and not go to seed.

The taller grass shades the ground and the crown of the plant. This little bit of shade slows evaporation of moisture from the ground and transpiration of the plant; keeping the lawn green longer without being watered.

If a lawn must be watered do so in the early morning or late evening. Put a rain gauge under the sprinkler to determine how much water the ground has received. An inch (1-2 cm) is a sufficient amount of water to keep a lawn green for a week.

Flowerbeds and gardens where foliage overlaps use less moisture than ones where the ground is exposed to sunlight.

Covering exposed ground with mulch also keeps the moisture in. Mulch need not be complicated or elaborate. It can be as simple as covering wet ground with a thick layer of peat moss or compost.

The dry layer on top of the moist soil will slow down evaporation.

In cooler weather the layer can be mixed into the soil or it can be left on top and the worms will eventually combine the two layers.

Pots and baskets only have a limited amount of soil and water holding capacity which means that they need watered on a regular basis. Growers have found that 14 inch (20 cm) pots are optimum.

This size of container can hold enough plants to be attractive and enough soil to hold sufficient water for one or two days.

Using slow feed or drip irrigation will decrease the amount of water used. When soil is constantly, consistency moist water is not lost by running through the bottom of the pot. Salts will eventually build up in the soil from the fertilizer but it is not likely to occur before the first frost.

If salts are a problem, water the plants from above regularly giving them enough moisture that excess water and salts leach out of the pot and on to the ground.

The Red Deer area is lucky as it has an abundance of water but other areas in the province are not as fortunate.

Adopting habits that conserve moisture now will mean more water in the future. Likewise, a little care and the garden will thrive in the hot weather without using excess water.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at