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Water Conservation

Exploring short and long term conservation of water, a gardens demand for water.

The installation of water butts is an obvious way of reducing the usage of tap water, metered or not but are there any other ways of reducing your gardens demand for water?

Does mulching or covering the soil with bark chips etc really make a worth while difference?

Does maximising ground cover with plants make a difference because presumably these plants require water too?

Buying water butts in itself is quite an expensive initial outlay, how many full fills does it take to get your money back?

What other things are being used as water butts that are free or a lot cheaper?

Thoughts and ideas welcome



  • mjd2000mjd2000 Posts: 87

    Hi - I've been thinking about this too. I think that mulching well and using ground  cover plants does help, I'm not sure about the evidence but I think my ground cover hardy geraniums (for example) shade the roots of the other plants and slows down evaporation. I installed a soaker hose and irrigation hose which, although it does use water, is perhaps more targeted. I'd be interested to hear what other people say - because of the way our house is built I am limited to 2 water butts, which isn't enough.

  • steephillsteephill Posts: 2,764

    It is a bit industrial looking but an IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) holds a lot more water than most water butts for a much cheaper price - 1,000 litres for about £50. Given the size it is more realistically a solution for larger gardens where you can hide it away and feed it from a more conventional water butt either with a gravity syphon or a pump if levels are different.

  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,556

    I've seen water butts being offered on freecycle.

    I used an abandoned ( outside my house for 3 weeks ) wheely bin as a water butt in my last house.

  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 27,299

    Mulch and ground cover prevents evaporation. It works. 

    I never water my garden except for new plantings. I choose perennials suitable for the soil I have rather than water hungry annuals/dahlias etc

    In the sticks near Peterborough
  • ClaringtonClarington Posts: 4,949

    There are lots of ways that will help manage water usage.

    1. Plant appropriately. If your soil is very free draining think carefully about making sure the plants are appropriate. I.e. bog plants that you'd be having to water every day wouldn't work without careful design (i.e. sinking a soil plastic pot into the soil to create a micro- ecosystem.)

    2. Think about what water you waste in the house: for instance I keep hardy plants in pots by the back door. When I hand wash pots etc. (with suitable eco cover detergent that the plants seem to tolerate) the waste water gets thrown over them. This saves the rain water for less tolerant plants. I have also been known to empty the bath water into pepsi bottles to water plants (my first house had no shower, but was on a water meter and with only one water butt this method although labour intensive kept my vegetable garden going over a very hot summer).

    3. When money is of consideration take advantage of local selling sites (i.e. groups on FB, gumtree, freecycle). You'd be amazed at what people through away that you can use or re-purpose. I don't think I've ever paid for a compost bin and my last water butt was free as well.

    4. Getting creative here: I use a upturned plastic drinks bottle in my hanging baskets that is filled with water and then plonked into the soil. It slowly waters the plant and saves me water as when I use a watering can I notice that unless the soil is already damp it often runs straight through the basket and onto the grass below. This drip drip feed approach means that although I use the same amount of water it all goes where I want too. I have tried this with plants in the soil too. Best of all it cost me nothing to give it a go.

    5. Mulching certainly seems to make a difference to how often a plant needs watering. As I grow mainly vegetables I can't comment on ensuring ground cover to stop evaporation but I know that when I have used even just slate chippings on pots they seem to need watering less. Could it be a trick of the mind? Without setting up a trial I couldn't say.

  • ButtercupdaysButtercupdays Posts: 4,462

    It isn't always easy!

    Growing Beth Chatto's 'Dry Garden' plants would help if you either have a reliably dry area in your garden or live somewhere that has low rainfall most of the time. They would survive without watering and be perfectly happy.  Our climate though is often too variable for that to work well as many of those plants hate wet feet.

    Wouldn't work for me,  too much rain here normally, so a dry spell like we have just had can mean a lot of trips to the pond with the water cans. Can't use a hose, except occasionally for a short time, as our own water comes from a spring and is is rainfall dependent.

    However, I think you can 'teach' your plants to a certain extent  to be less needy. I never water plants in the borders except when newly planted, and containers don't get watered every day except in exceptional conditions. They may be a bit less lush than other peoples', but the plants have to put down good roots to survive and don't just have all their roots at the surface waiting for the next drink! We do have a high rainfall, but it is also often windy. Things may flag a little by the end of the day but usuallty revive overnight - the dew helps too.

    You can get ex-industrial 200L plastic barrels, usually bright blue, that have been used for fruit juices, vegetable oil and similar things,  for very little or even free if you are lucky, and they need cleaning  before use. They dont't always have lids, so you might need to fit some kind of cover. I have a number of these as OH used to get them from work. I use a couple to dip cans or buckets, don't bother with a tap, and they are good for storing grit and compost  tidily too

     Or you can get large square white IBC tanks that hold 1000 litres (about 5 times a normal butt) and have a metal cage for support, if you have room to put one. You can get them on Gumtree and similar sites, for a relatively small outlay but they do need to be clean before you can use them and you have to check this first. They would need a solid base if you wanted to use them as a butt and you would have to fit a secure tap

  • CloggieCloggie Posts: 1,457

    I listened with interest to Bob Flowerdew (great name for a gardener - obviously born to it!) on GQT yesterday who says he uses carpet samples with a hole cut in them as "collars" for veggies, thereby creating a mulch.  I think it would have to be non-rubber backed (although this would degrade and fall off) and in an ornamental situation, you'd want to cover it with bark or something but it would mean you'd need less bark and it would last longer.

  • CloggieCloggie Posts: 1,457

    I have sort of done a trial.  The first year I planted a clematis (Josephine), I put two big pieces of slate over the roots and she did really well.  

    I took them away the second year because I was catching them with the mower and she was established now right?  Wrong, there was a marked difference in the plant, it died back almost completely and the flowers were tiny.

    This year I've mulched well with garden compost and put two fair sized slabs of York Stone over the roots and so far she's green again and has bigger flowers than the first year.  I haven't added any additional water in the dry spell we just had.  Thankfully it's raining today.

  • LynLyn Posts: 22,860
    nutcutlet says:

    Mulch and ground cover prevents evaporation. It works. 

    I never water my garden except for new plantings. I choose perennials suitable for the soil I have rather than water hungry annuals/dahlias etc

    See original post

     on my dad's advice, I don't either. 

    I have dustbins and butts for rain on every available downpipe.  

    Gardening on the wild, windy west side of Dartmoor. 

  • My garden is a decent size but to complicate things a little it's a holiday let. On changeover day there is very little if any time to do very much in the garden but I do have 6hrs on a Wednesday (Garden Day).

    There are some excellent ideas here that would certainly suit if the garden wasn't a part of a holiday let because the garden needs to be a safe and pleasant place that looks the part too.

    The garden is relatively new and was seriously landscaped two years ago and is still evolving and in need of more plants. Dug up a little over 400sq mtrs of concrete, underneath it, it was saturated in late July, now the same area is bone dry in May! Plants that are already in need to grow, establish and mature which will take a good few years for some of them to achieve.  Because the garden was landscaped from the outset it's a right mixture of very dry light soil and very wet and heavy in places with a lot of clay here and there.

    I'm applying as much horse manure as I can get my hands on every autumn and the clay is starting to break down. I have a privet hedge that is partly under a large sycamore, a lot of shade in summer and very very dry. The hedge was in a poor way when I bought the place and had to be cut back hard and I've added a few new plants too. It requires a lot of water to keep it alive at the mo. It's suffering.

    The soil in some parts of the garden is exposed and very very wet in winter but dries out quickly in spring. I'm hoping that after a few more years of added horse manure it will improve and hold moisture better. I'm trying to find as many suitable perennials as possible but it's going to take a few years before I cover it all by splitting them etc.

    Getting the plants right at the mo is a nightmare, very wet in winter, very dry in summer.

    I watered the garden last Wednesday having read the water meter before and after and my best guess is that I used somewhere between £10 and £12 worth of water (4 cubic meters)!!!!!!!!

    Very much like the IBC idea, much better value for money, stronger, sturdier and stackable and I can hide these out of the way too.

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