In our last blog post, we talked about why and how to attract beneficial insects into your gardens. This post is a deeper dive into one of the best ways to build habitat for plants, wildlife and beneficial insects - slowing, sinking, catching and using water in your landscape.
Did you know?
According to the EPA, "The average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, about 30 percent of which is devoted to outdoor uses. More than half of that outdoor water is used for watering lawns and gardens. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day."
Photo: WaterSense - Outdoor Water Use in the United States
→ Why do we need to conserve fresh water? Read more here.
How to Reduce Outdoor Water Waste
As land stewards, one of our main goals is to protect the watersheds we live and work in. For LadyBug, that's the Susquehanna River Watershed, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. We understand that the choices we make and actions we take on the pieces of land we steward have a real impact on the watershed. From rainwater runoff and soil erosion, to deciding when to install new plants and how to give them water, planning for water management on-site is essential.
Here are a few techniques you can use to become a better watershed steward where you practice EarthCare.
1. Plant Native
While our ecological gardening ethics put us at odds with some of the EPA's recommendations for how to irrigate monocultured lawns, we're encouraged to see them sharing info like this:
"Landscaping with plants that are not adaptive to your climate increases water use and costs. Instead, use native plants, or species adapted to the local climate, which reduce outdoor water use by 20 to 50 percent."
Plants native to your bioregion are better adapted to the natural ebbs and flows of rainfall, and will require significantly less supplemental watering to grow and thrive.
Pro Water Saver Tip: Avoid new plantings in the hottest months of the year! Planting in the heat of summer will just stress plant roots and waste water through rapid evaporation. Best practice is to plant in Spring or Fall.
2. Convert Your Lawn
Have you ever pulled up a strip of sod in your yard? The roots don't penetrate much more than a few inches into the soil. Plants with deeper roots do a better job of soaking rainwater into the soil, and eventually filtering it back into the water table. Reducing water runoff helps reduce pollution in our waterways, stress on stormwater systems, flooding in less than ideal places (some places, like wetlands, want to be flooded!), erosion caused by excess runoff and flooding, and the need for supplemental irrigation.
While any plants - even monoculture turf grasses - are better than impervious surfaces like concrete, plants with deeper root systems are better at preventing water runoff. Plus, they make more biodiverse habitat for native insects and wildlife!
3. Mulch or "Green Mulch" Your Garden Beds
A quality natural mulch will help retain soil moisture, protecting and nourishing plant roots. It will also suppress weeds and break down into new soil over time - all good things! The Ecological Landscape Alliance recommends adding a mulch layer 4" thick, once every two years, in areas of the garden where you aren't trying to grow plants. We recommend "green mulching" which is growing ground covers and allowing plants to spread by seed (requires bare soil), which is a step up in the ecological gardening game. → Learn about living mulch, with plant recommendations, from Edge of the Woods native plant nursery
Photo: Rain Barrel passively collective rainwater in a lawn-to-garden conversion.
4. Build a Rain Catchment System
Catch and store rainwater to water your gardens later, with a simple rain barrel. If your roof is metal then the rain water will be clean enough to water plants (not to drink of course). But if your roof material is shingles, there is petroleum product leaching into the rainwater and we recommend adding a carbon filter fitting into the downspout before the water reaches the barrel. This will filter the water making it safer to water plants, especially if you plan to eat from them.
Photos: Rain Garden installation in phases. Credits: Cathy Morgan, Ben Chadwell, Morgan Laubach
5. Create a Rain Garden
Many native plants love wet conditions and are perfect companions in managing water on your property. Observe where stormwater is flooding, pooling, rushing or channeling. These are ideal places to plant a rain garden or build a rock channel. Under downspouts, remove soil, add rocks, and navigate rain water toward plantings.
The photos above are from a rain garden we designed and installed with the help of several mentors, including Stacy Levy. Explore her website to get inspired by her science-informed eco art installations, and learn about making a home for the rain.
Remember: SLOW, SINK + SPREAD
Water is a precious resource that is becoming more rare around the world - and we all need it to survive. Do what you can to slow water rushing across surfaces, give it opportunities to sink deep into plant roots, and encourage it to spread wide rather than channeling and causing more erosion. This article is just a starting point for slow, small changes you can make, to have a meaningful impact on the watershed. But first - observe + interact! The water will show you how it moves, and where you can make efficient and effective changes to preserve and protect water on your site.
We're LadyBug EarthCare, and we empower humans to build habitat and support pollination through Reconnection, Kinship + Stewardship. Want more 1:1 Support and Guidance for your land? → Book a Virtual Site Visit with Kendra