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30 Ways to Save Water in Mediterranean Gardens

Spanish Garden

Planting tomatoes in Spanish garden
Note the drip irrigation hose system

The Drought Problem in Spanish Gardens

Dryer summers and an increasing number of irrigation bans are becoming the norm in Spain. Whether really due to global warming or the continuing urbanisation of the Mediterranean coastline no one really knows. However one thing is sure one needs to start to take urgent action to save water to save the existing Gardens of Eden and ensure that new garden layouts are xeriscaped from day one.

The first thing for many will obviously be to reconsider a lawn or at least downsize it to a minimum.

The second is to add rain guttering to at least one roof slope and a storage tank to collect rain water when it does come. A large tank in the under build or in the garden and one good storm can provide all the water required for the garden for a year. Interestingly this used to be the norm with older houses particularly in rural areas but sadly today’s developers rarely incorporate them into their designs.

These two actions could solve the problem for many gardens but we recognise that they won’t be practical or appeal to every one.

We therefore list a further 28 water saving ideas below.

Reduce the amount of water required in the first place

  1. Improve the water absorbing properties of the soil before planting anything by working in well rotted manures, composts and a water retaining gel such as TerraCottem.
  2. Plant mainly draught resisting plants.
  3. Water with a drip head irrigation system versus a hand held hose.
  4. Construct all paths and terraces so that rainwater and car wash water runs off into flower beds or the vegetable garden.
  5. Retain mature trees that have deep tap roots and will rarely need watering compared to younger trees that have yet to establish deep roots.
  6. Maximise plantings in the semi shade at the edge of trees or in areas that are in the shade for half the day as the sun moves round.
  7. Plant alongside paths and terraces so that roots can soon find their way to the damper soil under the paths and terraces ,especially in the summer.
  8. Water plants with the relatively clean water from the cleaning and cooking of vegetables, showers and baths and the washing up and washing machines if you use biodegradable soaps.
  9. Plant trees that do not develop an obtrusive root system down stream of the water exit pipe from the septic tank. This is the secret of many enviable bougainvilleas, lemon trees and heavily fruited avocado trees grown from seed.
  10. Restructure water to increase its root and leaf wet ability and nutrient extraction efficiency using a small Vi-Aqua unit as used in Kew Gardens –http://www.viaqua.ie.com/.
  11. Water in the cool of the evening or early morning to minimise immediate evaporation from direct sunlight and baking hot soils.

Reduce Water Losses to Save Water

  1. Mulch the surface of beds with small stones, pebbles, wood chippings etc.
  2. Frequently check all hoses and irrigation systems for leaks and repair immediately any found.
  3. Close plant flower, shrub and vegetable beds to reduce the chance of weeds growing and to shade the earth between plants to reduce surface evaporation.
  4. Regularly hoe bare earth between plants to break up the top two or three centimetres of the soil to reduce capillary evaporation.
  5. Cover any un-planted areas with solid paths and terraces or large areas of attractive stone chippings laid over black plastic.
  6. Do likewise with areas planted with cacti, succulents and sun loving shrubs and trees.
  7. Line porous plant pots with plastic or paint them inside before filling with potting compost to prevent evaporation through the sides.
  8. Place catchment trays under plant pots to save water that drains through compost.
  9. Mix a water absorbing/retaining gel such as TerraCotem, http://www.terravida.com/, into potting composts when planting up pots and containers including those for the growing of fruit trees and vegetables on apartment terraces.
  10. Mix the same gel into the soil compost mix at the bottom of planting holes for annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.
  11. Place plant pots in the shade /semi shade during the hottest hours or on days when you have no visitors.
  12. Plant plants through holes in black plastic sheeting on the vegetable plot.
  13. Build at least a low wall round the whole property – especially if on a slope – to reduce the rain water lost by run off into adjacent properties or fields during heavy storms.
  14. Construct a raised front edge on terraces to cause more water to soak into the soil behind the retaining wall. But ensure that there are good drainage pipes in the face of solid retaining walls.
  15. Mulch soft fruit bushes with grass cuttings, straw and composts.
  16. Place wide slabs over the root ball of climbers growing up walls and fences.
  17. Construct rockeries with a total cover of large rocks, plants and small stone/chipping mulches.

You now have 30 practical ideas. Tick those that you have already applied and those that you could implement ready for the coming spring and summer.

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