How to Help Your Plants Deal with Drought
The prospect of drought is alarming for any grower, but with a little preparation, it doesn’t have to mean the death of your crop. Cory Hughes argues that with a bit of tinkering, your soil or medium can become a water-saving haven during dry times.
Summer is here, and for some parts of the growing world, that means having to maintain your plants in conditions that may have been stricken with drought. California has served as an example of what happens when areas are deprived of the much-needed rainfall that not only supports local ecosystems, but your friendly neighborhood grower.
When water is scarce, growers need to become creative in order to see that their gardens stay lush and green. That means coming up with ways to maximize your water efficiency, which in the end is not only good for your plants, but the environment as well.
How Much Water are You Using?
Before you buy anything or change any of your habits, check how much water you have used in the past. Do some math and find out exactly how much water per plant you've gone through. When water is abundant and cheap, we tend to get a little liberal with our usage. Drought will undoubtedly bring an end to the party.
How much water you need over the lifetime of a plant will vary depending on what you are growing. Research the specific needs of your plants throughout your garden and compare that with what you have been using to get a rough idea of how much water you can save by simply curbing your habits.
Consider Your Grow Medium
Once you’ve eliminated any human factors, take a look at your grow medium. Organic soil, neutral mediums, and hydroponic systems all use varying amounts of water, independent of the needs of the plant. If you are growing outdoors, directly in the soil, you are losing a large percentage of your water to evaporation and general runoff.
Using pots as opposed to directly planting in the ground allows you to better monitor and regulate your water usage. Pots can also contribute to the overall health of the plant by allowing for increased air flow.
You can also mix your soil with things like peat moss, aged sawdust, or vermiculite to increase its water retention. Greater retention means less watering in the long run.
Peat moss, otherwise known as sphagnum, is a collection of fibrous materials formed by decomposing mosses. Its pH is similar to soil and it can hold many times its weight in moisture.
Vermiculite is also good for reducing water use. It is made of aluminum-iron magnesium silicates, but look like little chunks of wood. Vermiculite and peat moss can be used in conjunction in your soil mixture to maximize water retention and ensure proper aeration as well.
Try Coco Coir
Switching from soil to a hydroponic system or hydroponic medium (soilless medium) like coco coir is another way to conserve water. Hydroponic mediums act as a soil substitute and can hold high amounts of water.
Completely inert, coco coir is made from the husks of coconuts and can hold as much as 10 times its weight in moisture. Coco can also be mixed with things like vermiculite and perlite to maximize water absorption.
For added protection against evaporation, you can use a basic mulch to coat the top of your pots. This will curb moisture escaping due to heat from your lights. Another solution for potted plants is to condition the soil with a wetting agent.
Wetting agents break the surface tension of water, which in turn prevents it from beading up and slows the evaporation rate from your topsoil.
Using traditional mediums, the most advanced method of conserving water would be to catch and recycle. Using a reverse osmosis (RO) system, you can capture your runoff, send it back into your RO system, and end up conserving upwards of 75 per cent of your water or more.
The microfilters will remove nearly all your leftover nutrients, giving you a clean slate from which to start again. Reverse osmosis water filtration systems won’t be found in your average gardener’s toolbox, but if you have the money to spend, there is simply no better way to cut down on water waste.
Closed hydroponic systems like deep water culture also constantly recycles the water within, making it one of the more conservation-minded methods of gardening. Using this technique, there is no soil or medium.
The root system of the plant is submerged in water that is rich with oxygen and hydroponic nutrients. These systems not only conserve water, but eliminate the need for manual watering all together using a system of automation instead.
Putting together a closed hydroponic system is a snap and will increase yields, cut down on maintenance, and help save the planet in the process.