A waterfree garden, or a garden that operates on very little water, is perfect for those who either live in desertlike climates or are simply trying to be as ecoconscious as possible. While it may seem like water is necessary for gardening, there are many plants that thrive in dry environments. Additionally, there are many ways you can save water so that you don’t need to water your plants more than every once in a while, if at all.
Why to Choose a Waterfree or Low-Water Garden
Although it isn’t expressly recommended that every garden be water-free or use very little water, conserving moisture is important in some parts of the world. Many people have limited supplies of water, especially in drought-prone areas such as the western United States or the Middle East. In some cases, when living in these areas, you may face restrictions on how much water you can use at a time. By creating a water-free or low-water garden, your plants can thrive even when your area imposes restrictions on water usage.
Access to clean and fresh water is not only an issue for people in dry climates—it is increasingly becoming a problem throughout the world. Gardeners who are ecoconscious are also looking for ways to conserve the world’s natural resources, because as populations grow, access to water will continue to deplete over time. Instead of wasting water in the garden, creating a garden that can flourish without much water is a great way to do your part for the environment.
Choose Your Plants Wisely
If you plan to have a virtually water-free garden, it doesn’t make sense to try and populate it with plants that thrive in wet environments. Instead, you will need to do some research and plant a garden that works well in a drier climates. If you live somewhere where your plants will get some natural water, consider this water source when choosing what to grow.
Look for plants that are advertised as drought-tolerant, meaning they can withstand long periods of time without being watered. Some plants that thrive in these conditions include cacti, sunset strain flowers, lavendula mutifida, lavender, tulips, pansies, columbine, sweet William, baby’s breath, marigolds, delphiniums, and sedum spurium. Succulents often do very well in low-water or waterfree gardens, as they are often native to arid parts of the world.
Many herbs can also thrive on being neglected, but they must first be established and take root to do so. These include more common herbs used in home cooking, such as basil, thyme, chives, and parsley. Herbs can also be germinated indoors by putting them in a small pot with soil, putting a film over them, and leaving the pot in a bright area to sprout. Once the seedlings are large enough, you can transfer them to your low-water or water-free garden where they can grow.
For further inspiration, look to rooftop gardens that are doing well, as they survive in direct sunlight and often in dry and low or no water conditions. You can also research plants that thrive in deserts around the world or in Mediterranean-like climates.
Alternatively, purchasing and planting flowers and other plants that are native to your region is a great way to ensure the conditions will be perfect for your plants will thrive. You can visit a local botanical garden to get some inspiration, or simply do as much research as possible on what types of plants do well where you live.
Plant in the Autumn
You’ll likely want your plants to last as long as possible, so you need to start your garden at a strategic time. Start your garden in the autumn so that your plants can enjoy the rain as they take root. Once they have done so, they will need far less water and looking after, and many types of plants can maintain life and look good without water at all.
Compost at Least Once a Year
Compost helps your plants retain water, so you should ensure that you have plenty of it in your garden beds. Compost can also add nutrients, and it encourages earthworms to dig around your plants, which is a positive for plant growth and drainage. Ensure that you compost your garden at least once a year to maintain your plants as well as possible.
Water Plants Strategically
If you are watering just a little bit, make sure that you do so strategically. Don’t douse your plants with water, and instead combine your watering with the water they will get naturally and using rain barrels. This means watering when water evaporation is at its lowest, such as early in the morning or in the evening, so that your garden will stay moist.
Group Your Plants According to Their Water Needs
Even completely water-free gardens will need some water as plants are sprouting, growing, and taking root. In order to save on water, group your plants together according to their watering needs. Place the plants that need more water than the others in one specific area. This way, you won’t waste water on those that do not need it, and the plants that do need water will be attended to accordingly.
Improve Your Soil
Although this sounds like a daunting task, improving your soil with soil amendment will ensure that your plants are receiving the most water possible while also draining quickly. In order to do so, you need to make sure you have enough organic material in your soil and that it is well aerated.
Mulch the Soil
Mulch, such as leaves, pine needles, gravel, bark, or pine straw, is essential to help keep your water-free plants growing and thriving. Using mulch helps regulate the temperature of the soil and can also keep weeds from sprouting next to your plants. Your mulch layer should be several inches thick, and the mulch will need to be replaced at regular intervals to ensure your garden is always looking and feeling its best.
Consider a Xeriscape
Using xeriscape is a great way to keep water-free or low-water gardens thriving. This method involves landscaping in a specific way so that your garden does not need as much water. It often involves placing plants strategically around concrete or incorporating rocks or other materials between plants to help conserve water. This style is particularly popular in more arid climates, especially in the southwest United States and the Mediterranean. The gardening style is gradually become more popular in other regions, though it is more difficult to maintain a xeriscape garden in wetter climates or where there is a heavy winter.
Create an Irrigation System
Irrigation can work well for waterfree or low-water gardens. Low-water gardens utilize irrigation systems, which deliver a small amount of water right to the root to allow the plant to bloom and thrive. Often, irrigation systems are only needed while plants are growing in the beginning, and then it can be removed or turned off. These systems encourage the plants to root deeper into the ground and not retain the shape of the container they came in when purchased from the store. As stated above, deeper roots will allow the plant to continue to thrive, even without regular watering or without water at all.
Consider Deferring to a Professional
Although many amateur gardeners want to go it alone, creating a very low-water or water-free garden may be beyond the skills of many. Instead of striking out on your own, you may want to hire someone who knows how best to arrange plants to conserve water and which types of plants will thrive the best in your climate. If you do decide to use xeriscaping as a method, it is recommended that you at least consult with a designer in order to ensure your garden looks its best for years to come.
Use Tools to Help Your Plants Retain Water
Aside from irrigation systems, there are plenty of tools that can be used to help plants retain water. Water-storing crystals are an excellent way to save on water and irrigation. They can be mixed with your soil before the plants are put into the ground. The crystals absorb hundreds of times their weight in water and release this water as the plant grows. This hands-free irrigation happens as the plant needs it, so there is no risk that all of the crystals will “burst” at once and drown your plants. That makes the water-storing crystals a particularly great way to make watering less necessary in the beginning stages of the plants’ growth.
Water-storing mats can be used for indoor plants or those situated in or near a xeriscape area. Keep these mats moist, and the plants can continue to thrive without you having to do much work.
Waterfree or low-water gardening is imperative because water is becoming a more precious commodity than ever, and many gardeners will need to consider switching to this type of garden sooner rather than later. Keeping a garden that conserves water not only helps the environment—it also saves you the hassle of having to water your plants every day, making it the perfect type of gardening for those who are either busy or unable to get outside regularly for other reasons. Water-saving gardens also work perfectly for those who live in climates that are prone to droughts, as they will survive even when there isn’t enough water to go around.
Want to learn more about creating a water-free or low-water garden?
By Anna Scanlon
Anna Scanlon is an American expat currently living in the United Kingdom. She has been a freelancer for the past 10 years and has written three novels: Unravelled, Children of the Most High, and The Remnants. Anna holds both an MA and PhD in History, specializing in the Holocaust. Her freelance work has appeared in USA Today, XO Jane, Manifest Station, and The Mighty. She runs the lifestyle blog Anna in Wonderland, where she has been featured with brands such as Debenhams and J2O.