The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Water

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“Urban Rain Garden” – The Garden Table Urban Garden – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Looking in the background you will notice a brick cutaway in the berm running along the abandoned house… I built that there because the gutters above leak profusely during rain events… The rain garden is my answer to the flooding that used to result because of this… Flooding that before this rain garden regularly covered 50% of the lot…

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This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

Whiskey is worth drinking, but water’s worth fighting for. Water is the great garden equalizer, any guerrilla gardener will tell you lugging water 4 gallons at a time in the middle of a heat wave sucks. Did you know you have to do this, like, every couple of days? Vegetables require regular water for the first month, then periodic water depending on the amount of rain that falls. Ornamental plants also require water during the first month of establishment, perennials that make it through the first year may never need supplemental irrigation. Annuals will need water throughout the entire course of their life, regular in establishment and periodic after.

There are options other than lugging water, observation during rainfall is often the key to success. Leaky gutters, when coupled with a rain collection barrel is just one example of collection without physical contact or alteration… A screen placed over the top will keep leaves and debris out. Where a roof does not exist, create one. One inch of rain, falling on a 1000 square foot roof will produce 600 gallons of water. One inch of rain on a small shed sized roof will fill a small rain barrel.

Even a rain barrel has its limits, with most commercial models topping out at 50 gallons. The important thing to remember is without a downspout, even a thousand rain barrels won’t do you any good. The answer to this problem is often as simple as meeting the neighbors, you would be surprised how receptive someone can be to a rain barrel when it does not involve any money or work on their part. If saving the local stream does not seal the deal, offer vegetables.

Storm water run-off is a huge problem in urban areas, pavement is quick to shed water and storm drains quickly drain that water to the local stream. In a pollution, litter and chemical free world this would be a perfect system, but we are not any of these things and therefore our watershed suffer the consequences. Urban lots consisting of compacted fill often do not soak up rainfall. Depending on the grade of the lot, much of that water is allowed to run right off it into the street. Every effort should be made to keep this water in the garden, or slow it down enough to allow it time to absorb into the earth.

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“Grand Arrival” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – The sewers on our street our filled to ground level with litter and debris… This is the result of a Summer thunderstorm… As you can see by the photo not everyone thinks this is a problem…

Rain gardens and bioswales, when placed based on your observations of water flow, can effectively harness run-off for plant use. Water flowing down hill can be effectively stopped using a miniature bio-swale, excess water can then be routed to a central rain garden. Essentially this system is nothing more than small trenches dug perpendicular to the flow of water, the downhill side can be reinforced with a small dam made with the soil removed from the trench. This trench is then filled with loose organic materials, and covered in stones or wood mulch. This trench can then be routed to a central rain garden, with the garden beds radiating outwards from the collection garden in the center. My theory behind this is that the rain garden would distribute the collected water down the connected gardens, working essentially like a wick style irrigation system.

The plant-based answer I would give to the water problem is to use plants that don’t require supplemental water. Xeriscape plants like sedums, thyme and Echinacea often require no water beyond the time of planting. Any succulent will grow in the worst soil you can find, or the driest conditions you can throw at it. Some plants, like “Stella Dora” day lily are very common in parking lots, not only are they drought tolerant, they can be accidentally cut to the ground and still grow fast enough to continue blooming after a few short weeks. Native plants should be where your research begins, many of them have already adapted safety responses to the occasional drought or dry spell. Much more on plants later…

Properly amended soil holds more water than flat lifeless dirt, the amount of water your soil can hold has a direct relation to how much organic material it contains. Leaf mulch and grass clippings are often readily available in urban neighborhoods, these can be mixed into the soil, or layered on top to slowly decompose… You would be surprised how much organic material, when left on the surface of a garden, will be consumed and moved by the earthworms below… Learning about earthworms made me a lazy gardener… That’s right… I’m blaming it on the worms!..

Mulch is a material placed over the soil to reduce water loss through evaporation. Mulch is typically an organic material such as wood chips or hay, whatever is available locally is typically best. A mulch layer should be applied generously, keep in mind that water lost to evaporation only means you will have to replace that water later. When possible, a thick layer of mulch on top of your new topsoil layer will greatly increase the water holding capability of your garden.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Practical Permaculture – Water In Your Garden

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This is a screen shot from Google Earth… Forest County, PA… And all of those lines leading to the little dots… Well those are gas wells… Enough said… But wait… This is a State Park… And only a single county out of 67… Think about it for a minute… Then think about the impact this has on not only the water… But the entire ecosystem… This… To me… Is sacrilegious…

Water is probably the most valuable natural resource available on our planet, it is irreplaceable. Whiskey is worth drinking, but water is worth fighting for. It reminds me of a meme that was circulating around Facebook a while back… Basically a young shirtless boy standing in the desert with a completely disgusted look on his face… The caption was simply “You mean to tell me, you have so much clean water… That you shit in it!” My answer to this meme is simple… Yes… And not only do we shit in it… We mix it with noxious chemicals… Inject it into the ground under extreme pressure… And fracture equally noxious gasses out of the ground so we can burn them in order to heat our McMansions… We just have that much…

Now… I’m not saying you have to donate all of your money to your local water conservation non-profit in order to be eco-conscious… In fact… I think just the opposite… I actually believe that is the exact opposite of eco-conscious… Maybe… Executively-conscious… But not ecologically conscious… I don’t give a rats ass what anyone says… That is just how I see it… With that said… I believe awareness is key… An awareness of the resources available to us on this earth… An awareness of the delicate connections we have to the earth… And the connections the earth has to each and every element it contains… To think that the removal of one of those elements does not drastically effect all of the other elements in the system is a failure of paramount proportions… Respect people…

With that said… Water is an essential element in gardening, it is what makes our plants grow. Even plants that do not require you to physically irrigate, are getting water somehow. The most common mistake I see people make in their gardens is not watering often enough, or even more common, not deeply enough. Another common mistake is thinking your plants will benefit from a little drink every once in a while…

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“Swimmers” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Dyed puddle, bleeding hearts and reflection – I have shot bleeding hearts from every angle imaginable… This has been my favorite angle so far…

You know… I could go on and on about my peeves… Lets get to the good stuff…

A plant does not benefit from a little drink every once in a while, you should always water your plants thoroughly. A plant grows roots partly for the purpose of attaining water from the ground, the reason you should water your plants deeply is to promote deep root growth. If you only give your plants light sprays with the hose, your plant will only be looking for water at the surface of your soil. If water is regularly available in the top 4″ of soil, your plants will have no reason to send roots deep into the ground. The idea behind watering your garden is to establish your plants, once they are established they will only need watered in the driest of times. You water in the beginning, so you don’t have to water in the future.

The time of day that you water can have some differing effects, but as a general rule of thumb watering your garden during the hottest part of the day is probably the least efficient use of your water. Water at a time of the day that will allow the water to penetrate the soil before it has a chance to evaporate, as long as the sun is not baking the earth around your plant… you should be fine… Just remember your plants do not immediately absorb the water you apply, it takes time. Evening is also a good time to water, but you can run the risk of disease or mildew. I personally prefer early morning because it tends to give my plants that added energy they need to make it through the sunniest of days with as little stress as possible… But that is just my preference…

But Chris, how long do I water my garden for? I mean… Exactly how long?.. I was worried you would ask me that… Ok… As a basic guideline… Water your plants directly at the base of the plant, do not soak the plant as a whole as this will promote disease. Annuals should be watered every day for the first week after planting, count to 5 for each plant. After the first week, water 2 to 3 times a week for the next two weeks. If your annuals survive the first month in the ground, you will only have to water once a week if it doesn’t rain.

© chriscondello 2013

“Evening Storm” – © chriscondello 2013 – Conceptual Composition – My Backyard – Wilkinsburg, PA – Call this what you will… But to me… This photograph is like a painting… Blue Salvia as my canvas… And Golden Heuchera my medium… Taken in the evening light accompanying a storm…

Perennials, shrubs and trees do not need watered nearly as much, a week or two of regular watering is often enough to get the plant off to a good start… These types of plants typically have bigger roots stuffed into bigger pots, accordingly they require a bit more water, think along the lines of 10 to 20 seconds of direct watering per plant… Newly planted trees can often require a little more water, I will leave the water on them for up to a minute… Again, once a perennial or tree has resumed natural growth, you are not doing it any favors by watering it… You really want the plant to learn to take care of itself… We don’t breastfeed indefinitely… So don’t water indefinitely… You should be working to water your garden less… Not more…

Slope can greatly decrease water absorption, the faster the water moves down hill the less the soil can absorb. One solution is to slow the rate of speed at which your water flows downhill, think miniature swale. If slowing the rate at which your water flows downhill is not an option, water very slowly by applying water a little at a time directly above your target plant. You should be able to watch the water slowly absorb into the earth, any excess will be evident by the stream running away from your plants. This may seem like a lot of work, it is important to remember that once your plants are established and growing normally… You can quit watering…

Sourcing water is another question I am commonly asked, usually along the lines of rain water vs. city water. Without going into science stuff… And based on common sense alone… What do you think?.. To me, the obvious answer is rain water is better. City water is filtered using chlorine among many other chemicals, rain water is filtered by nature… That’s a “no brainer” as far as I am concerned… But I’m also a realist, rain water is not always available. I can run my single rain barrel dry in a few days when the weather is dry, at that point I will switch over to city water… I mean… I drink the stuff… And bathe in it… If it’s good enough for me… Then it’s good enough for my plants…

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“Nine Mile Run” – © chriscondello 2013 – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Nine Mile Run in Frick Park… Basically a collection of storm water from 3 communities… Storm water does not get treated in any way… It is released into your favorite creek… And typically flows right back into our drinking water supply…

Rainwater collection is a massive topic that has warranted entire books to be written about the subject, I’m going to give it a paragraph or two. Rain barrels have recently come into style, they can be cheaply purchased at just about any big box store in the world. I see them all over my neighborhood thanks to a local non-profit working to restore Frick Park’s Nine Mile Run… Which happens to be a place I regularly work in, and is the location of many of the photographs contained within this website… Anyway… The Nine Mile Run Watershed Association made them very cheap and readily available through a program they offer… I consider this non-profit one of the good guys, I feel we play for the same team.

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/stone-sculptures-in-frick-park/

The point I want to make is that these rain barrels do nothing if you do not utilize the sweet rainwater that they collect, I can’t begin to tell you how many of these barrels become nothing more than an intermediate reservoir between your gutter, and the very drain the barrel was intended to bypass in the first place. Think about it like this… 1 inch of rainfall… Falling on an area of 1000 square feet… Will produce 600 gallons of water… Most commercial rain barrels are around 100 gallons, everything beyond that 100 gallons is expelled out of the overflow system. Rain barrels need to be used…

A good rain barrel tip I can offer from experience… Do not place a rain barrel directly on the ground, it needs to be elevated by as much as you safely can. The water level of your barrel needs to at least be higher than the height of the hose in your hand, while standing, just to give you enough pressure to get a trickle. Even if you placed your rain barrel on your roof, you would not get water pressure anywhere close to what you get out of your faucet or garden hose. I have no idea what the math for this one is, I just know someone much smarter than me explained it… And it sounded good… So… Just don’t expect to blast the bird crap off your car with your rain barrel, unless you get a pump…

So if you have replaced all of your down spouts with rain barrels… And you are watering your gardens as much as possible… After all… You just have a tiny urban garden… Well then you might as well dig a rain garden… Route all of your overflow valves to the garden… And let the rain garden do the rest of the work… I have written about rain gardens before… And will be writing more about them in the coming months… But for now… Check out this link…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/practical-urban-permaculture-rain-gardens/

To sum this article up… Water your plants thoroughly… And deeply… The idea of watering your plants is to stimulate deep root growth… If water is regularly available at the surface… It won’t stimulate deep root growth… Water from the base of your plants because unlike us… Plants do not require showers… Use rainwater as long as you have it… But don’t be afraid if your only other option is tap water… And experimentation with rain water collection and dispersal is a good thing… People should consider rain water one of the great yield possibilities of the garden…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.