It's World Water Day today - designated every 22nd March to raise awareness of the issues concerning water supply across the world and to gain commitment from people like ourselves to reduce our own impact on this precious resource. I could write a post suggesting 5, 10 or even 50 ways you could use less water, but I'm sure you know already about turning the tap off when brushing your teeth, installing a water hippo in your loo's tank, blah, blah, blah. That's been done many times before and by people far more eloquent and persuasive than me.
However, there's a way to save water in the garden I've not seen in many places and it's one I've been using in my garden and allotment for a while now. Based on the principle 'a pint of water at the roots is worth the same as a gallon at the soil's surface', I install water pipes like the one shown in the picture whenever I plant a tree or large shrub. The pipe is cut to the length of the planting hole plus a couple of inches to stand proud of the soil, so I can easily reach it with my watering can. I try not to water the garden during periods of drought - I'm a great believer in encouraging plants to make deep roots and find their own water, but sometimes (especially the summer of 2006) my larger plants have needed a helping hand, particularly during their first year. By employing this technique I can ensure the water gets to exactly where it is needed, using a minimal amount. I 'acquired' my pipe as there was a long length of drainage pipe abandoned amongst brambles on the public land next to my house - a find from my early guerilla gardening. You may have to resort to your local builders' supplier for something similar - it won't break the bank.
I've employed the same technique for my allotment trees and grape vines. I've also adapted it for water hungry crops such as courgettes, squashes and tomatoes. For these I use plastic pop bottles donated by my neighbours. I recycle the bottle tops and the cut off bottoms of each bottle, so I'm left with what looks like a giant straight sided funnel. I 'plant' one of these alongside each thirsty plant and water once a week during dry spells (about half a watering can per plant) - you may need to do this more frequently if your soil is sandy. This method also prevents the spread of fungal diseases such as blight, which aerial watering may encourage. I can also deliver my organic liquid feeds straight to where it'll make the most difference using this method.
If you're concerned about it being a tad unsightly, well it doesn't matter on the allotment and I've put the garden ones to the side or around the back of each plant so they're tucked out of the way. Besides, a healthy looking specimen with a pipe next to it is a much better sight than a sickly looking pipe absent one :)