Using water wisely for better gardens

Water is a crucial element to growing any plants - too much and the plant drowns, too little and it withers. Finding the sweet spot for plants is further complicated by the soil, plants growing around them and the amount of sun received. Looking online gives general information and doesn’t take these into account, which makes starting a garden confusing and frustrating.

Without taking the time each day to individually measure the water given to each plant, it becomes an experiment to find the best and least time-consuming way of watering your garden. As we continue to look for ways to make our clients happy and use resources wisely, we here at Avalow are finding success with a few technologies that have been around for a while - ollas and wicking beds. Both are methods that let the plants take as much water as they need from a reservoir.

Ollas are simply clay vessels - pots in our case - that provide a reservoir with a porous membrane that allows water to be pulled out by the plants through osmotic pressure differences directly to the roots where the water is needed. Ollas work best with wicks that make pathways and help the water transfer more efficient, but the radius is limited and they are best suited for smaller spaces or in conjunction with multiple ollas. For further reading, Gardening with Less Water by David Bainbridge is a good resource.

Wicking beds use the same concept, osmotic pressure to transfer the right amount of water directly to the roots of the plants, but are built to incorporate a water reservoir in the bottom of the beds. A good source for more information about these can be found at the Food is Free Project and the concept is nicely illustrated by the Global Buckets project.

We use are seeing very good growth with both methods - we use ollas in our wine barrel planters and our hand-built 4x6’ beds are built with a wicking reservoir. We’ve found that the plants grow faster, although mulching is very important to control weeds and extend the reservoir time. As we continue to experiment and improve, we are looking at different reservoir materials and methods to control evaporation. Our clients will see these improvements first hand over the next few seasons. If you’d like to as well, get started now!