Make an Urban Water-Saving Garden

Save a bit of money cutting back on water usage by building this urban water-saving garden perfect for a small home or backyard.

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by Shawna Coronado

Growing in regions of the country that suffer drought often means there is a lot of brown in the scenery. Why not perk up a dry, hot area with bold color, both in plantings and in container and wall design? This living wall shelf is a fantastic way to bring color to a dull area.

Saving money by planting with seeds or reusing garden planting systems is a great way to grow frugally. Water, however, is one of the biggest gardening expenses around the world. By learning to save water, you are learning to save money. Living walls, if used properly, can save water and expense.

Humans are wasting water. In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than one trillion gallons of water are wasted annually nationwide. For the average household, this means that water leaks can account for an astounding waste of 10,000 gallons of water annually. Irrigation systems are often installed to water grass, which is a nonfood-producing, nonpollinator-supporting crop with heavy water requirements. Lawn watering consumes over 30 percent of the water used on the East Coast of the United States during the spring and summer seasons. Many of these irrigation systems leak, which means that a slow leak about the thickness of a 1/32 of an inch can waste over 6,300 gallons of water per month.

World Drought

Drought is currently a pervasive environmental concern for most of the world. Extreme weather and climactic events are a natural part of Earth’s system. Yet drought and heat waves are particularly challenging for the act of gardening, having significant impacts on our community and lives. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “confidence has increased that some weather events and extremes will become more frequent, more wide – spread or more intense during the 21st century.” In other words, look out for more of the same in future years.

In areas such as Southern California, South Africa, Spain, and other European regions, severe drought has been devastating to crops, having a severe socioeconomic effect on communities as well. In these regions, saving water is not a considerate thing to do; it’s an absolute necessity.

Watering Your Living Wall Garden

Living wall gardens can be quite water-saving efficient because gardens of this nature are typically hand watered or have automatic watering as a part of their growing systems. Sprinklers waste tons of water annually, so the advantage of living walls is that they lose less water through evaporation of the watering process. Using a watering wand when watering, instead of spraying directly with a hose, is a great step toward saving water. Utilizing an automated irrigation system is perhaps the best way to save water, but irrigation is not always available to a gardener.

It is possible to take the concept of saving water through living walls to the next level by carefully planning the container system. A self-watering container helps save water by allowing you to water less over a period of time. For example, a self-watering unit such as an EarthBox gardening system holds more water than a traditional container within a reservoir hidden at the base of the planting container. This water is then absorbed slowly by the plant roots and requires less watering than the typical container or wall unit, thereby saving water for you and your family.

EarthBox gardening systems come in several varieties, most commonly regular sized or junior sized. While large EarthBox gardening systems function well for big plants such as tomato or eggplant, it is quite possible to use an EarthBox Junior gardening system for a small patio living wall. Build a shelf system unit and water the plants through the water tube. Depending on air humidity, you may only have to water once or twice per week.

Using Less Water

If you can combine the conceptual idea of watering less with the principle of growing plants that can tolerate higher temperatures and require less water, you have created a double layer of defense against drought conditions. Traditional plants need less water when they are planted in a richer soil that absorbs moisture. There are several soil mixes mentioned on page 33, and using a mix that has traditional potting soil mixed with compost, worm castings, and other natural ingredients increases its water-holding capacity immensely. Succulents or cactus are also strongly drought tolerant but require heavier drainage.

Planting vegetables closer together actually helps conserve water. Each plant can shade and help preserve the other plant, and they share water this way. In this fashion, living walls, by their nature, are water saving because they grow plants in close quarters.

If you are not using an EarthBox garden system, your living wall should be watered at the base of your plants in the evening or at night. This ensures the plant will hold more water for a longer period of time. Only switch to morning watering if the living wall shows signs of powdery mildew or fungus. If the living wall does not have an automated or self-watering system, it is best to water for a longer period of time fewer times during the week. If the system is automated or a self-watering system like the EarthBox gardening systems, simply water the containers according to system directions.

Plants with silver or white leaves, such as artemesia or dusty miller are often drought tolerant. Flowering plants such as amaranth, cleome, Diamond Frost Euphorbia, lantana, oxalis, and verbena are quite drought tolerant. Herbs that are drought tolerant can frequently be found in Mediterranean recipes: rosemary, oregano, and sage are wonderfully hardy. Vegetables include cool-season growers such as cabbage, kale, and chards. Summer-season growers that do remarkably well with little water include peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli.

Tools Needed

  • 3 water-saving planters
  • Custom shelf (see graphic)
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Hammer or nail gun
  • Galvanized 1-inch nails
  • Heavy-duty nails
  • Heavy-duty hanging hooks for back of unit
  • Paint or stain
  • Container soil

How to Build an Urban Water-Saving Garden

1. Measure the wall that will hold the self-watering planters for customized shelf placement.

2. Cut the wood to size if necessary.

3. Nail the 62-inch side pieces to the top and bottom of the 28-inch 1 × 10s.

4. Place the remaining 28-inch 1 × 10s at 17-5/8-inch intervals, nailing through the outside of the 62-inch board to hold the shelf in place.

5. Nail the 2 × 4 boards on the bottom of the unit.

6. Nail the 1 × 4 boards cut to 9-1/4 inches to the sides of the unit at the top and bottom to form a rim trim.

7. Nail the 1 × 4 boards cut to 29 inches to the front of the unit at the top and bottom to connect the trim.

8. Top the unit with the one 1 × 10 board cut to 30 inches.

9. Attach heavy-duty hanging hooks on the back of the unit. Use the level to be sure both hooks are level for hanging.

10. Paint or stain.

11. Using two heavy-duty nails, hammer nails into the wall, check for level, then hang the unit.

12. If using the EarthBox Junior gardening systems, follow the directions to plant using the enclosed fertilizer and planting tray cover–assemble, fill with soil, add organic fertilizer, cut holes in the cover, and plant the garden.

13. If using a different self-watering container, follow the directions as required.

More from Grow a Living Wall

Grow a Living Wall: Create Vertical Gardens with Purpose by Shawna Coronado. Copyright © 2015 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. Reprinted with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved.

Drought-Tolerant Herbs and Vegetables

  • Amaranth
  • Broccoli
  • Chamomile, German
  • Chards
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Lavender
  • Malabar spinach
  • Oregano
  • Peppers
  • Rhubarb
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Winter Savory
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