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The Quick & Effective Way To Use Up to 50% Less Water In The Garden

by on May 24, 2023
This post may contain affiliate links, please see our privacy policy for details.

As an organic gardener, the health of our planet is likely very important to you. As it is for me! And one of the biggest concerns I hear gardeners share is how much water is required to keep their garden thriving during the hot summer months. But what if I told you I’ve discovered a gardening hack that can reduce your watering up to 50%?

You’d probably want to use it in your own garden, right? Well in today’s post I’m going to share with you the quick and effective way you can use less water in the garden.

How to conserve water in a greenhouse

If you’ve read my blog for some time, my secret to saving water in the garden might not come as a surprise. It’s a gardening product I’ve talked about many times before in past blogs and over on my Instagram.

So maybe you’ve already guessed it…

The quick and effective way to use up to 50% less water in the garden is by mulching with straw.

Let me tell you more and show you the experiment I did that resulted in me going 7 days without watering my garden thanks to straw mulch!

Bags of garden straw mulch from HealthiStraw

For more content on straw mulch, check out my post 10 Easy Tips For Using Straw Mulch In The Garden.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by HealthiStraw, the creators of animal bedding and garden straw. You’ll find more information on this local Manitoba brand throughout the blog or here.

This post covers:

How Much Water Can Straw Mulch Retain

GardenStraw mulch in raised bed

Studies have found that straw mulch has the ability to absorb and hold up to twice its weight in water. This is amazing! And as more areas experience long periods of drought and water restrictions, straw can become an especially helpful tool in the garden.

Straw releases moisture over several days. So as the matter dries it gradually waters your soil.

It’s also why straw is often the bedding farmers prefer to use with their animals. It soaks up more liquid from animal droppings, keeping stalls dryer (and cleaner) for much longer!

What Kind Of Straw Should I Use To Mulch My GardenWhat kind of straw mulch to use in an organic garden

Let me start by clarifying what kind of straw I suggest you DON’T use in the garden.

Do NOT use baled straw from your local farmer. Though it may seem like a convenient and cost effective choice, it can lead to a lot of problems.

Whether it’s wheat, rye or oat straw, if you’re getting it from a conventional farmer chances are it’s been treated with herbicides. This could be harmful to your plants. Especially if you’ve worked hard to have an organic garden.

Additionally, baled straw isn’t meant for use in gardens, so it will have tons of seeds in it. Wheat seeds germinate quickly and will grow in abundance in your garden. Very annoying

Now, the best type of straw mulch to use in the garden is GardenStraw, an innovative product from HealthiStraw.

HealthiStraw is a Canadian company based right here in the Manitoba Prairies. Over the last 10 years they’ve made an “old world gardening practice” new again.

Their GardenStraw is an all-natural, biodegradable garden mulch. They work with a network of farmers across the province to harvest the stalks of dried cereal plants and then process it into a refined straw that is seed-free, dust-free and perfect as mulch in the garden.

You can find straw mulch near you by using HealthiStraw’s Retail Store Locater. Simply enter your address and it will populate the retailer closest to you.

GardenStraw mulch cut to a specific length

Plus, because HealthiStraw’s premium mulch, GardenStraw is processed to a shorter length and consistent cut, it may be able to hold even more than twice its weight in water!

How I Went 7 Days Without Watering My Garden In July

To really show you the benefits I’ve seen from using straw mulch in our garden, I conducted a little experiment.

I mulched my basil bed with GardenStraw and left my kale bed as is. I watered both beds on a Monday and then waited 7 days before watering again.

Watering experiment calendar

**Note: The forecast highs for Southern MB were consistent, plus no rain.

Here’s a look at my “mulch vs. no mulch” gardening experiment from Day 1-Day 3.

DAY 1: I watered both beds first thing in the morning. The high was 25°C that day so our garden was exposed to quite a bit of heat and sunshine.

Day 1 gardening experiment using mulch vs. no mulch

Day 2: My mulched bed was still nice and wet with the straw sticking together. While my bare soil bed was starting to dry out on the top layer.

Day 2 gardening experiment using mulch vs. no mulch

Day 3: As you can see, the bare soil bed started to dry out  It quickly became dusty and I was forced to water on Day 4 out of fear of losing my veggies. And this is with having incredibly healthy, living soil in our beds! Meanwhile, my mulched bed was damp on the top layer of straw.

Day 3 watering experiment

Day 4-6: I watered my bare soil bed twice over this time period. But my straw bed was still going strong! The top layer of straw was no longer wet, but the soil underneath still had lots of moisture in it.

Day 4-6 of the garden watering experiment mulched vs no mulch beds

By Day 7 the top layer of soil was dry but there was still quite a bit of moisture below the straw a 1/2 inch deep.

Day 7 gardening experiment

So it’s safe to say straw mulch reduces watering drastically. Those are pretty amazing results right? And imagine if the temperatures had been lower…

I’m confident I could go upwards of 10 days to 2 weeks without watering my garden thanks to straw mulch.

How Often Do I Have To Water The Garden If I Mulch With Straw

Saving water in the garden

Based on my experiment, you could get away with watering once/week if you mulch your beds with straw.

However, I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s an “ideal” watering schedule. Rather, how much you water your garden once it’s mulched with straw will be dependent on;

  • Weather conditions and rain fall
  • How much sun your garden receives
  • The type of plants you’ve mulched
  • How thick the layer of mulch is that you’ve applied (more mulch = less watering)

Pro-Tip: If you’re having a hard time knowing how often to water, simply remove a small amount of mulch and stick your finger in the soil. If it’s damp, no need to water.

As this post suggests, it is likely safe to say you’ll only have to water your garden 50% as often. So if you were watering every other day before, cut back to once every two-three days.

When Is The Best Time To Mulch My Garden

When to apply straw mulch to your garden

There’s never necessarily a bad time to mulch your garden with straw. You can apply straw at any point throughout the gardening season and see the benefits.

But the best times to mulch your garden with straw are:

  • At the beginning of the gardening season after you’ve transplanted your seedlings.
  • Mid-season when straw is starting to breakdown and can be replenished. This is usually end of July-early August for me here in Zone 3.
  • During a heat-wave to help conserve water.
  • Before you head out of town or to the lake and leave the garden unattended.
  • In the Fall before the snow comes to act as insulation and protect tender plants from Winter weather.

How To Apply Straw Mulch To The Garden

Applying straw mulch to garden beds

One of the many reasons I’m mildly obsessed with straw mulch is because of how easy it is to apply. It’s a gardening activity that would be great to include the kids in. Or if you’re doing it yourself, it’s a task you can do quickly in an hour or so!

Applying straw mulch in 3 easy steps:

  1. Remove a large handful of straw from your bag of GardenStraw.
  2. Pack it around the base of your plant, building it up 1-2 inches.
  3. Water your straw deeply to hold it in place.

And there you have it, you’ve mulched your garden beds with straw!

For a more detailed explanation of how to apply straw mulch to your garden, you can check out this post where I also explain the best plants that benefit the most from straw mulch.

 What Else Can Straw Mulch Be Used For

Over the years, I’ve come to find HealthiStraw is useful for more than just reducing the amount I water. There’s actually a dozen (if not more!) other uses for straw in the garden.

I use it to mulch all my hardneck garlic, tender bulbs and perennials in the fall before Winter comes. Straw acts as an amazing layer of insulation.

On the other hand,  I rely heavily on straw to keep my greenhouse tomatoes cool as it helps regulate the temperature of the soil. This is especially helpful on those really hot days (it can get up to +40°C in there!).

Now here’s one of my fav new ways to use straw, I’ve been putting it between my raised beds to suppress weeds. And it’s been working great!

Garden pathways mulched with straw

Plus, any weeds that do germinate are really easy to pull as the roots don’t seem to develop as deep.

This is only a few ideas! There’s many other ways you can use straw in the garden, such as:

  • Adding it to your compost pile for more carbon-rich material.
  • Mixing it into your soil to reduce soil erosion and improve fertility.
  • Using it in pathways to keep your feet clean while also providing some cushion for your knees.

10 Other Easy Ways To Conserve Water In The Garden

Garden hose watering a raised bed

1. Be targeted

Water the soil’s surface rather than your plant’s entire foliage. Plants absorb water from their roots, so being targeted will result in watering less.

2. Water early in the morning or after the sun goes down

This way your plants won’t have to compete with the heat of the day to absorb water. And it will make watering more enjoyable for you!

3. Plant densely

I’m a big believer in this and always squeeze more plants than you might expect into my raised beds. Planting densely reduces watering because less soil is exposed to the sun.

4. Use a handheld hose instead of a sprinkler

Sprinklers aren’t an effective way to water your garden because your entire plants get wet rather than just the roots. Plus, sprinklers often end up watering weeds, which is no help at all. I love using my garden wand and heavily water at the base of each plant.

5. Water directly at your plants roots

The roots are where your plant is absorbing the majority of its water so be strategic and water directly there.

6. Add organic matter to your soil to improve its water retention

Healthy soil is one of the best ways to water your garden less! And though it does take time to build, you can add a little bit of organic matter each season. Things like shredded leaves and tree bark are great amendments and will improve water retention.

7. Use a rain barrel

Rain barrels are SO underrated in my opinion. They don’t have to be expensive (you’re bound to find a used one on your local buy and sell) and can be a huge water saver.

8. Install drip irrigation

We love drip irrigation in our garden and have used it on and off for years. Here’s our preferred hose set-up. Just be sure to pull up your hoses at the end of the season if you live in a cold climate like us here in Zone 3. Otherwise, your lines will crack.

9. Choose low-maintenance/drought-tolerant plants when possible

There’s so many native plants and perennials that thrive with less water. Additionally, seed providers have started to develop hybrid varieties of annual flowers & veggies that are actually drought-resistant. So look for those when you’re placing your next seed order!

10. Top dress your plants with compost

Finally, to save water in the garden, add compost to your beds regularly. Compost is dense in matter and can retain lots of water. It’s also gold for your plants and will slowly release nutrients into the soil.

And there you have it!

You’ve seen the proof from my Zone 3 garden experiment that straw mulch can reduce your watering by up to (if not more than!) 50%.

Thanks to my friends at HealthiStraw for sponsoring this post. I love working with brands I genuinely LOVE using in my garden.

Bags of HealthiStraw garden mulch

Whether you’re located in Canada or the U.S., you can likely find GardenStraw at a retailer near you.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions, I answer all comments! Or share your own experience with straw mulch. There’s so many creative ways to use it in the garden.

You can follow @fromsoiltosoul on Instagram and Pinterest for more organic gardening content too.

More Organic Gardening Blog Posts

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Latest Comments

  1. August 12, 2022

    what a great summer compared to last year. barely had to water at all this year since mulching (yes, used healthy straw ;)). The only thing that CONSTANTLY needs water is my pepper plants that i planted in too small of pots. woops lesson learned.

    — matt