Published on 09/06/07

Waiting for rain, find water to use

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

As dry heat continues to sear Georgia landscapes this fall, the answer to some water woes may be hiding in the ever-running air conditioner.

"You'd be surprised how much water you can collect from condensation from your air conditioner," said Steve Brady, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Cobb County. "Collecting and using water that's normally wasted around your home can help you nurse your landscape through this drought."

The bigger your house and the cooler you like it, the more water you'll get. "Some units can put out more than 20 gallons of water per day," said Frank Henning, a UGA Extension watershed agent. "Most will get between 10 and 50 gallons per day."

Besides air conditioners, other common sources of wasted water you can recycle into the landscape include bath water, excess water in the shower or rain, if we ever get any.

"Putting rain barrels at roof edges, gutters and downspouts to collect rain runoff is a great way to save water for landscape use," Brady said.

With recent, confirmed cases of West Nile virus around metro Atlanta raising concerns about mosquito populations, take precautions to prevent mosquito breeding.

"If you use the water in three to five days, there should be no mosquito problem," Brady said. "If you don't, cover the inlet with mosquito screening to keep them out. Or add mosquito dunks (BTI) to kill mosquito 'wigglers' in stored water."

If it's not raining outside, think about water you waste inside. "In Georgia, you aren't supposed to use gray water in the landscape, so bath water isn't a good idea," Henning said. "However, you can collect and use all the water that goes down the drain while you wait for the shower to get hot."

Whether collecting water inside to use on plants is practical depends on how many plants you have. "The general rule is they need a gallon of water per foot of height," Henning said. "Most plants you can water about once a week. But plants in containers need to be watered more frequently."

Because plants in containers are more exposed to heat and are often planted in fast-draining potting soil, they need more water.

"Beds need about an inch each week," Henning said. "So that's 62 gallons per 100 square feet. If you're trying to keep 20 plants that average 2 feet high, you can easily get 40 gallons from the air conditioner, rain or wasted tap water."

Another option for fall gardens is installing drought-tolerant plants that require less water. "Some succulent plants can take some really dry conditions," Henning said. "Fall is always the best time to plant, so we hate to discourage planting. But do make wise choices such as lantana, prickly pear cactus and sedum which do fine without water."

Henning asserts that every drop of water saved counts. But some simple changes can make a huge impact on the amount of water you use in the landscape. "Making changes in your irrigation system from spray to drip can save a tremendous amount of water," he said.

For watering rules and water-saving tips, contact the UGA Extension agent in your county. Just call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.