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posted: 6/3/2013 1:00 AM

Water-saving tips will help plants reach potential

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By Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand

Q. What tips can you provide me for conserving water in the garden?

A. While water is essential for growing a lush garden, here are some easy water-saving tips for the garden:

• Water you plants in the early morning, before 9 a.m., or in the late evening after 6 p.m. These times of the day are cooler and the water is less likely to evaporate. Be sure to water at the base of the plant so that it goes straight to the roots.

• Add mulch on top of your soil to help lock in moisture and prevent the water-stealing weeds from growing. If weeds have grown, make sure to pull them quickly so your plants do not have to compete for nourishment.

• Collect rain water in rain barrels. Try using a barrel with a faucet for easier access to the water.

• Use permeable hardscapes for paths and walkway. Permeable hardscapes are materials with spaces that allow stormwater to move through the walking surface. Examples include paving blocks, brick and natural stone arranged in a loose configuration, as well as gravel, cobbles, wood and mulch.

• Choose plants that don't demand water. Native plants are a good alternative because they are already adapted well to your specific climate and rainfall levels.

• Group your plants together based on their watering needs to help make the task of watering not only easier but also more efficient.

Q. What is the difference between regular composting and worm composting?

A. Regular composting, also known as active or hot composting, requires that the compost pile and be mixed and be maintained between 130 degrees to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for organic decomposition. Hot composting requires turning! Worm composting or vermicomposting doesn't require turning. Instead, it involves burying kitchen scraps in a bin filled with worms. The worms devour the scraps and convert them to worm castings, a form of compost. In fact, you don't want the compost to get too hot; otherwise, you will kill the worms. While you can use the earthworms that you find out in your garden, you may have better success by using one of the worms that are specifically raised for vermicomposting, such as red worms. The difference between composting worms and earthworms is that composting worms do a faster job of breaking down organic matter from beginning to end.

Check with your local garden nursery. They may know of some local sources that sell the worms.

• Provided by Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin Road, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email

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