Conserve water in hydrophobic garden soil

Because of the heat wave and lack of rain, I’ve had to water the garden just to keep the plants alive.

To conserve water, I’ve been syringing the plants one at a time with a watering wand.  Syringing — placing water at the base if each individual plant — uses much less water than spraying the entire area with an oscillating or impulse garden sprinkler.  It also helps keep the weeds down in between the plants since the soil there is so dry that the weeds can’t get started.

By syringing, I save water by putting it where it needed most.

The soil in my garden is so dry it has become hydrophobic. This means the water,  instead of soaking into the ground, beads up on the surface like water on a newly-waxed car hood.  So when I try to syringe a plant, instead of going down into the soil where the plant can use it, the water just runs off into the garden path. This is a common problem in many soils when they get too dry.

When my soil gets in this condition, I use a surfactant to help the water move into the soil. I keep a box of biodegradable, non-toxic dishwasher detergent in the garden shed just for this purpose.  About a tablespoon or so of the detergent to a couple gallons of water does the trick in my soil.

I use about this much detergent in my watering can.


I use my watering can to apply the solution right under the plants. You can see the water sinking right into the soil instead of running off — this saves even more water.

It takes some time, but a watering can helps me place the solution right where it needs to go.

You don’t have to apply a surfactant every time you water. So far, the first application I made a few weeks ago is still working.

Bob Dluzen
As a result of being a gardener for more than 40 years, 30 of those as a professional, Bob's gardening has become an integral part of his life. "It's the ever-changing seasons and the wide variety of plants and gardens that keeps me intrigued," he says. Bob lives and gardens in rural Monroe County.