Extreme Ways to Water

What if you really need additional water for plants, but your City limits you on the amount of water you may use?  Or what if you just can’t afford to water as much as you like?  There are ways around this.  I’ve been there on both counts.

I have over 50 potted plants. Many, but not all, live in large planters.  These include two 20″ x 20″ pots with water lilies, one very large above-ground water container that holds water irises and other water plants, plus at least four almost 3 ft tall pots and tons of medium and small pots. img_0192

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but in the summer in Texas, my potted plants must be watered daily to survive.  Water, here, is also expensive in my opinion.

This summer, I watered most of my outdoor potted plants using washing machine water.

In early spring, I purchased a refurbished washer for less than 200 dollars.  It sits outside on an un-mortared brick pad near my outdoor electrical outlet.  Water is fed to the washer through a garden hose.  When in use, the water from this washer drains into a small stock tank beside it.  When not in use, the washer is covered with an outdoor tan plastic furniture cover so it appears to be a piece of furniture and isn’t unsightly.

I protect the washer’s control panel (very important that it stays dry) beneath the furniture cover by using an upside down rectangular plastic planter with the holes caulked. It acts as a cover for the panel.  It looks something like this one.

A top-loading washer washing a large load produces approximately 30 gallons of water. (Of course not all of my loads are large.) I always use the water in about 2 days, but I do have mosquito dunks on hand should there ever be an issue with mosquitoes breeding.  I’ve never held the water long enough for this to be an issue.

If I wash three large loads of laundry per week, this amounts to about 90 gallons or 360 gallons per month.  That’s 360 gallons of water I consider free because I’ve already paid for it the first time to wash my laundry.  Taking it one step further, if I water my potted plants from the start of May through the end of September using washing machine water, I’ve recycled +/- 1,800 gallons of water and saved money.

My hope is after a few summers my refurbished washer will pay for itself.


I realize the majority of folks don’t have the time or necessarily the “want” to go to the extreme of recycling water in the ways I do.  That’s okay, but just in case you ever NEED an alternate means of water for potted plants, this works unless perhaps your plant is a fussy orchid.

Why would anyone even think to use their washing machine to water their plants?

In 2008, I’d installed two used 1,100 rain tanks (photo of one below) and purchased four 75-gallon rain barrels.  They worked great when it rained.  The problem is if it doesn’t rain, the rain tanks and barrels are useless.  The year of 2011 was the summer of NO RAIN and very high temperatures.r1-00a

The 2011 drought in Central Texas taught me a lot.  (It pushed me into creative water recycling.)  It wasn’t that we didn’t have droughts before.  We did.  To me, however, the summer of 2011 was the Big Daddy of Droughts.  Austin, Texas had water restrictions galore with big wildfires in surrounding areas. Tons of trees died, and at one point I read somewhere that the soil moisture was at 0%.

One of the radio gardening gurus suggested we all spend our money watering only our big trees to keep them alive and to let everything else die.  Well, that’s hard when you have A LOT of plants in the ground (Maybe 300?) that aren’t trees.  However, I did as suggested and watered my old oaks with the City’s water.  In July of 2011, the water bill was $300.00, but all of the trees lived, and it was worth it.

As a side note, since all of my in-the ground plants were well-established and drought tolerant, I didn’t lose many despite the fact they weren’t well watered or watered at all.

I’m not a genius.  Watering with washing machine water wasn’t my idea, but came to me from two people who never knew each other.—One is a dear friend and the other was a man I’d worked with in 1993.

In the early 1960’s, my dear friend and the mother of five, lived in the country.  With five children, she washed a lot of laundry, and being out in the country, the wash water drained out onto a bed of elephant ears.  My friend who is also a long-time gardener used tons of bleach and hot water to wash.  She told me that those elephant ears had the biggest bulbs and leaves she’d ever seen.  To top it off, a local nurseryman who heard about them from her came out to see them. He offered to buy those bulbs because they were so impressive.

Fast forward to 1993: One of the chemistry professors I worked with divulged he used his washing machine water to water the grass in his front yard.  He told me his grass was the greenest in his neighborhood and had no pests.  People would stop to ask him about it, but he’d never tell them why it looked so good.  He went on to say that perhaps in 500 years the salts from the detergent would build up in the soil and cause a problem, but said he had no intention of watering for 500 years.

You’re probably saying, “Oh this is nothing new.  I’ve heard about using grey water.”  You’re right, it’s not new.

In the 2011 drought, I moved an old washer outside with its back against a shed and covered the controls with the same rectangular plastic planter I use now.  I bought the same kind of furniture cover and covered the machine when it wasn’t used.  The water drained into one of my very empty rain barrels.

I watered between 85 and 95 potted plants using washing machine water in the summers of 2011 through 2014, and I would have watered plants in the ground using this water except it’s illegal in Austin to use grey water without going through all sorts of red tape.  Maybe where you live, it’s not.

And maybe someday you’ll think of this post because you need it.  If that’s the case, then it was worth writing.

Finally, if your looking for books about saving water in the garden, Pam Penick’s The Water-Saving Garden is a good one to start with.  (Note:  I was not paid to endorse her book. I just think it’s a great resource.)

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