Q: What are the best practices and products you've found for saving water in landscaping and gardening?
—Kenneth Warrant, Empire Bay, NSW, Australia

A: Roger Cook replies: One of the best water-saving practices is simply to improve the soil by mixing in organic materials like leaf mulch or aged manure. These will promote good root growth and hold more water for the plants to absorb. Adding a few inches of mulch on top of the soil also helps it stay cool and retain moisture.

For watering, I encourage the use of ­soaker hoses or drip irrigation wherever possible. These devices put water in the soil, not on the leaves where it will evaporate or encourage disease. Water early in the morning, when you'll lose less to evaporation.

If you already have an irrigation system, fit it with a wired or wireless rain sensor that shuts off the system as soon as it starts raining. It's inexpensive, easy to install, and reliable, as long as you don't put it under a roof overhang or a big tree. Rain sensors have been so effective at saving water that some areas of the U.S. now require their installation.

The newest thing is to link an irrigation system via computer to a service company that tells it when to operate and for how long. These companies claim they can save 40 to 50 percent of the water normally used for irrigation, but I am still looking into how well their programs actually perform in the field.
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