Efficiency is Key
Let's get right to the point. If you're not irrigating your lawn, flower beds, and container plants using the most targeted, time-efficient methods possible, you're wasting water. Here's what you need to know to conserve valuable water, time, and money on your yard and garden maintenance.
Reduce Your Lawn
Limit the expanse of yard devoted to perpetually thirsty turf grass. Less lawn can result in outdoor living spaces that demand less of your time and energy—not to mention less water, gas, and electricity.
If you live where every house flaunts an immaculate, weed-free front lawn, giving up grass entirely might read as an act of rebellion. But you can gradually shift toward a front yard that's more garden than lawn by establishing deep planting beds that curve along the front and sides of the house. See more on reducing lawn in Lawnless Yard Solutions.
Cut back on fertilizer, mow high, and leave mulched clippings on the lawn to shade the soil and reduce evaporation. When you set up the sprinklers, make sure water is being absorbed; if you see runoff or puddles, you're adding water too fast.
According to TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook, the main question people usually have about watering, is: how much? The simple answer is that lawns require about an inch of water a week. The tricky part is to figure out how to translate that inch of water into minutes on your sprinkler. There's no way around it, you have to measure. Set up your sprinkler as usual and put out a rain gauge, which can be as simple as an empty coffee can. Water for 15 or 20 minutes, then check how much water is in the can. If you water for 15 minutes and get 1/4 inch of water, you know you need four times that amount of time to get to an inch. That means you need 60 minutes of watering a week to keep the lawn healthy. For more of Roger's advice, see Garden Watering Tips.
Don't Water Unless You Have To
A simple way to determine when your lawn needs water: Walk on the grass. If the blades spring back, hold off on watering. If you see your footprints, switch on the sprinklers—unless rain is in the forecast. Not a cloud in the sky? Hose down the garden in the early morning or at dusk to avoid losing water to evaporation caused by the hot sun.
Water at the Root
Water just the roots of your perennials, annuals, and shrubs—don't shower the leaves. This cuts the risk of fungal disease and reduces evaporation. A smart way to put water just where you need it is to Install Drip Irrigation.
Plant Drought-Tolerant Varieties
Choose drought-tolerant plants adapted to your site's climate, soil type, and sun exposure. TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook suggests making your life a little easier by planning your landscape around watering needs. Shallow-rooted plants such as hydrangea, azalea, and rhododendron require more watering than other plants. Annuals and container plants also need extra attention come summer. Think about that as you plant, and group the high-water-need plants together. Come July and August, as you're making the rounds with the hose or watering can, you'll be glad you did.
Don't Forget Your Containers
Plants in pots are especially vulnerable to drying out in hot weather because their roots are confined to a small area and can't extend deeper in search of moisture. When starting a container, give plants a thorough drink using a watering can or a soft-spray nozzle on a hose. Water often—whenever the soil is dry 2 to 3 inches below the surface—and fertilize regularly. See more musts in Container Garden Planting Tips and How to Plant in Pots.
Plant a Tree
Plant at least one tree in your yard—for shade, for beauty, and for posterity. It'll save you money by reducing water-hog turf and providing a bit of shade. See more in How to Plant a Tree and learn how you can even Use Trees to Save Energy.
Take Care of Tree Transplants
To water transplants efficiently, shovel soil and mulch into a donut-shaped berm as wide as the tree branches. Fill the berm with water, using a hose or buckets; then let it percolate into the soil slowly. See more in How to Transplant a Small Tree.
Maintain Your Drip Irrigation Gear
Keep your drip irrigation systems running efficiently by checking for leaks, cracked pipes, or plugged emitters. And watch for spray that drifts away as mist, a sign that water pressure is too high. Bigger droplets won't get carried away in the wind. Watch the How to Repair Drip Irrigation video for more.
Try a Soaker Hose
Inexpensive soaker hoses ooze water through thousands of tiny pores all along the length of rubber tubing. Snaked through shrubbery and hooked up to a timer set for early morning watering, they can cut water use by up to 70 percent over conventional sprinklers. See more on this type of system, rotating sprinklers, oscillating sprinklers, and many others in All About Sprinklers.
Consider a Targeted Drip System
Drip systems consist of plastic tubing with tiny, targeted emitters that drip water at a set rate. These systems target just the plants you are trying to encourage, not the spaces in between, so you wind up using less water and nurturing fewer weeds.