6 Ways To Use Less Water In Your Garden And Lawn

A watering can watering hostas
(Image credit: Nadya So)

Every thoughtful gardener is concerned about water conservation. Although this is a global issue, the best place for each of us to start is in our own garden and in the landscape. A water saving garden design benefits both the environment and the household since it reduces water usage and cuts down on water bills.

How to use less water in the garden? Reducing the water you use doesn’t have to be to the detriment of the plants, either. The key to saving water in the garden is using water smarter. Here are 6 easy but effective ideas to start saving water in your own backyard.

1. Select drought-tolerant plants

If your plants naturally require less water to thrive, you can meet their needs without exceeding your water limit. This is more a matter of being thoughtful when selecting plants than restricting what you grow. Native plants are usually a good bet when it comes to requiring less water, but you can usually find drought-resistant options to almost any type of plant.

If you don’t know whether a certain plant is water wise, ask at your garden center. Alternatively, look for these characteristics that indicate that a plant is drought-tolerant:

  • fuzzy or hairy leaves;
  • plump succulent leaves;
  • leaves with a waxy coating;
  • long taproots.

2. Add Compost to Your Soil

Organic matter builds soil that will retain water, which cuts down on water requirements, so blend in compost regularly. This is cheap and easy if you set up compost in the backyard. The ideal garden soil is 5 percent organic matter -- this is important in flower beds but even moreso in the vegetable garden. Adding organic mulches like straw or chopped dead leaves also adds organic matter.

3. Water Wisely

There are a few essential rules to watering wisely for water conservation purposes. These are ways to save water outside with a few simple changes in routine.

  • Water early in the morning. When you give your plants a drink in the morning, the water doesn’t evaporate quickly in the sun, meaning that there is more for the plants to absorb.
  • Focus the water on the plant by using a watering can, soaker hoses, or drip irrigation to saturate the soil around the plant roots while leaving the foliage dry.
  • Water deeply but less frequently. When you sprinkle a little water on the soil often, the plant roots don’t get the chance to use it.

4. Capture Rainwater

When it rains, capturing some of it for later use in the garden is not just fair, it’s also a great idea. You can do this with simple rain barrels that collect rainwater, or you can buy and install a water saving device for the garden that connects your home’s downspouts to containers for later use.

5. Rethink Your Lawn

Few plantings are thirstier than the classic American lawn, and many gardeners are reconsidering the wisdom of the vast expanse of green turf in these days of drought. There are a host of excellent, drought-resistant lawn alternatives including native grasses.

If you can’t live without the lawn, there are still alterations you can make to cut water loss. For example, mowing the lawn causes water loss, so mow during the cool of the day, raise the mowing height to provide more shade to the soil, and leave the grass clippings in place to return some moisture to the lawn. And allow the grass to go dormant during the summer heat. It will turn brown but will green up again quickly as the air cools in autumn.

6. Mulch All Landscape and Garden Plants

The use of organic mulch is great in the garden since, as it breaks down, it adds organic material to the soil. But it’s also a great idea since a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded leaves, bark or compost will shade and cool the soil, slowing water evaporation. Mulch shrubs, trees, and perennial plantings as well as the flower and vegetable gardens.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.