Beneath the sprinkler

The average American consumes 100 gallons of water each day, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Roughly 30 percent is for outdoor use, but this quantity often increases in dry climates, such as the U.S. Southwest where it can account for 60 percent. Using water-smart landscaping techniques provides a great opportunity to dramatically reduce your water footprint while maintaining an attractive garden and saving time.

The two basic strategies include: selecting trees, shrubs, and plants that require little or no irrigation in your climate and using water-saving techniques when irrigating.

Select Plants with Care

Carefully considering the water requirements of plants before selecting them is crucial, especially for perennials. Matt Vance, a conservation biologist recommends using locally native plants because they require less water. There may be a greater water demand when first establishing the plants, but after they are established, they will require less water than ornamentals and turfgrass.

Native Plant Garden
Native Plant Garden. Image courtesy of Chris Kreussling.

Many local universities have extension offices or garden experts that can provide valuable advice on this topic. Because turfgrass requires significant amounts of water, reduce the size of your lawns if you live in a climate that lacks significant rainfall. Another water-saving strategy is to allow lawns to turn brown during times of light rainfall.

Feed and Mulch Your Soil

Ensuring adequate soil health is also crucial for water-saving landscapes. Sandy soils have larger particles and do not retain water well, but provide good aeration. Conversely, clay soils retain water but may not provide inadequate aeration, resulting in less oxygen for your plant roots. Loam is a combination of clay, sand, and silt, and provides an ideal balance between water retention and plant aeration.

Adding organic matter such as compost or manure to your soil can improve the quality of both sandy and clay soils, enabling both water retention and enhancing aeration. Apply 2 to 6 inches of mulch around your plants to retain moisture and reduce weeds, which compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients.

Lawn sprinkler
Be water wise. Image courtesy of Justin Chiaratti.

Water with Care and Awareness

Understanding the water needs of a landscape reduces under- or over-watering. During critical growth periods, many plants experience water stress, demonstrated by wilting leaves or browning leaf tips. Ensure that germinating seeds, seedlings just emerging from the soil, and newly planted shrubs or trees have adequate water. Conversely, established plants will have a lower water demand, thus water demands change over time.

Test the moisture levels of the soil at the root level before watering. Water less often, but ensure the that root zone of the plants is wet.

Avoid watering your garden in the middle of the day to avoid evaporation and install a drip irrigation system or use soaker hoses instead of sprinklers for greater water efficiency and crop yields.

Feature image courtesy of Rachel

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.