Use regionally appropriate, low water-using and native plants.
Once established, these plants require little water beyond normal rainfall. Also, because native plants are adapted to local soils and climatic conditions, they rarely require the addition of fertilizer and are more resistant to pests and diseases than are other species. Be careful when selecting exotic species, as some may be invasive, which may require more water and could displace native plants. State affiliates of Plant Something may be able to point you in the direction of nurseries in your state who can assist you on plant selection and provide other advice.
If your landscape includes turfgrass, place it strategically in areas where it will have a practical function, and consider using a low-water-use turfgrass suited to grow in your local climate to provide a beautiful lawn that can save water. Our Turfgrass and Water Efficiency page provides information on types of turfgrass and tips on how to maintain a healthy lawn.
Recognize site conditions and plant appropriately.
Areas of the same site may vary significantly in soil type or exposure to sun and wind, as well as evaporation rates and moisture levels. Placing plants that prefer shade in open sun will affect their ability to thrive. Be mindful of a site’s exposure to the elements and choose plants that will thrive in the site’s conditions.
Group similar plants together for irrigation.
Grouping vegetation with similar watering needs into specific “hydrozones” reduces water use and protects the plants from both underwatering and overwatering by allowing you to water to each zone’s specific needs. For example, turf areas and shrub areas should always be separated into different hydrozones because of their differing water needs.
When trees and shrubs are planted, they will normally require irrigation during the establishment period. Once the plants have taken root, irrigation can be reduced and or eliminated. It is also common to surround the plant with a berm that holds the water at the base of the plant, preventing it from flowing away.
Turfgrass sod, plugs, or sprigs are mature plants that are directly planted into the landscape and establish quickly. The quick establishment period is a benefit to using sod, although the cost of installation can be higher than using seed. Seeding the landscape has a lower cost but could take longer to establish. Additional considerations related to turfgrass are on the Turfgrass and Water Efficiency page.
Irrigate only when needed.
Irrigating lawns has been a concern of water providers over the years due to the increased demand for water. From sports fields, to residential landscapes, to commercial properties, the use of turfgrass may require irrigation to maintain a healthy, useable landscape. Regions with higher temperatures and lower than average rainfall can provide more stress to the grass, causing it to brown. Grasses that are drought tolerant are better equipped to handle drought conditions requiring less frequent irrigation. Using smart watering practices will keep your landscape healthy and water use down.
Keep up with the weeding.
Make sure you regularly maintain your landscape. Replace mulch around shrubs and garden plants to help them retain moisture. Remove weeds and thatch as necessary so they don’t compete with your desired plants for water.
Raise your lawn mower cutting height.
Raise your lawn mower blade, especially in the summer, when mowing too close to the ground will promote thirsty new growth. Longer grass promotes deeper root growth and a more drought resistant lawn. Longer grass blades also help shade each other, reducing evaporation, and minimizing weed growth. The optimal turfgrass height is the tallest allowable height within the recommended mowing range for the turf species grown. The Turfgrass and Water Efficiency page has more information about proper management of turfgrass.
Minimize or eliminate fertilizer.
Fertilizer encourages thirsty new growth, causing your landscape to require additional water. Minimize or eliminate the use of fertilizer where possible. If you do need fertilizer, look for a product that contains “natural organic” or “slow-release” ingredients. These fertilizers feed plants slowly and evenly, helping to create healthier plants with strong root systems and no excessive “top growth”. Moreover, using “slow-release” fertilizers can reduce nutrient run-off into ground and surface waters, protecting natural resources.
Grass clippings from mowing, when left in place, are a good natural source of fertilizer for the soil and can reduce the overall total fertilizer application required. A lawn with healthy turfgrass that is not cut too short will also be a good defense at preventing the growth of weeds.