8 Water-Wise Tips You Can Start Today
by Jim Farr
So what can you do right now to save water and make a difference? You might be surprised by the steps you can take immediately that do not take much time or cost and will make a noticeable difference in your water usage. These steps apply to container gardening as well as in-ground landscaping. Some references specific to container gardening are given at the end of the article.
Where to Begin
Find out how much water your landscaping is using.
This will give you a benchmark to measure the impact of your water-saving efforts which will help encourage and motivate you as you see the things you are doing are really making a difference.
Measuring your landscape water usage can be a little difficult but there are ways to do it without spending a lot of time with paper and pencil.
If your city subscribes to Aquahawk, your task is simple. Aquahawk is an online tool that can measure real-time water usage and makes figuring out your water usage as simple as logging in with your id and password. Unfortunately, only a handful of cities (mostly in the Trivalley) have access to Aquahawk.
Now that you know your water usage, let's see how you can start to save water.
1. Mulch, mulch mulch
What is mulch? Mulch is any material that is put on the surface of the ground to prevent water evaporation. Common types include straw or alfalfa pellets, wood chips, barks or hulls, or organic yard waste such as leaves or grass clippings. Mulch can be obtained free from your own yard by using leaves or grass clippings or purchased at any home garden store or nursery.
To be effective, pile mulch six to eight inches deep, tapering down to three inches deep near the stems or crowns of plants. Mulch should not touch the stems of plants but should be approximately 10 inches away.
While you are mulching, consider adding compost to the soil or your containers. Compost is essentially organic mulches that have broken down to the point where plants can uptake the nutrients. Composts are typically worked into the soil, unlike mulches which are layered on top. Besides improving the quality of the soil, compost acts like a slow-release fertilizer. This will minimize the amount of extra fertilizer you use saving both money and water because over-fertilizing plants causes excessive growth which uses more water. Additionally, compost helps to retain water especially in sandy soils where there is very little retention of water.
3. Check your irrigation system
Another extremely important step in saving water and eliminating waste is to turn on your landscaping watering system and observe. Check for broken lines and drip emitters and if you are watering grass check that the sprayers are functioning and spraying where they are supposed to.
While you are checking irrigation sprayers and lines, see if any water goes onto the sidewalk and down the gutter. Water down the gutter is water wasted. If necessary adjust your sprayers and irrigation timers to avoid any runoff.
5. Adjust irrigation times
When you do this, consider adjusting your run time down some. If you have been watering outside of these hours chances are very good that you will be able to shorten your run times for each station on the timer. Water dedicated to the landscape can often be reduced by 20 to 40 percent because over-irrigation is very common. Gradually reduce the amount of water applied over a few weeks - giving lawns, trees, and plants time to adjust.
To measure if you are applying enough water, the surface of the soil should be dry between watering but slightly moist about 2 inches down. Use the finger test, put your finger in the soil down to the second knuckle, and if the soil feels slightly moist but not damp and a little bit of the soil sticks to your finger, then you are applying the right amount of water.
Many people overwater their landscaping so cutting back may actually improve the health of your plants. The signs of overwatering or under-watering are similar so checking the soil is the best indicator of whether your plants are being over or under watered.
6. Consider using cycling and soaking settings on your irrigation timer
Many irrigation timers have settings that allow for cycling and soaking times to allow the time in between the run times for the water to soak in. A short period is set for the run time and a period in between the run time the sprinklers turn off and allow for water to soak in. The sprinklers then will go on again after the end of the off-time (soak time) for another short period, Cycling through a pre-set number of times.
7. Check your irrigation frequently
After the initial check of the irrigation system, it is a good idea to check the system occasionally looking for any water that is going down the gutter or hitting the sidewalk. Sometimes water pressure changes slightly or sprayers get a little clogged and water goes where it is not intended even though they were fine a few weeks prior.
8. Consider planting drought-tolerant plants
There are a number of great resources for identifying drought-tolerant plants. Below are a few resources that are available just a click away. One of my favorites is the Alameda County Outstanding Plant brochures which are available for download.
I find these particularly helpful because the plants are narrowed down to the plants that are proven to grow well in Alameda County, most are drought tolerant and are readily available at local nurseries. Because these are nice, compact lists of plants that fit onto one piece of paper, you can easily take them to a nursery and use them as a guide for choosing plants. Keep a copy in your car and you will never forget to bring the list to the garden store.
Healthy plants and a lower water bill
These are steps you can take right now that will save water and lower your watering bill without affecting the health of your plants. Most of these steps can be completed in under an hour and a few others can be a nice weekend project, such as mulching your garden. So start saving water now and you will be doing yourself and the state of California a very big favor!
University of California Urban Water Use Study:
Outstanding Plants for Alameda County:
EBMUD Water Smart Plants:
UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars:
Water Use Classification of Landscaping Species (WUCOLS) – Very comprehensive database with a great searching tool:
Water Wise Tips for Container Gardens:
Still Need Help?
Would like more information or help with other gardening issues? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact us through our website http://acmg.ucanr.edu/Contact_Us/ .