Don't water until plants need it
Far more plants die from over-watering than under-watering. For many garden plants, the best way to know if plants need water is to let your finger be your guide. Dig down several inches near the base of the plant. If the soil is bone dry, that's your cue to water. Also, when a plant begins to show signs of wilting, especially in the morning, it probably needs water.
Use a soil probe to test moisture
For lawns, trees, and shrubs, a simple electronic probe can help measure soil moisture and indicate when you should water. You can also insert a screwdriver into the soil as a simple gauge. On automatic sprinkler systems, install a moisture sensor. This is a probe placed in the ground that determines when the soil needs water and then turns on the sprinkler. It can save you buckets of both water and money.
Prioritize your watering needs
During drought periods, conserving water could mean choosing which plants receive water—and which do not. Most lawns, except bluegrass, will simply go dormant if not watered. Watering is not necessary and the grass will recover when rainfall returns! Because a 5,000 sq. foot lawn needs up to 6,000 gallons of water per week to stay green—an expensive undertaking—it is easier to let lawns sleep through the drought than to waste water, money, and effort.
Keep off the grass
Avoid walking on grass during periods of drought stress. Mow lawns as little as possible during droughts to avoid additional stress, and cut at the highest possible setting. Never remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade in one mowing. Allow mulched clippings to remain on the lawn to help cool the soil and retain moisture.
Help the neediest plants first
Forget dramatic measures to save your lawn and concentrate your watering efforts on new plantings, vegetables, and tender annuals. Native plants and most perennials can normally wait until the next rainfall arrives.
Cover your swimming pool
Covering your pool will significantly help to reduce evaporation. An average-sized pool can lose about 1,000 gallons of water per month if left uncovered. Pool covers can cut water losses by up to 90% while keeping water cleaner.
Use a broom to clean driveways and sidewalks
Sweeping paved areas will get them clean without wasting gallons of water and
washing organic matter and fertilizers into storm drain systems
Don't let water run while washing your car
Get the car wet, then turn off the water while you wash the car down using a bucket of soapy water. Turn on the water again for a final rinse. Empty the bucket into a flower bed or garden area. To protect local streams, try to wash your car on the lawn itself so that no water is wasted. Of course, during a drought, it might be best to not wash the car at all. If you must, consider going to a carwash where water is reclaimed and recycled.
Don't use sprinklers for entertainment
Running through water from a hose or sprinkler is fun and a nifty way to cool down, but it wastes hundreds of gallons of water in a short time. And running and playing on wet grass will compact soils and lead to a decline in lawn health and vigor.
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Water early in the morning
Water when temperatures are mild and winds are calm, so less water will be lost through evaporation. Don't water at night! Evening applications can lead to fungal diseases.
And don't water the wind. Wind causes water to evaporate quickly and blows water onto areas where it's not needed.
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Check for leaks in pipes, hoses, hose connections, and faucets
Even a tiny leak can translate into thousands of gallons of wasted water over a short period of time. Repair or replace any equipment leaking water immediately.
Use shut-off nozzles on hoses
Use nozzles which completely turn off the water when you are not using it; they also help to more effectively direct water than using your finger to create a stream.
Don't water the pavement
Position sprinklers so that water is aimed directly at lawn and garden areas rather than sidewalks, paths, driveways, or fences. If it doesn't grow, don't water it! . Along paved areas it might be more efficient to water by hand.
Use mulch strips to contain watering areas
Consider laying down an eight-inch buffer of mulch adjacent to sidewalks and curbs to reduce runoff and water waste. Using either organic mulches—such as wood chips, shredded wood, or bark nuggets—or landscaping stones and rocks, will eliminate having to water and maintain these covered areas.
Large drops mean less waste
Use sprinklers that emit large droplets rather than a fine mist to reduce losses through evaporation.
Deep soak each time you water
Many people water lightly and frequently, which encourages plants to grow shallow root systems. Watering deeply and infrequently creates a deeper, healthy root system that is better equipped to withstand heat and drought.
Water without waste
Stop watering whenever runoff occurs, especially on slopes or on compacted, dry soils. That may mean turning the water on and off in cycles to allow moisture to soak into the ground, but it beats watching the water flow down the street. The same is true when puddling occurs. Stop watering and allow moisture to penetrate into the soil before restarting.
Use watering cans, whenever possible
When dealing with just a few patio plants, watering with a hose may actually put more water on the patio than in the containers as you move from plant to plant.
Install drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses
Drip systems permit water to flow slowly to roots, encouraging strong root systems, while also reducing the water lost to evaporation. These set-ups are ideal for flower and vegetable gardens, around trees and shrubs, and even in some container situations.
Capture and recycle rainwater
Place rain barrels or buckets beneath your downspouts. 1,000 sq. ft. of roof surface will collect 420 gallons of water for every inch of rainfall. You can use rainwater to irrigate by hand or wash your car without any chemical residues.
Redirect water from downspouts
Channel stormwater across lawns and into garden beds away from your house. Consider "Rainscaping" by establishing a watershed-friendly garden which will use stormwater to thrive and create beauty around your home, school, or office.
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Go native with your plantings
Focus on growing native, drought-tolerant plants. Native plants are well-adapted
to thrive in our area, having survived climate extremes for hundreds
of years. If not natives, choose non-invasive, drought-tolerant
perennial plants which can easily survive with less than an inch
of water a week once established. Many of these species feature
attractive silver and grayish-white foliage.
Plants have it made in the shade
Place water-loving plants in areas that receive shade in the afternoon. Even sun-loving plants will do fine provided they receive morning to midday light. In fact, the harsh afternoon sun is not beneficial for most plants.
Establishing shrubs or placing attractive fencing around vegetable gardens can shelter plants from wind and evaporative moisture loss and prevent soils from drying out as quickly.
Use mulch to reduce water loss
Mulching helps to slow the evaporation of moisture from the soil and keeps the soil and roots cool and protected. Try to stick with organic mulches that break down slowly and add organic matter to the soil. Find out about free mulch available for pick-up from the county.
Keep weeds out of flower and vegetable gardens
Weeds are notorious for stealing water away from other plants, so if you can keep their populations in check, you won't have to water as often. With lawns, remove weeds by hand whenever possible to avoid tough competition.
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