9 Ways to Save Water in Your Yard and Garden

Experts share how to get the curb appeal you desire while also investing in sustainability efforts.

For home gardeners, there's nothing more rewarding than cultivating a beautiful bounty of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and lush green grass. But creating a thriving garden requires water—and lots of it. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to reduce your water usage for a more sustainable yard. We spoke with gardeners, landscape architects, and other experts to determine how to save water this spring and summer.

beautifully watered lawn and garden

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Water Before 10 a.m. or After 6 p.m.

watering lawn and garden

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Depending on which zip code you call home, your lawn and gardens will require watering up to twice daily. But when you turn on your hose (or schedule your sprinklers) can make a big difference in the amount of water you use. 

Take advantage of the cooler temperatures in the early morning, usually before 10 a.m., to avoid the sun at its full strength and ensure the water soaks into your soil, says Nancy Trautz Awot, a horticulture specialist at Burpee Gardening. "If you water when temperatures are hot, this means the water will evaporate quickly and isn't actually watering your lawn and plants, leading to increased water usage," she says. 

If you're not a morning person or you have a shadier yard, the second-best time to water is in the early evening, after 6 p.m., when the UV index is much lower and the ground has more time to reap the benefits. 

Upgrade Your Sprinkler System

Are you still using the sprinklers that came with your house? If so, it might be time to investigate more sustainable upgrades, like water-efficient heads that are pressure regulated, says Kody Ketterling, a lawn expert and the CEO of KJ Ketterling Enterprises. There are various types and pressures available that will help save water, and can be used in flower beds and yard areas. Some options even allow you to change the sprinkler without digging it out, he adds.

Installing a WiFi timer on your sprinkler system is another smart addition. "The WIFI timers can help by managing time, weather, wind, humidity and other weather-related things so your sprinklers turn on when they need to," Ketterling says. "This helps control the water in the yard and the beds. They also save time on managing the sprinklers by allowing you to access the timers, and they alert you when a valve may not be working."

Ensure Sprinklers Are at the Right Height 

If your sprinklers aren't installed at the right height, you could be wasting gallons of water, Ketterling says. "If sprinklers are in grass, they need to be at ground level to pop up high enough to get the coverage you need," he says. Generally speaking, your sprinkles start to sink into the ground over time through various weather patterns. To ensure they're still performing as efficiently as possible, Ketterling recommends checking on them every year and cleaning built-up dirt or grass clippings that sometimes get caught underneath. 

Add Mulch 

mulch laid in garden

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Rather than only having grass in your yard, adding other texture elements adds personality and conserves water, too. Mulching is an easy and inexpensive way to save water and keep plants cool during summer heat, says Sarah Menz, the director of brand marketing at Rachio.com,

Mulch reduces surface soil evaporation—where water leaves the soil before it can be accessed by the plant—and conserves soil moisture by providing a protective barrier between the soil and drying elements like the air and sun, Menz says. For best results, you should lay mulch on the surface around plants, with a depth of 3 to 4 inches.

You can spread mulch in your vegetable gardens, flower beds, and around trees and shrubs to keep the water where it's needed. Mulch is available at your local plant nursery, or you can make your own. "Wood chips, bark chips, and straw are excellent sources of mulch, and dried grass clippings make a great budget-friendly alternative to store-bought mulches," Menz says. 

Use a Moisture Meter 

moisture meter in garden

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Part of conserving water is having accurate data about what's happening under the surface, deep into the soil. Awot suggests using a moisture meter that reduces water waste by measuring soil moisture to better understand your yard's needs. "Some moisture meters can also test the pH and be used across lawns, plants, and gardens," she adds.

While moisture meters are generally low cost, Awot says you could also use household items like a screwdriver or chopstick instead of a water meter to probe the area. "If the screwdriver or chopstick easily slides into the soil, it's moist and doesn't need to be watered," she says. "If you notice the area is dry and doesn't go in as easily, you'll need to provide moisture."

Let Your Lawn Get Golden

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During the peak heat of the summer, grasses will naturally turn slightly to fully gold, says Teri Valenzuela, a natural science manager at Sunday. "This natural response is your lawn's way of conserving its resources for continued high heat and infrequent precipitation ahead," she says. "It's a bit of a temporary dormancy and beneficial for your grass's survival. Help your grass (and save water) by allowing it to go gold and just lightly watering your lawn about 0.5 inches once or twice a week."

Plant Ground Cover 

flowers for ground cover in lawn

Haven Kiers

Another way to save on water is to use ground cover on a portion of your lawn. This includes shrubs and perennials, which typically require less water than turf grass, says Menz. "In areas prone to drought, like the western United States, it's a good idea to select plants that are at least somewhat drought-tolerant or even drought-resistant, as they will require less supplemental water to thrive," she says. "This saves homeowners water and money, as much of the plant's water needs can be provided by nature, in the form of precipitation."

If you're unsure where to place drought-resistant plants or other ground cover, it's helpful to identify areas where grass doesn't grow well in your yard due to shade or too much moisture, Valenzuela says. Too much shade? Try shade-tolerant plants like hostas for ground cover. Too much moisture? "Plant moisture-tolerant plants like Black-Eyed Susan or Salvia that will thrive—and soak up moisture—in those areas," she says. "Once established, these perennials will require less maintenance and less water."

Add Native Plants

native plants and flowers in front lawn garden

Haven Kiers

Though it's not always possible to select native species (plants that grow naturally in your area), they're often low-water and low-maintenance plants, says Kevin Lenhart, the design director at Yardzen. "These plants evolved to thrive in the local climate, so they often don't require significant supplemental irrigation or fertilizer," he says. 

To find native plants, Lenhart has a few suggestions:

  • Check out your local nursery. 
  • Look for plant sales hosted by native plant groups.
  • Post on social media about local plant swaps to find neighbors with native plants. 
  • Visit the National Wildlife Federation's Native Plant Finder to figure out the best seeds for your space.

"If a specific species doesn't do well after the time it should be established, don't be afraid to replace it with another species instead of battling its existence year to year," he says. "Some perennials do need time and a little extra love in their first years, but if it's a fight to keep it thriving, find something more of a fit for the site."

Consider Xeriscaping 

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While there is a common misconception that all xeriscapes must feature succulents, this isn't always the case, Lenhart says. A xeriscape in the Southwest may indeed feature succulents, but it can also feature rugged desert shrubs, trees, grasses and perennials. "A xeriscape in a wet, subtropical climate would feature totally different plants," he says. 

No matter the region, all xeriscapes face the same imperative: to use plants that thrive naturally within the region. And while this might have a bit of an upfront cost, over time, it will significantly decrease your water output.

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