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Although probably impossible to grow plants with NO water, our recent high temperatures cause us to reflect on how best to use water resources in our gardens and landscapes. Even though nature blessed California with abundant moisture this past winter, July is the month with the highest rates of evaporation from the soil and transpiration from living plants. In honor of July, “Smart Irrigation Month,” let’s take another look at some tips to help you achieve a water-efficient garden, while still enjoying the benefits of a beautiful garden.

For landscaping, choose drought-tolerant plants: Opt for native plants that are adapted to dry conditions and require minimal watering. Native plants are often a good choice since they are naturally suited to the local climate and soil conditions. (1, 2) By typing an address or location, the Calscape (California Native Plant Society) website referenced here will give you a list of the native plants that naturally grow there. Fun!

Mulch your garden beds: Applying a layer of mulch around your plants helps to retain soil moisture by reducing evaporation. Mulch also helps suppress weeds, which can compete with your plants for water. (6,8)

Water deeply and infrequently: Instead of frequent light watering, water your plants deeply but less often. This encourages deeper root growth, making your plants more resilient to drought. Water in the early morning or late evening to minimize water loss through evaporation. (3)

Use efficient irrigation methods: Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses instead of sprinklers. These methods deliver water directly to the plant roots, minimizing water wastage due to evaporation or runoff. (4)

Collect and reuse water: Set up a rainwater harvesting system to collect rainwater from your roof or gutters. You can use this water to irrigate your garden during dry periods. Additionally, collect and reuse household water, such as leftover drinking water, or water used for washing vegetables, to hydrate your plants.

Group plants with similar water needs: Arrange your garden in a way that plants with similar water requirements are grouped together. This allows you to water more efficiently, providing water where it is needed most and avoiding overwatering drought-sensitive plants. (5)

Improve soil quality: Amending your soil with organic matter, such as compost, helps improve its water-holding capacity. Well-draining soil with good moisture retention reduces the frequency of watering. (6)

Practice proper garden maintenance: Regularly remove weeds, which compete with your plants for water. Prune your plants appropriately to promote airflow and reduce water loss through excessive foliage. (7)

Consider xeriscaping techniques: Xeriscaping is a landscaping approach that focuses on water conservation. It involves using drought-tolerant plants, minimizing lawn areas, and incorporating hardscaping elements like rocks and gravel to reduce water usage in your garden. (8)

Monitor and adjust watering: Keep an eye on your plants’ moisture requirements and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. You can use an inexpensive soil moisture meter (Soil Hygrometer Sensor) to check the soil’s moisture level before watering. (9)

By implementing these water-saving strategies, you can create a beautiful and sustainable garden while conserving water resources.


Sylvia Watterson is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

University of California Cooperative Extension Central Sierra Master Gardeners can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 in Tuolumne County, 209-754-2880 in Calaveras County or fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire ( ). Check out our UCCE Master Gardener webpage ( ). You can find us on Facebook, and on the radio at or 103.5 FM on Motherlode Community Radio