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15 Ways to Create a Beautiful Water-Wise Landscape

Keeping your landscape’s water use low is a must if you live in a drought-prone area. But it’s a good approach to take even if you live in a region that doesn’t face water shortages, as reducing dependence on water sources other than natural rainfall can benefit the local ecosystem and the planet as a whole. Read on to learn about steps you can take to cut back on water use while creating a beautiful, vibrant landscape.
Watering Guidelines
Providing the correct amount of water, making sure it goes directly to the roots of the plants, and watering at the right time will help you cut back on water use while still keeping your landscape healthy.1. Prioritize your water use. Pay attention to the weather. You’ll need less water in cooler months or if rainfall is plentiful. If the days are exceptionally hot, you may need to increase how often you water your plants, especially prized ones. Also water any time your plants are looking stressed.If your water allotment is restricted, focus on providing water to large trees and shrubs that are the backbone of your landscape and may require more water. Other priorities might include a vegetable garden or perennials.

2. Choose the right delivery method. The ideal water delivery approach is that supplied by nature. “We are actually not fans of using irrigation when possible,” says landscape designer James Drzewiecki of Ginkgo Leaf Studio in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. “We specifically choose our plants to thrive on their own with the water that Mother Nature provides via rain.”

If you do need to provide additional water, drip irrigation is the best choice. “It doesn’t waste water, and puts it where the plants need it — at their root systems,” Drzewiecki says. The targeted water delivery also discourages weeds. A number of emitter types are available, ranging from simple drips to small sprays.

If you’re using a sprinkler system or hand-watering your plants, minimize the amount of overspray onto hard surfaces.

3. Set a schedule. Mornings are the best time to water plants. There will be less evaporation, and a morning drink lets your plants get a good start on the day. Don’t worry about wet foliage being scorched by the sun; that adage has been proven wrong by experts.

Watering in the very late afternoon or evening is the second-best choice. If at all possible, avoid watering in the middle of the day.

Plant Wisely
What you plant and where you plant it can also help you meet your water usage goals.4. Rethink the lawn. Decide how much lawn you really need. Cutting back on it and filling in the spaces with ornamental plants can still give you that patch of green while adding variety and interest to your landscape design.In this yard in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, a mix of shrubs and ground covers reduced what had been a backyard lawn. “A lawn is not where you are investing your money when it comes to landscaping,” Drzewiecki says.
If you still want the look of a traditional lawn, look into less thirsty varieties, such as the native buffalo grass in this Chicago front yard. Check with your local lawn pros, cooperative extension services or nurseries to learn about the best varieties for your region.

5. Install a meadow. This nature-inspired lawn substitute adds a natural touch that’s surprisingly adaptable to landscape design styles from traditional to contemporary. As with lawn varieties, local landscape design pros, cooperative extension offices or nurseries will be able to guide you toward options that will work for your area.

6. Switch to low-water ground covers. Consider replacing your lawn with a drought-tolerant ground cover that will give you a similar look. Many low-growing ground covers also don’t need the regular maintenance of a lawn, an added advantage.

What was once a front lawn for the Vancouver home seen here now is a mix of woolly thyme (Thymus spp.), micro clover and blue star creeper (Pratia spp.).

7. Match your plants. Grouping plants with similar water needs — creating areas known as hydrozones — lets you target specific areas of your garden with different watering strategies. Place plants that might need more water near the house so you can keep a closer eye on them and provide water before they completely wilt.
8. Go native. Consider a landscape design that includes native and climate-friendly plants. Choosing plants that are naturally adapted or easily adaptable to the location, such as those in this Colorado garden, fosters healthy plants that require less water and usually less care. “Planting with natives and plant-specific species eliminates the need for excess irrigation after plant establishment,” says landscape designer Zan Puig of C&H Landscaping in Lakewood, Colorado. “It also allows the homeowner peace of mind in regards to water restrictions.”
Garden Wisely
Cultivating a healthy garden also will save you water. This Santa Barbara, California, garden had poor soil that was further damaged by construction, but it now looks lush and inviting thanks to good gardening techniques.9. Pump up the soil. The best way to start is by cultivating healthy soil; aim for a pH range of 6 to 7. Simple soil tests can give you a good feel for how healthy your soil is, but you can have more extensive testing done through your local cooperative extension.Amend the soil with mulch, compost, decomposed manure and/or worm casings to create a good balance. You can also plant a cover crop like clover to build healthy soil.

10. Cover things up. Mulching not only helps keep the soil moist; it also prevents weeds, which steal water. Even with mulch in place, remove any weeds when you see them.

11. Keep some height. If you do have a lawn, mow less often. Uncut blades of grass retain more moisture, reducing how much water the lawn needs. When you do mow, set the cutting level to 2½ to 3 inches high.

12. Get smart. Invest in smart technology to help you monitor your water use. You can find smart controllers as well as rain sensors and automatic rain shutoff devices at nurseries and garden centers as well as online.

Harvest Rainwater
Reclaim rainwater that would otherwise run off into the gutters or storm drains.13. Direct your runoff. Use a sleeve or hose at the end of a downspout to direct water to parts of the garden and also to prevent puddling during downpours. You can also replace downspouts with rain chains, which will still direct water downward without inundating the soil below. Rain chains also tend to disperse droplets outward into the rest of the garden.

14. Capture and store. A rain barrel at the end of your rain chains or downspouts will let you capture the water from the roof and store it for use when the weather is dry. As rain barrels have become more popular, they’ve also become more stylish. You’ll find plenty that look good with your chosen landscape design.

Tip: Before you purchase or install a rain barrel, be sure to check local laws. Certain states have issued rainwater-harvesting restrictions.

You can install a cache system above- or below ground to store even larger amounts of water and tap into it as needed. Above ground cisterns are fairly straightforward. An underground system involves excavation, so it’s best to install one only if you’re planning a new landscape or completely redoing one.
15. Create a swale. If rainwater runs off your property too quickly, incorporate a rain garden or a swale. Swales are broad, shallow ditches. They capture water running down a slope, slowing its speed, directing it toward planted areas and allowing it to percolate back into the soil. To keep the swale from looking too stark, add plants along the interior or fill it with rocks to mimic a dry creek bed.