Tips for Saving Water in Your Garden

Water usage in a garden can definitely add up. Here are some ideas for conserving water while keeping your budget intact.

Old Barrel Catches Rain Water in Rustic Style

Old Barrel Catches Rain Water in Rustic Style

Collecting rainwater for use during dry months in rain barrels is an eco friendly practice. A rain barrel collects and stores rainwater from downspouts and rooftops for future use watering lawns and gardens.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Conserving water is essential if you have a meter, but there are other incentives. Climate change, urban spread, and the expense of processing tap water make it increasingly important to use water wisely.

Wise Watering

Most rainwater washes down the drains; reduce waste by ensuring as much as possible reaches plants. When planning a garden, ensure that the direction of the slope over a path, patio, or drive directs water to lawns or beds. Build in ways to collect and store rainwater, and add moisture-retaining mulches to soil.

Collecting Rainwater

Although underground rainwater harvesting systems can be installed, it  is far cheaper and easier to use water barrels. These can be sited to collect rainwater from any roofed structure with gutters and down-spouts, and come in all shapes and sizes from huge tanks to slimline models ideal for small gardens. To plumb in a water barrel, remove a lower section of downspout so it empties into a barrel placed beneath it, then add an overflow pipe to take away excess water. Or you can stand the barrel next to the downspout and link them with a diverter kit.


Covering the soil surface with mulches, such as gravel, leaf mold, garden compost, composted bark, or well-rotted manure, helps to reduce water evaporation and also stifles weeds that compete for moisture. Mulches are best applied from mid- to late spring and in the fall, when the soil is moist and warm. Avoid mulching in winter and early spring; the soil is cold and the mulch may slow it from warming up. Mulching retains moisture most effectively if applied to damp soil, so unless it has rained recently, water the area well first, and allow the surface to drain. Spread the mulch 2–3 inches (5–7.5 cm) thick over the soil, being careful not to pile it up against stems or smother low-growing plants. On new beds and borders, consider laying a permeable membrane before mulching to protect against weeds. Plant through slits, and cover the membrane with mulch.

Using Gray Water

Waste water from the sink, bath, and washing machine can be recycled in the garden. Avoid polluting it with detergents by using environmentally friendly products, and dilute this “gray water” before using it.

Plants that Require Little Water

  • Acanthus spinosus (Bear’s breeches)
  • Cistus x lenis ‘Grayswood Pink’ (Rock rose)
  • Elaeagnus angustifolia
  • Eryngium x oliveranum
  • Euphorbia myrsinites
  • Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ (Bronze fennel)
  • Iris unguicularis
  • Lavandula (Lavender)
  • Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
  • Salvia officinalis (Common sage)
  • Sempervivum arachnoideum (Houseleek)
  • Stachys byzantina (Lambs’ ears) 
  • Stipa tenuissima (Feather grass)
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