Plan Ahead for Spring: 8 Efficient Watering Tips

This might seem like a weird time to be talking about irrigation, but in many parts of the country, it’s still dry, and there’s never a bad time to talk about getting ready for the next gardening season. Watering your garden the smart way will save you a lot of water (and money on the water bill), help out the environment, and ensure that your garden is as gorgeous and healthy as it can be. Since some of that planning involves not just how and when you irrigate but what you plant, this little primer should help you make smart choices this winter and spring.

Many gardeners overwater, which leads to massive waste across the country every year as well as problems like runoff and plant disease. Watering isn’t just a matter of indiscriminately spraying with a hose, but rather one of thinking about how much water plants need, and when.

1. Watch the clock

The best time to water is early in the morning. Why? Because you’ll lose the least amount of water to evaporation, which can set in as early as 10am in especially warm climates. If you absolutely must water later because your plants are gasping for it, make sure to water slowly and deeply around their roots to keep as much water going where it needs to as possible. You can also water in the late afternoon and early evening to prevent evaporative loss, but be aware that going to bed with damp roots, as it were, can lead to mold and mildew problems.

2. Run deep

Instead of doing a superficial spray every few days, do a deep watering, and do it less frequently. While it might seem counterintuitive because you’re using more water at each watering, you’re using less in the short term by not watering as much. Even better, you’re encouraging the development of strong, healthy plants by forcing them to put out longer and more aggressive root networks to find water. Furthermore, you can cut down on your weed problem, because many weeds rely on an easily-accessed layer of surface water, something they don’t find if you’re doing deep infrequent irrigation.

3. Ditch that lawn

Lawns eat up tremendous amounts of water. If you haven’t already, consider lawn alternatives, such as spreading walkable groundcovers, that won’t require as much water, or as much maintenance. If you want that lush green look, you can have it — but it doesn’t have to be sod. Lawn-free landscaping will also free up all that time you would have spent mowing, dethatching, fertilizing, and otherwise caring for labor-intensive grass.

4. Mulch it

Mulch is great stuff. It protects the roots of plants from the elements, and more than that, it helps plants retain water. Make sure to keep mulch layered well around your plants (mulch in fall is especially important because it protects tender roots from freezing!) so that when you water, the cool area around the roots will trap the water so the plant has time to absorb it. Mulch also keeps weeds down, and can keep a garden looking more tidy.

5. Like with like

Different plants have different water needs. Group your plantings so you can use your resources most efficiently. Try using low water landscaping in areas like sunny hills, where more water would be needed to sustain most plants. Think low-water landscaping is dull? Check out these amazing 50 water-wise plants from Sunset. If you have plants with high water demands, plant them in a cool area of low ground to help them retain water. Avoid mixing plants, as some may not appreciate the greater or lesser amounts of water needed to support their cousins.

6. No more sprinklers

Sprinklers are very inefficient, with high water loss due to evaporation and a tendency to overwater some areas while underwatering others. Talk to your landscaper about installing a real irrigation system with programmable timers so you can direct water where you want it, when you want it. Drip irrigation can offer a highly efficient option, but low-profile spray irrigation is another choice too. For container plants, like those in urban gardens, you might want to consider self-watering options.

7. Soil conditioning

Healthy soil retains water better (and nourishes plants). Work compost, mosses, and other soil conditioning components into the ground when you’re planting new landscaping features, overhauling beds, and working in the garden. If you don’t make your own compost, hit up a garden supply store or the municipal waste facility: many cities sell compost now!

8. Stop runoff in its tracks

You shouldn’t be experiencing runoff if you water smart, but sometimes it’s inevitable on a sloped lot. You need a terrace or retaining wall to stop the water, and you can integrate it into the garden as a design feature, rather than an obvious water reclamation measure. For example, consider using a retaining wall to create a sweeping bed of plants that need higher amounts of water; every time you water higher up on the slope, the water will trickle down to support their needs.

Extra credit: rainwater capture. Discuss your options with your Seattle plumber and take advantage of all that rain! If you reclaim rainwater, you can use it for irrigation, keeping your garden healthy and happy.

Katie Marks writes for This article originally appeared here.

Photo: Phu Son/Flickr.


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Billi Holmes
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for that! And just thinking about spring lifts my spirits!

Jess No Fwd Plz K.
Jessica K4 years ago

Never used a sprinkler for either a garden or a lawn. I found it best to water around the roots of garden plants to conserve. Thanks.

Robert O.
Robert O4 years ago

Thank you.

Kerry Strom
Kerry Strom4 years ago

This is a great concern in the dry climate I live in, in northern California. We need to keep some moist soil around our homes to keep the ground from cracking and damaging the foundation, so we have grass around the house. We use a local evaporation rate equation to help us save on watering. There's also a grass seen company in Florida that has 20 inch root systems so you have to water and cut the grass less. I have also learned that the "WETTER WATER" you get from copper-ionized water that removes chlorine/ debris from municipal water as well as ionizes the water...actually requires you to use LESS water because it absorbs better. It's healthier and more efficient, so you need less. You can get ECOsmarte water from ECO NOR CAL. We have this product throughout our whole house (no more calcium build up or chlorine taste/ smell) and we have the system in our pool too, so we can drink our pool water...No more chlorine or salt generated chlorine! It's the future!

K S.
Krish Away4 years ago


Pamela W.
Pamela W4 years ago

Good point Judith S ..... We have 2 big tanks (1000 litres each) taking the water from our barn roof guttering. No need for pumps or anything, as they have a tap fixture at the bottom and will succeed, with just the force of gravity, to distribute the contents through a hosepipe. With a "Y" joint in the lowest point of the downpipe, it allows us to divert any excess into water barrels etc., to be used first (so as not to encourage mosquitos). This year we haven't had to use any tap water for the garden .... despite growing plenty of fruit and veggies for our needs !!

judith sanders
judith sanders4 years ago

How about planning ahead for NOT watering?

Seriously, the fight for fresh water is just beginning. Not only are we up against frackers and other polluters, now we have corporations like Nestle and Veolia trying to buy up water sources. Look into ways of capturing rainwater and storing it safely. This could mean an underground tank, not just rain barrels. I suggest a preemptive strike- encourage your town and county to pass laws banning the sale of water supplies.

Rekha S4 years ago

I'll bear this in mind if I ever get a proper garden.

Jonathan Smithsonian