Gardening in a Drought:
How to Use Less Water

If you live in a state like California or Arizona, droughts are common and can last for years. Cars are covered in patinas of dust. Watering the yard is cut down to once a week for five minutes or so. In conditions like these, keeping your garden thriving can be a challenge. There are so many important issues to consider:

  • How do I use less water?
  • What sort of plants would do better in a drought-stricken environment?
  • What about my lawn?

This list will help you navigate the perils and pitfalls of gardening where water is scarce.

Tips to Save Water - Gardening in a Drought

There are many ways to reduce the amount of water you use in the garden without sacrificing much in the way of your plant’s health or happiness. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

Water Early in the Morning

Set an alarm clock. Use a rooster. Ask the paperboy to tuck a brick into your newspaper so it makes a loud noise when it hits your porch or window. Don’t like these ideas? An automatic timer for your watering system can save your sanity and your windows. Watering earlier means losing less water to evaporation from the sun and the heat.

Water Deeper and Less Often

Give your thirsty plants a long, targeted drink. Watering less often, but for a longer period, will give the water a chance to reach deeper roots and lower levels of soil. As a rule of thumb, water at least 6 inches deep for lawns and 12 inches deep for shrubs and trees. Try using a popsicle stick or wooden dowel to check depth.

Water Established Plants Less Often

It’s so tempting to shower your whole garden with equal amounts of water just to make sure every plant is well taken care of. However, established plants don’t need as much as newer ones. Keep an eye on them and reduce the amount of water gradually until you figure out how much each one really needs.

Use Drip Irrigation

If you have a large garden, the idea of watering each individual plant to the depth and amount it needs can be time-consuming and exhausting. Consider installing a drip irrigation system. You can tailor the lines to run to certain plants and set timers for each line. Then all you must do is lounge in your lawn chair and watch the watering take care of itself.

Layer on the Mulch

Using mulch not only reduces evaporation and holds the water close to the plant – it can also cover up your drip irrigation lines. Your neighbors will be left wondering why they never see you with a hose in your hand.

Repair Hoses and Fittings

Want to save up to 260 gallons of water a month? Fixing even one small leak will do that for you. Take the time you save watering with your irrigation system to occasionally check your hoses and fittings.

Install a Gray Water Collection System

Gray water is water you use in your home that is repurposed instead of wasted. Consider installing a system that will collect the water from doing the dishes or washing your clothes. This will drastically reduce your water consumption, because you’re using the same water twice.

Drought Tolerant Plants - Gardening in a Drought

Looking for plants hardy enough to withstand the current drought crisis? Why not give these plants a look?

Echinocactus grusonii

This one deserves a spot just for one of its nicknames: mother-in-law’s cushion. If she asks, you can just tell her it’s a golden barrel cactus. They can grow 4 feet in height and about half that in width. They have straight or slightly curved yellow spines, sometimes white. They can live 30 years and start sporting yellow flowers on their crowns during summertime after about 20 years.

Their basic requirements: minimum winter temperatures of about 56 degrees F, good drainage, and less watering in winter, as too much can lead to rot.

Libertia peregrinans

Like copper-colored, grasslike plants that bear small white flowers in the summer? This New Zealand native plant may be right up your alley. It grows about 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide. All it needs is full sun, good drainage, and moderate watering.

Lavandula multifida

If the name makes you think of lavender, there's a good reason. Wooly gray stems, violet flowers, and fern-like foliage call to mind its other names, fern leaf lavender and Egyptian lavender. Can grow up to 2 feet tall and needs warm, dry climate and great drainage.

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Can’t go wrong with a plant whose name literally means “immortal.” This one is also known as blue oat grass, due to the blue-tinged green foliage that blooms blue-green flowers in the summer. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide and is drought-resistant, deer-resistant, and low-maintenance. Give it full sun and low-fertility, well-drained soil to keep it happy.

Using Less Water on Your Lawn - Gardening in a Drought

Here’s the cold, hard truth about lawns: they are a massive waste of water relative to what you get out of them. Removing your lawn and xeriscaping your yard instead is a great option. But if it kills you to think of losing your lawn, then these tips will help keep it from being a major water suck.

Reduce, Reduce, Reduce

This sounds obvious, but it takes some guts. Your lawn won’t look as spectacular as usual, but it will survive. So reduce a bit here and there. Reduce how often you water it. Reduce the amount of time you water it. It hurts. But it’s worth it.

Mow Less Often

Taller grasses mean deeper roots and more shade for the soil, reducing evaporation. So, mow the grass no shorter than 2.5 to 3 inches high, and only once a week. Also, leave the grass clippings on the lawn for more cover. Save the rake for autumn leaves.

Keep Off the Grass

This includes equipment and feet. The pressure compacts the soil, and a drought-stressed lawn is easier to damage.


If you see dry spots on your lawn, try hand-watering those spots rather than adjusting your watering schedule. Hand watering is a great way to use more gray water, too.

Find the Shade

Locate the shady areas of your lawn, generally on the north and east sides of the house. Once you find them, you can cut the water you devote to those areas by up to 50 percent – huge savings!

Pick and choose from these gardening, plant, and lawn tips for drought-stricken areas. You don’t need to do all of these. Just a few can make a significant impact on your water usage and your environmental impact, all without sacrificing the health of your plants.

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