Waterwise Gardening: A Guide

Waterwise gardeners need only follow a few principles to conserve and make the most of a dwindling resource. Waterwise gardening is not rocket science. Instead, it is a mindset. Following a few fundamental guidelines can launch any gardener on a path of water conservation, healthier plants and protection of the environment.

Planning and Design of a waterwise garden

A journey requires a map. In the case of waterwise gardening, the gardener prepares a map of the garden as it is now, noting trees, structures, stones, unsightly objects and anything else that is there. Next comes the budget. After that, what the garden should look like, how much maintenance it will require and the amount of water it will need. This plan can be as complex or as simple as the gardener wants.

Checking the soil of your garden

Every garden should have a soil test. A soil test determines the pH of the soil and available nutrients (macro- and micronutrients). Organic material (mulch and compost) will increase soil’s ability to absorb and retain water.

Learn more about soil preparation and testing here

Selecting The Right Plants

Every region of the continent is different, not only in climate but also in rainfall, soil quality, and available surface and ground water. In addition, in each of those regions, native plants have evolved to thrive in that specific environment. Generally, these native plants need less water. They are also more pest resistant, and need fewer nutrients to thrive than exotic plants imported into the region.

Appropriate Lawns

It’s no secret that turf grass needs more water and more maintenance than other plants. Therefore, the best lawn grass is one that is best suited to the area. The size and shape of a lawn can make significant difference in how much water is needed, how hard it will be to water, and how much maintenance it will need. Many waterwise gardeners see the wisdom in allowing grass to grow a little higher by increasing the height of their mower blade. This allows the grass blades to create more chlorophyll, have healthier and stronger root systems, and, along with organic compost, help make the plants more resistant to insects and fungal damage.

Maintaining The Garden

Good planning and design can lower maintenance requirements of a garden. However, waterwise gardeners see the need to continue to monitor irrigation systems, weeds and mulch.

Irrigation Systems

  • Sprinkler irrigation—the most common type, is probably the least efficient. Sprinkler irrigation allows for the distribution of a great deal of water quickly. However, a large portion is lost due to runoff and evaporation.
  • Drip Irrigation— a much better choice than sprinklers, and much more efficient. This system gets the water directly to the soil slowly, so that plant roots have time to take in water. Additionally, evaporation and runoff are not a problem.


Organic (compost, shredded bark, pine straw, hay, to name a few) or it can be inorganic, such as limestone or rock. However, organic material decomposes into the soil, adding nutrients quickly. Mulch is a prime requirement for waterwise gardening because it keeps the soil moist and prevents evaporation. Additionally, it keeps the temperature of soil constant at a moderate level.

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