Originally Published on May 12, 2022. Last Updated on July 7, 2023.
Fresh water is one of our planet’s most valuable resources, and access to it is vital to sustaining agriculture, aquatic life, human survival, and so much more. However, the supply is limited, so protecting this precious commodity matters.
Fresh water makes up 3% of all the water on our planet. Of that amount, only 0.5% is usable, with the rest being polluted or trapped in glaciers, soil, and the atmosphere (Bureau of Reclamation, 2020).
Conserving water leads to saved money, reduced energy consumption, and protected environments. If you want to learn how you can help preserve this natural resource, keep reading. We’ve compiled nine easy ways to conserve water in your garden or lawn and included helpful tools and information you can use to further your efforts.
What Is Water Conservation?
Water conservation is any act that prevents unnecessary or excess use, or mismanagement of water. These efforts range from passing big-picture legislation to implementing small changes in our daily lives.
Water Conservation Tips
Use your water wisely with these conservation tips and ideas.
1. Set Up a Rain Barrel
Harvesting rainwater is an effective way to reduce your water footprint. The best collection method is placing a rain barrel under your downspout and collecting the runoff. If you don’t have gutters, put the barrel in a spot under the roof with high runoff or in your yard as a landscaping accent.
NOTE: Some states have limitations or incentives for collecting rainwater. Check your local legislation to see your state’s rules and regulations.
2. Replace Part of Your Lawn with Hardscaping
Here’s another reason to build your dream patio: Smaller lawns use less water. If you want to save this resource, consider replacing water-reliant areas with a paved patio or ground-level deck.
3. Water Your Garden in the Morning
The best time to water your garden or lawn is in the early morning when the soil is still cool, typically between 5am and 9am, so plants can drink enough to beat the impending heat. If you water mid-afternoon when the temperature is highest, too much water may evaporate before it can seep into the roots. Evening watering can result in soggy, compacted soil, which decreases airflow and puts your plants at risk for fungal diseases.
4. Pick Plants That Need Less Water
No matter what season you plan to grow a garden, using drought-tolerant plants reduces the water needed to keep them happy and healthy. This approach requires some research because not all low-water plants will grow in your planting zone. If you’re interested in water-saving landscaping, look into these plants:
- Russian sage
- Globe thistle
- Red valerian
5. Start Composting
Composting is a natural process that recycles food and yard waste, turning it into nutrient-rich organic matter that’s perfect for fertilizing vegetable and flower gardens. Many benefits come from composting:
- Composting helps retain soil moisture, which reduces the need for irrigation and minimizes runoff.
- It’s an easy, eco-friendly way to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.
- Compost is a natural alternative to harmful chemical fertilizers.
- Composting saves money as it’s made of items you already have on hand: kitchen and yard scraps.
6. Know Where and How Much to Water
Generally, a lawn needs about 1–1.5 inches of water per week. Drip irrigation is the most efficient option for gardening and lawn care, as it directs precise, uniform quantities of water where it’s needed most: the roots.
If you use a sprinkler instead, ensure it’s pointed at the grass (and not your driveway or house). Depending on your lawn’s sun exposure, square footage, and the frequency you want to water, most sprinkler systems should run for only 15–30 minutes. As mentioned above, it’s best to water the grass in the early morning.
You can check if your lawn requires watering by simply stepping on it. If the grass blades quickly spring back, your yard is in good shape. If they remain flat, then it’s time to water.
7. Use a Dense Planting Method
The dense planting method is just like it sounds: When planting flowers, vegetables, shrubbery, etc., you want to grow them close together. By doing this, your plants protect and shade one another, leading to less watering.
8. Pick the Proper Hose Nozzle
A hose nozzle helps distribute water in a controlled fashion, ensuring minimal waste. When choosing a nozzle, go for one you can close off as you move about your yard.
Check and replace your hose washers periodically, as they can harden and crack over time. It’s a quick and easy fix that will prevent unnecessary leaks.
9. Implement a Water-Saving Garden Design
Xeriscaping is a time-honored way to conserve water with intentional landscape and garden designs. Though it’s mostly used in arid climates, you can implement xeriscaping principles anywhere to save water (U.S. Department of Energy, 2021).
- Pre-planning: Create a water- and energy-efficient landscape strategy beforehand, letting your regional climate and property layout guide the design.
- Native plants: Pick plants local to your region and group them with others that have similar water needs.
- Limited or substitute turf: Either reduce the amount of bluegrass turf used in your landscaping design or pick substitute turf that needs less water.
- Improved soil: Prepare your soil for optimal water absorption by mixing in nutrient-rich compost.
- Efficient irrigation: Pick an irrigation method that waters plants while keeping water waste minimal.
- Mulch: Spread mulch around plants to keep their roots cool, minimize evaporation and weed growth, and prevent soil crusting.
- Routine maintenance: Regularly prune, fertilize, weed, and repel pests to help your plants thrive.
How Much Water Do I Use?
It takes a bit over a half gallon of water (0.623 gallons specifically) per square foot to give a lawn one inch of water. Find your lawn’s square footage by multiplying its length and width in feet (unless you have a uniquely shaped yard—you’ll need geometry to figure that out), then multiply that number by 0.623 to determine the amount of water you use (Lipford, 2007).
Let’s say you have a 5,000-square-foot yard.
5,000 square feet x 0.623 = 3,115 gallons of water
How Much Money Can I Save?
Homes connected to community water systems (aka city water) are charged monthly or quarterly access fees, and those with private wells don’t. If your house uses city water, you can determine how much money it costs to maintain a well-hydrated lawn and how much you’ll save on your bill when you start conserving water.
First, use the formula above to find out how much water you’re using, then divide the product by 1,000. Lastly, multiply the quotient by how much your city charges for every 1,000 gallons of water and sewer services (Lipford, 2007).
Let’s stick to the above water gallon figure and say you pay $2.95 for every 1,000 gallons of water plus $4 for every 1,000 gallons of sewer, totaling $6.95 per 1,000 gallons on a monthly billing cycle.
- 3,115 gallons of water ÷ 1,000 = 3.115
- 3.115 x $6.95 = $21.64925 (or ~$21.70)
- $21.70 x 12 = $260.40
To sum it up, you’re spending $260.40 annually on water. This may increase in warmer months if you water your lawn more or decrease if you practice water conservation techniques.
Water Conservation Chart
Browse this water conservation chart for a quick visual of water usage across the U.S. and what you can do to protect our planet’s fresh water.
Water Conservation Policies
Want to save water like the pros do? Follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) conservation policies they implemented in 2002 to save water in the outdoor areas surrounding their facilities. These techniques (and many others) helped the agency lower its collective water usage by 38.9% between 2007 and 2022:
- Tracking water use and monitoring outdoor water meters.
- Building rainwater collection systems on facility rooftops.
- Recycling water gathered from nearby lakes and rivers.
- Installing weather-based irrigation systems and soil moisture sensors (EPA, 2023).
Curious about the water conservation policies and other regulations set in place by your state and city legislation? A quick online search will pull up your local municipality’s website, where you can find answers to all your questions.
- Admin. (2016, November 29). Irrigation, drip. Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment. https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/fact-sheets/irrigation-drip
- City of New York. (2021, May 22). Water saving tips-lawns and gardens. Water Saving Tips Lawns & Gardens – DEP. https://www.nyc.gov/site/dep/water/water-saving-tips-lawns-gardens.page
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2023, March 31). Water management plans and best practices at EPA. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/greeningepa/water-management-plans-and-best-practices-epa
- Lipford, D. (2007, October 19). How to calculate lawn irrigation water usage and costs. Today’s Homeowner. https://todayshomeowner.com/lawn-garden/guides/calculating-lawn-irrigation-costs/
- Tips for watering lawns. Tips for Watering Lawns | Erie, CO. (2021, December 12). https://www.erieco.gov/1813/Tips-for-Watering-Lawns
- United States Department of Energy. (2021). Landscaping for water conservation. Energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/landscaping-water-conservation
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2017). WaterSense summer infographic. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2017-02/summer-infographic.jpg
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2009, August). What is a rain barrel? https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/what-is-rainbarrel.pdf
- Water facts – worldwide water supply. Bureau of Reclamation. (2020, November 4). https://www.usbr.gov/mp/arwec/water-facts-ww-water-sup.html