The continuing rain has been wonderful. It helps damaged plant material and turf recover from the cold, and I have yet to use my irrigation system this year.
If you have replaced any plant material recently, the rain also has helped get plants established. You'll need to watch plant's water needs carefully once the rain passes and the dry season is upon us. It's never too soon to get smarter about water usage.
The turf is probably the biggest water guzzler in the landscape, but you only need to thoroughly water weekly to encourage strong, deep roots. One inch weekly is usually enough.
To measure rainfall or water from your sprinkler, use a rain gauge or simply put an upside-down empty tin can in your yard to catch the water. See how long it takes to get an inch of water, and set your sprinklers accordingly.
Mow the grass high because taller grass blades hold more water reserves. Take care of weeds, and apply fertilizer to grow sturdy roots. If you mow on a regular basis, let the grass clippings fall where they may. The organic material will improve the soil and its ability to retain water.
Rain barrels have been popular for years and are a good way to save rainwater for use in landscape beds. The county extension service gives classes on how to make rain barrels. You could also look online for directions. Connect a hose to the barrel when you want to water, or better yet, connect a soaker hose and snake it through your plant bed to increase the efficiency of your rain barrel.
Think about the water requirements before you plant. Annuals are very thirsty, so you might cut down on the number of annuals you use and focus on flowering perennials. If you do plant annuals, group them together so you can use water from your rain barrel when needed.
Group plants by how much water they need. Place water-hungry plants close to a water source. You may want to plant them in containers so there is less water waste. Plant the less-thirsty plants farther from the house, and after they are established let them fend for themselves.
Improve your soil constantly. Better soil means better water retention, so add as much organic material as you can get your hands on. The healthier the soil gets, the less water needed.
Design your landscape with water needs in mind. If wind is a common visitor to your yard, then plant some wind breaks. Wind is very drying and will increase the amount of water needed to keep plants healthy.
Mulch will help retain water in the soil. Organic mulch has the added benefit of adding nutrients to your soil as the mulch decomposes. Because of this I am not a fan of the "unnatural" mulches such as rubber mulch. It may have a use in playgrounds to soften falls, but in a landscape I'd rather see natural mulch such as pine bark or eucalyptus.
As advocated in earlier columns, use some of your indoor water outdoors. Boiling vegetables or eggs? Let the water cool and then use it in container gardens or just pour it out in the grass. Those thirsty annuals might like an extra drink also.
Some people even catch their shower water (while waiting for it to heat up) in a bucket and water plants with it. Look for other easy ways in your home to "recycle" inside water.
A simple trick will help save water in your vegetable garden. Vegetables grow quickly and have short lives. They use a lot of water. When planting your vegetable garden, use 1-gallon water jugs to hold water. Drill four or five holes around the top of a plastic milk or soda jug. Leave the lid on the jug and cut off the bottom. Tip it upside down, then push the jug into the garden. After you have placed your jugs, plant your vegetables or sow seeds close to a jug. Fill up the containers at the beginning of each day. Until the seeds sprout and have their third or fourth set of true leaves, you may need to supply supplemental water. But after that, the containers should provide adequate water for your garden.
These are a few methods to help decrease water usage in the garden. If you have others, please share with your fellow gardeners.
Mary Collister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.