Make Your Yard Water Wise!

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Do the plants in your landscape wilt if they are not watered on a regular basis? Do you find yourself frequently dashing out to the garden, watering can in hand, trying to save some poor plant from collapse? Do you dread receiving your monthly water bill? If so, sounds like you have a water hungry landscape. Do not despair – there are simple steps you can take now to help your landscapes kick its water habit.

What is Water Wise?

Water wise landscapes are designed and maintained to look attractive, be more weather resilient, and need less water year around. To make your landscape water wise you do not have to spend a fortune or turn your yard into a desert, containing only yucca and cactus plants. Making your yard water wise does not mean you have to redo your entire landscape; simply incorporate water saving practices into your existing design and maintenance activities.

There are many practices that will reduce your landscape’s water needs. These include mulching plant beds to conserve moisture and planting trees and shrubs during the cooler time of year, so they can establish before the heat of summer. If you have an irrigated lawn, reducing the size of your lawn by increasing the amount of mulched area around trees and beds will quickly cut landscape water use. Two of the most fundamental practices of water wise landscaping address how plants are grouped in the landscape and how they are watered.

Group Plants by Their Water Needs

Plants vary greatly in the amount of water they need to grow. Some are adapted to withstand long periods of low soil moisture. These include woody plants like junipers, yaupons, Chinese hollies, Indian hawthorn, crape myrtle and live oak. Colorful, drought tolerant perennials include  ‘Maraschino’ sage, Mexican bush sage, lantana, catmint, pink muhly grass, dianthus, false indigo (Baptisia), gaura, and Arkansas blue star Other plants, like azaleas, camellias, dogwoods, hydrangeas, impatiens, and Japanese maples, need more consistent soil moisture to grow well. Grouping plants together in beds based on their water requirements makes watering much more efficient and practical, and is the foundation of water wise landscaping.

Take a look at your landscape beds after several days without rain or irrigation. Are some plants thriving while others are wilting? Replace wilt prone species with hardier, more drought tolerant varieties (for suggestions, see the lists of recommended plants available online from Pender County Cooperative Extension). This does not mean your entire yard has to consist of drought tolerant varieties. If there are plants you want to grow that require more water and you can irrigate them, group them together in a location that is convenient to water, but try to keep these high water use plantings to a minimum.

Efficient Irrigation

Having a water wise landscape does not mean plants are never watered. But it does mean they are watered efficiently and only when necessary. To water efficiently, apply water slowly, at a rate it can soak into the soil, otherwise it will runoff instead of moving into the soil. Prevent water loss due to evaporation by minimizing the use of overhead sprinklers, which spray water into the air. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems apply water at the root zone, where plants need it. In lawns, where you do have to use overhead sprinklers, avoid watering at midday when water loss due to evaporation will be highest.

When you do water, apply enough to wet most of the root zone. This will encourage plants to grow deeper, more drought resistant root systems. For lawns, one third an inch of water at each watering is adequate, while most landscape plants need around a half to three fourths of an inch in a single application to soak their root zones. The frequency you need to water will depend on your soil type, the plants you have, and the weather. A good guideline is to allow plants to show slight symptoms of drought stress such as slight wilting between watering. During summer, most lawns need water at least once a week from rainfall or irrigation to stay green, while established beds of drought tolerant plants will only need water once a month to stay healthy.

Learn More

These are only a few of the many things you can do to make your landscape healthier and reduce outdoor water use. To learn more about water wise landscaping and drought tolerant plants for our area, visit the Lawn and Garden page on the Pender Extension website, //, and scroll down the sections titled ‘Recommended Plants for Pender County’ and ‘Water Wise Landscaping’.

Learn more about how local weather conditions are impacting gardening and farming in our area:

If you have gardening questions, contact your local Cooperative Extension Office. If you live in Pender County, call 259-1235. In New Hanover County, call 798-7660 and in Brunswick County call 253-2610, or visit