How to Conserve Water in Your Garden

bright yellow poppies growing in a green bush

Gardening has become a popular hobby, especially as more people have had to stay at home and find ways to keep themselves occupied. A new garden can bring a lot of joy, but it has to be maintained, which includes a lot of watering if you only use a hose. To help keep the bills down, there are many ways you can conserve water in your garden, and implement eco-friendly tactics, to boot. This article will go over some of the best ways to do just that.

Rain Barrels

Rain barrels are getting quite popular, and for good reason if you're a gardener. These large containers are meant to catch rain run-off from rooftops when positioned underneath downspouts. It’s a great project for DIY-ers, as the downspouts need to be sawed or cut just above the barrel top with a flexible elbow added so that the rain goes directly into the barrel.

Barrels are raised a foot or two off the ground and fashioned with a spigot so you can fill your watering can through gravity. It’s not a difficult job, and barrels are relatively cheap to buy. Look for regional incentives or local sellers, as the ones at garden centers can be pricier. Any initial investment will eventually make up for itself in water bill savings.

rain barrel with water running in from a downspout

Rain Garden

Installing a rain garden is a great way to utilize rain run-off from rooftops, as well, but rather than catching it, you help the ground absorb it. A rain garden uses certain plants (usually native) that tolerate wet and dry conditions and are planted into a slope or in a spot where water naturally runs.

By digging a small depression and extending a downspout towards it, the water will be able to fill the hole and sit for 24-48 hours, filtering into local aquifers rather than sewers and soaking up at least 30 percent more water than a lawn would.

While it may not help an existing garden with water use, consider building a rain garden if you haven’t planted anything yet. While it doesn’t need to be the only type of garden you plan, consider them as the primary option—they can be very beautiful, and most people wouldn’t know a rain garden from a regular garden.

orange flowers in the rain


Adding a layer of mulch on top of your soil is an excellent way to retain moisture in the garden, giving you a few extra days before you need to water again and protecting plants from drought. Mulch comes in various forms, but the best varieties are made of organic materials like pine needles, decomposing leaves, dried grass, hay, or compost.

Natural wood-based mulches like cedar and bark are okay to use, as well, but they won’t add any nutrients to the soil. Stay clear from the tinted variety you see at garden centers: they look smart, but all that dye isn’t helping your garden or the environment. Same for rubber mulch made of recycled plastic – the idea is nice, but plastic eventually breaks down into microplastics, which is harmful to the environment and your plants.

bark mulch

Grow Native Plants

Native plants are always the best choice for your garden as they generally thrive with the average rainfall of your particular climate. For example, if you live in a hot or desert-like area, don’t waste your water growing grass or water-thirsty plants. Choose xeriscape and drought-resistant/ tolerant plants instead, and they will flourish, making your garden look great without wasting gallons of water on plants that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Same goes for cooler climates or all-season zones: research your particular area as growing zones can differ between cities only an hour away. Choose plants that are native to your area, or at least similar ones that aren’t invasive and will thrive with the amount of rainfall you generally expect.

orange flowers in dry soil

Water Correctly

You can waste a lot of water by not watering plants correctly. For most applications, watering directly into the soil or planter dirt is the best way to ensure your plants will get a good drink. Foliage does not absorb water, and in some cases, blooms and other soft leaves can be damaged by a strong spray or dousing.

Rainfall is very different than a hose wand, so keep the water low to the ground when possible. Also, water in the early mornings or evenings when the sun isn’t scorching, otherwise water will evaporate. This is another reason to water into the dirt: any moisture left on plants overnight can lead to fungus issues or wilt. Remember not to over-water, either, as this can be wasteful.

watering can watering roots of a small green plant

Irrigation Systems

Should you install an irrigation system? That depends. By following the steps already listed, you shouldn’t need to use that much extra water in the first place. However, sometimes you can’t get around this depending on what you are growing. In that case, a smart irrigation system can be helpful, especially ones with moisture sensors and timers.

Drip irrigation is especially efficient with mulched gardens as the slow-releasing of water allows for better absorption. Sprinkler systems are generally good for lawns, but if you are worried about conserving water, ask yourself if growing grass is the best idea in the first place.

You may not be able to catch 100 percent of the rain that falls or be the perfect water conservationist, but you can take the initiative to do a few simple things that will make a difference.

Start with just adding a rain barrel, or maybe a rain garden, and bit by bit, start to implement best watering practices. Choose native plants when possible, and start to get to know your native landscape a little better. By approaching your garden as an extension of the ecosystem, you’ll be able to conserve water in your garden in smart, easy, and efficient ways.