Tips for Efficient Water Use

Robert Bishop 
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Water infrequently, deeply, and thoroughly - This will encourage rooting and greater tolerance to dry spells. Plants send out extra roots in dry conditions to seek water. Plants often bloom more profusely when stressed, as the natural instinct to reproduce creates more flowers.

Water responsibly, using correct watering techniques - Water early in the day, especially as the weather warms, to reduce evaporation loss. Water less often and for longer lengths of time to encourage deep root growth. Be sure your irrigation system is in proper working condition. If drip irrigation won't work for you, try a hand held hose rather than a sprinkler. If you use a sprinkler, make sure you don't water sidewalks or driveways.

Properly condition your soil - Water does not easily penetrate clay soils and water passes too quickly beyond the root zone of plants in sandy soil. Adding organic matter to clay and sandy soils will increase the penetrability of clay soils and the water holding capacity of sandy soils.

Mulch soil surface - Mulching cuts down on water loss due to evaporation. A two-inch layer of mulch or compost is recommended. Apply mulches to shrubs, trees, annuals, vegetable gardens, and even containers.

Shelter container plants - To conserve water, move containers to areas with partial shade to keep them from drying quickly in hot windy areas.

Install a drip or other water conserving irrigation system - Slow drip and deep root watering systems can save up to 60% of all water used in garden care. Professionally installed and maintained irrigation systems will further help conserve water. Capture rainwater from your roof in a barrel and use it later to water your garden and ornamental plants.

Cut lawns to proper height - Gradually let lawns reach a height of 3 to 4 inches. Longer blades of grass can mean going 3 to 4 days longer between waterings.

Discourage water competition from weeds - Keep weeds pulled and reduce the likelihood of them returning by mulching. Consider using landscape fabric between the soil and your mulch to further reduce weeds.

The following organizations endorse these recommendations: The Maryland Department of Agriculture; The Maryland Cooperative Extension; The Maryland Nursery & Landscape Assn.; The Maryland Greenhouse Growers Assn.; the Landscape Contractors Assn. -MD-DC- VA ; and the Maryland Public Gardens Consortium.

For more information about general household water conservation visit

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