Gardening 101

Water Management in the Garden

garden hose

With the almost annual dry summer to anticipate, gardeners have to become more aware of how they use their most precious resource – water. Remember, only 1% of all the water on our planet is potable. The remainder is either salt water or tied up in the polar ice caps. We therefore must use it wisely and also work towards conserving as possible.

It’s no secret that the landscape uses more water than any other item at a residence: one portable lawn sprinkler operating for one hour will use approximately 360 gallons of water. This is the equivalent to 14 five-minute showers, 26 runs of the dishwasher, 72 flushes of the toilet, or 9 full loads of laundry.

In general, plants need about 1 inch of water per week, the equivalent of 625 gallons of water per 1000 square feet. Regionally we receive around 40 inches of rain per year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always rain when we need it (1 inch per week) and sometimes we can go for several weeks without rain. Our heavy clay soils can only absorb about .25 – .33 inches per hour. So, it can take as long as 2.5 hours to water a garden. With water conservation in mind and water restrictions in place, here are some tips to help your garden.

•    Reduce the amount of lawn you maintain and convert more areas of your landscape to ornamental beds. Once established (after the first year), your overall water needs will be reduced.

•    Add 2-3 inches of mulch around plants and in landscape beds. The mulch helps conserve moisture and will also reduce weeds.

•    Water the garden between 10pm and 8am. This will minimize evaporation and reduce disease development.

•    If you have an irrigation system for your garden, install a rain sensor to prevent the system from turning on if it rains. Also, make sure that you are not watering the sidewalks and roads. You might also want to install skid pump systems for your water management system.

•    Group plants with like water needs together. Plants can be grouped into three zones: low, medium, and high water needs. Locate plants with high water requirements close to the house or building where they can get more attention.

•    Install a water harvesting system such as a rain barrel or a cistern to utilize the water that falls on your property and reduce the need to use potable water to irrigate the landscape.

•    In the garden beds, avoid using sprinklers. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to minimize water use and direct the water where it needs to go.

To find out more about water management in the garden, visit

To learn about drought tolerant plants for the North Carolina landscape, go to

Michelle Wallace was the Consumer Horticulture Agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Durham Co. If you have general garden questions, contact the Durham Extension Master Gardeners at 919-560-0528 or email

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