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Saving Water in the Garden

Submitted: March 13, 2018, 2:03 p.m.
By: Chris Madson, Irrigation Technology Spec

As the second driest state in the nation, conserving water in Utah is a high priority. As our population continues to increase, so too does the demand for water and the need for conservation.

With the largest portion of water in Utah being applied to the landscape by homeowners, business owners, and farmers—taking steps to reduce residential water use could collectively make a big difference.

Water-wise plantings

  • When planning a new landscape, or renovating an older one, consider the wide variety of low-water-use plants that are available.


  • Group plants in the landscape with similar water needs, and water each zone separately according to the requirements of each hydrozone. This will avoid over-watering entire areas to meet the needs of a few plants that need more water.

Cultural practices

  • Use a generous layer of mulch in garden beds to reduce evaporation and weeds, which also reduces competition for water.
  • Sweep driveways and sidewalks with a broom instead of hosing them off with water.
  • Mow grass at 3” to 4” in height, rather than 2” or 2.5.” This reduces stress and water use because it allows the grass to shade its roots.
  • Reduce lawn fertilizer applications to less than the typical recommendation of 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft., 3-5 times/year. Fertilizer increases growth, which increases water consumption. When fertilizing, use a low nitrogen fertilizer with micronutrients, including iron, which helps green up lawns in Utah’s high pH soils.

Design the irrigation system to meet the site/design needs

  • In densely planted landscapes, spray heads that deliver larger water droplets reduce water loss because they are less susceptible to drift and evaporation.
  • In less dense landscapes, drip systems deliver water only to those areas where plants are located.
  • Drip systems are also used to establish new landscapes that will ultimately be kept as a dry or xeric planting, which requires no supplemental water after establishment.

Inspect sprinkler systems

  • Regularly check the performance of sprinklers to ensure that there is proper alignment and coverage, and that there are no leaky pipes or heads. Adequate pressure is also essential, as too much or too little can affect the performance of the system and wastes water, either by overwatering or by evaporation.
  • Check hoses and faucets for leaks and add a shut-off valve to the end of hoses to turn off flow when not needed.

Scheduling irrigation

  • Avoid watering during the hottest time of day (10AM – 6PM).
  • Water in cycles, reducing the minutes on the timer and using multiple start times, spaced an hour apart, to allow water to soak into soil, especially on slopes.
  • Water fewer days per week, but water for longer periods of time. This will encourage deeper root development, enabling plants to withstand hot summer temperatures and the intervals in between each watering.
  • Consider installing a rain shut-off gauge on the irrigation system and turn off the system when conditions are very windy.
  • Always adjust your irrigation scheduling times to meet the changing needs of each season, less water in spring and fall, more during the heat of summer.

Awareness of how our watering practices affect plant growth and performance is the cornerstone of saving water in residential landscapes. Water applied daily leads to shallow-rooted systems that are more susceptible to the scorching heat of summer. Water applied less often but for longer, including cycle soak programs, encourages deeper rooting that better tolerate less water and the summer heat. Avoiding water application during the day reduces water lost to evaporation.

Red Butte Garden offers landscape design, irrigation, garden maintenance, and many other gardening classes on a regular basis. Please check our website for more information.