How to best conserve and use water on landscapes in hot summer months


Grass lawns, backyard plant habitats and produce gardens all need water during the summer months.

The amount of water used is an important topic to consider when working on a landscape.

“Conserving water begins as you’re planning for your landscape,” Erika Johnson, WSU Master Gardener program coordinator, told The Reflector. “So thinking about how you’re going to use the space will help you to pick plants and choose a design that’s going to minimize water waste and minimize water usage.”

Johnson added that grass lawns are a very high water input choice.

One could consider having no lawn to limit water use. But going with a conventional grass lawn is a more common choice.

The size of a lawn will dictate how much water it consumes.

If a property already has a grass lawn of any size, the property owner could consider cutting down the size of the lawn to make space for a habitat or garden that requires much less water.

“Lawn can be a good place to play or to kind of have an open area, but you want to be strategic about where you want that so you can choose other plants that may have lower water input needs,” Johnson said.

Oregon State University has helpful resources on irrigation, Johnson added.

“‘How often?’ and ‘how much?’ are the two most common questions associated with lawn irrigation. From June through August, irrigating from one to five times per week will provide the right amount of water,” stated an article by the Oregon State University Extension Service.

The article adds that watering a lawn during the night helps to avoid conflicts with local water supplies during the peak demand periods. Nighttime watering avoids evaporative loss.

“Water requirements vary dramatically from week to week. In July, August and early September, turfgrass water requirements can range from 1 inch per week in cool weather to 2 inches per week in hot, windy weather,” the article states. “The best approach is to watch the lawn for signs of drought stress or wilting. … If the lawn looks healthy and the soil is easily penetrated, wait a day and check it again. Irrigate when the soil is dry. This practice will allow you to increase the time between irrigation events while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing lawn.”

For those wanting to utilize plants that require less water in comparison to grass lawns, Johnson said to check plant tags when purchasing plants as they often detail the water needs for the plant.

“We don’t tend to talk a lot about inches (when watering) because the soil can act very differently. And so it’s more effective to really kind of get to know your plants by putting your fingers in the soil and feeling how much moisture is in there,” Johnson explained. “And then once plants get established, a lot of them won’t need much in terms of supplemental watering. So, watering at first is important so that the plant can get established and watering slowly and deeply will allow the roots to go deep so that they can retrieve water that’s already in the soil.”

Watering frequently, no matter the amount, will allow the roots to stay closer to the surface and will prevent the plant from establishing itself during times of drought, Johnson added.

Watering deeply is the best tactic to allow plants to establish themselves and better survive the summer drought season.

“Sometimes there can be kind of a crust on the soil surface where the soil has just kind of dried out. And when you water, sometimes the water will just roll off and roll away. And so if you can water it a little bit and make sure that it’s percolating, you know, give it a minute or two to just percolate, then it’ll be sort of more receptive to receive more water,” Johnson explained. “And then when you put the hose on it, that water will go deeper instead of spreading out further.”

Johnson added that choosing native plant species is the best option for conserving water as they’re adapted to the area’s climate. The plants are better suited for wet winters and dry summers.

“And then there are plants that are from places that are more Mediterranean or southern that can do well with a really hot, dry summer,” Johnson added. “And then another really good technique is to group plants by their water needs. So if you do have plants that have higher water needs, having those all together will mean that you put the sprinkler on or however you’re watering that you’re able to limit it to just that area instead of trying to do the entire yard frequently.”