Plan For a Water Smart Landscape

Flooding and droughts are getting more intense. For this reason, we should be planning our landscapes for weather extremes.

Gardens enlighten our senses and bring peace and joy. They can also be used for keeping our waterways clean, as they filter out pollutants that wash off roadways and parking lots.

Combat Drought: Create a Garden Plan to Conserve Water

With just a little research, you can have a vibrant, colorful garden all season long, while conserving water at the same time.

  • Take inventory before plant shopping. Before heading out to the garden store or nursery, take stock of the zones in your yard and make sure to choose plants that will tolerate the various conditions: hot/sunny, cool/shady, moist, dry, etc.
  • Wherever possible, choose plants that are drought tolerant and native to our area, to reduce water use by up to 50%.
  • For the latest news on drought in our area, view the U.S. Drought Monitor, a website managed by the University of Nebraska, which is updated each Thursday. 

Check out this list of drought tolerant plants for Massachusetts landscapes.

Use Compost & Mulch!

  • Before planting, add compost to the dirt to help with soil water retention.
  • Once plants are in the ground, make sure to spread mulch around the base to help retain moisture.

Try Different Irrigation Methods
Rather than using a conventional garden hose or sprinkler, consider these methods:

  • Redirect your downspouts toward your plants or shrubs. Use flexible downspouts, found at most home improvement stores, for a more controlled flow of water.
  • Place a rain barrel under your downspouts and collect the water for future use.  Place the rain barrel on cinder blocks (about 2-3ft up) so that it’s easier to get a watering can underneath the spigot, and to create some water pressure.  Multiple rain barrels can be connected together for maximum water saving.  Most rain barrels hold 65 gallons of water.
  • Use drip irrigation for shrubs, gardens, and plant beds, in order to apply water directly to the roots, where it’s needed most.  Setting up drip lines takes a little bit of time, but once completed, one turn of a spigot is all it takes to water numerous plants fro an entire season.
  • Place ice cubes in hanging baskets, planters and pots to give your plants a cool drink of water and help eliminate water overflow.
  • Water your plants deeply but less frequently to create healthier and stronger landscapes.

For more information:

The WaterSense Water-Smart Landscapes guide

Help Prevent Water Pollution: Plant a Rain Garden!

Heavy rain events are becoming more frequent in our area. If water tends to collect in your yard or roadway during a rainstorm, you may want to consider redirecting it toward a rain garden, which will help to divert the water into the soil, allowing it to slowly filter into the ground rather than flow directly into storm drains, ponds or lakes.

Learn more about rain gardens.

Read about the impact of sea level rise in the Neponset Watershed.

The reason for diverting rainwater into a rain garden is to help prevent water pollution.

When rainwater from the street flows directly into storm drains, it carries the pollutants that are on the road into our waterways – untreated. (Pollutants include motor oil, gasoline, fertilizer, pesticides, dog waste,  etc.) This dirty runoff can cause water pollution in our local streams and ponds.  Rain gardens are a great way to intercept and filter that polluted water!

Lawn Care

You can have a green lawn with minimal water use.

Create Healthy Topsoil

  • Use a layer of rich, organic loam 6” to 8” thick to retain moisture, encourage deep roots, and harbor beneficial earthworms.
  • Supplement topsoil by letting grass clippings and shredded leaves decompose on your lawn.
  • To build topsoil faster, apply a thin layer of rich loam or compost once or twice a year.


Just one inch of water per week from rain OR irrigation is enough to keep a lawn green.

  • Test your lawn BEFORE watering. Step on a patch of grass; if it springs back, it doesn’t need water.
  • Follow weather reports, or set up a simple rain gauge to determine how much rain has fallen.
  • Don’t overwater, as it can cause harmful fungus outbreaks.
  • If you have an irrigation system, update to a moisture sensor that will turn on your system when actually needed, as opposed to watering on a regular schedule, regardless of conditions. (Don’t be that person whose irrigation system goes on when it’s raining!)
  • Avoid watering when it’s windy, to limit evaporation.
  • Make sure that your sprinkler is watering the lawn and not the sidewalk or driveway – to avoid water waste and runoff.
  •  Always follow town watering restrictions for public health and safety.
  • Keep track of drought by following the U.S. Drought Monitor, a website managed by the University of Nebraska, which is updated each Thursday.  (The map below is from Oct. 2016, when much of MA was in severe to extreme drought.)

Be Smart About Fertilizer Use

Lawn fertilizers, pesticides, yard clippings and leaves can wash into storm drains after a heavy rain fall and pollute our water ways. Excessive amounts of phosphorus, a component of lawn fertilizer, creates weed and algae growth, causing significant water quality problems.

  • Make sure that you’re treating your lawn properly. Get your soil tested before you fertilize at UMass Extension.
  • Choose phosphate-free or organic fertilizers, and sweep up excess from paved areas.
  • Use lawn chemicals sparingly. The best times to fertilize are the late spring and early fall.
  • Never fertilize before a heavy rain storm!


  • Mow regularly and cut it long. Set mower to its highest setting and remove less than 1/3 of the grass when you mow. Taller grass shades the roots and slows evaporation.
  • Sharpen mower blades. Dull blades shred grass instead of slicing it.

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