Plan a Water Smart Garden

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

Planning your garden with consideration for varying climate conditions will help to conserve water – and save time and money.

Create a Plan

  • Take inventory before plant shopping. 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. For example, if you have a hot, dry zone, carefully select plants that can endure hot, dry conditions.
  • Wherever possible, choose plants that are drought-tolerant and native to our area, to reduce water use by up to 50%.

List of drought-tolerant plants for Massachusetts landscapes.

List of native Massachusetts wildflowers.

Use Compost & Mulch!

Add compost to the dirt to help with soil water retention.

Once it’s warm enough to work outside, spend some time prepping the soil before putting plants in the ground.  Adding organic matter such as peat moss, compost, and grass clippings will improve soil structure and enhance moisture-retaining capabilities.  Incorporate organic matter 12”-18” deep into the garden beds.

Learn how to compost.

Once plants are in the ground, make sure to spread mulch around the base to help retain moisture.

Adding mulch around plants reduces water evaporation from the soil and reduces the number of weeds that compete for soil moisture. Mulch flowers, shrub beds and trees with pine bark mulch, and use salt marsh hay or newspaper (no color pages) for your vegetable gardens.  Ground covers, such as ivy or pachysandra, also prevent evaporation around established shrubs and ornamental trees.

Try Different Irrigation Methods

When watering the garden, keep in mind that much of the water that is dispersed through sprinklers and hoses evaporates before it ever reaches the roots of the plants.  More efficient alternatives are rain barrels, drip irrigation systems, and soaker hoses.

  • Rain barrels are particularly useful for smaller gardens that don’t require a lot of water, and that are located near the barrel.
    • Place the rain barrel under your downspout, 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 or soaker hoses for shrubs, gardens, and plant beds, in order to apply water directly to the roots, where it’s needed most.
    • Drip irrigation consists of a series of nozzles that deliver small quantities of water at low pressure directly to the root zones of plants.
    • A soaker hose is a canvas or rubber hose with perforations. It is most effective when it lies on top or slightly below soil level and mulch is placed over the soil and hose.

These systems are very efficient for larger gardens and shrubs. Setting up takes a little bit of time, but once completed, one turn of a spigot is all it takes to water numerous plants for an entire season. In general, use the drip irrigation or soaker hose methods until the soil is moist 3-4 inches below the surface.

  • 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 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 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.

For more information on garden planning:

Plant a Rain Garden to Help Prevent Water Pollution

If water tends to collect in your yard or roadway during a rainstorm, you may want to consider redirecting it toward a rain garden.

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape, planted with grasses and flowering perennials, that collects rainwater from parking areas, driveways, walkways, and roofs.

During rainstorms, runoff enters the rain garden and slowly filters into the ground, instead of running off directly into storm drains, ponds or lakes. The runoff is filtered and cleaned naturally by soil and plants, and reduces the amount of polluted runoff entering our waterways, keeping our environment healthier!

Learn more about rain gardens.

Diverting rainwater into a rain garden helps to 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!

Learn about “smart irrigation” water conservation techniques for your lawn.


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