A surprising number of my landscape customers appear to be in denial about their garden’s water use. When asked about how high their water bills are, I often hear “John takes care of that,” or “We pay automatically. I never really look at the bill.” In the lingo of recovery, are you an enabler of your garden’s excessive drinking?

Garden water use can be up to 80% of a typical home’s summer water bill. Unless you are making regular adjustments to your irrigation controller, you are almost certainly wasting at least 30% to over-watering during the periods in the spring and fall when the garden’s need for water declines due to shorter day length and reduced solar radiation as the sun moves lower on the ecliptic.

evapotranspirationvs irrig

By making a seasonal adjustment three times per year, you can reduce most of the wasted water represented in the pink zone above. When you turn your sprinkler system on in April, reduce the summer time frequency by half. So, if you water every three days in summer, you should set your sprinkler clock to come on only every six days during the spring. In mid-June increase the frequency to every three days, and then in September, cut it back to every six days. Once we get the first heavy rain in the fall or winter, you can shut the system off entirely. Even though the garden may look dry, the plants are simply not using much water then. If we have a dry winter, with little rainfall, your garden should still not need additional water.

In forcing your garden to confront its drinking problem, you and your landscape will benefit in many ways. If you establish a pattern of deep, infrequent watering, the root profile will extend deeper, so the plants will be less likely to dry out. Moreover, once your lawn stops taking that little nip of water in the morning, you’ll find you’ll have fewer problems with incursions of feeder roots from adjacent trees, and perennials and lawns will show greater vigor. Waterlogged soils also promote all manner of diseases, and reducing water use makes life harder for some unsavory garden characters who’ve become ‘drinking buddies,’ including slugs and snails and even gophers.

“But,” you say, “I can never remember how to run that darned timer, and I’m afraid I’ll screw it up.” Deep down of course, you know it only seems complicated because you use it so infrequently. Come on! You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggonit, your garden likes you! And so does your landscaper. Call him or her, or a local sales rep for help. Don’t beat up on yourself if you forget how to do it the first few times. You’ll get the hang of it, and your garden will thank you. Then sit back and think of something nice you can buy for yourself with all the money you’ve saved on water bills, and pat yourself on the back for setting such a good example for your kids and neighbors.

It’s up to you to make sure your garden drinks responsibly.