Reducing landscape water use in drought conditions

UC Master GardenerFebruary 19, 2014 

With a drought year upon us, now is a good time to assess water priorities in your garden.


Q: I have read in the paper about the drought. How do I reduce the amount of water I use for my landscape without killing my plants? — Courtney M., Templeton

A: Now is the perfect time to assess the water needs in your yard.

Begin by prioritizing your existing plants. For some, lawn may fall in the low-priority category, while fruit trees may be a higher priority. Lawns, groundcovers, bedding plants and shrubs can be reestablished over a relatively short period of time, while mature trees are not as easy to replace.

Additionally, it is also perfectly acceptable to reduce the irrigation for established plants and trees. Moderately water-stressed fruit trees will not produce a full crop of fruit, but the tree will survive to fruit again.

The next step is to remove weeds, roots and all. Weeds compete aggressively and successfully with your desirable plants for soil moisture. By removing the weeds, you can be sure that any water that is available will be accessible to your high-priority plants.

Next, mulch, mulch, mulch. Add a thick layer of mulch, 6 inches or more, to limit evaporation and conserve water. Check the soil moisture level around your plants by digging through the layer of mulch or by inserting a ruler down into the mulch just as you would use a dipstick to check the oil in your car.

If you are considering any new plantings of trees or shrubs, remember that even native plants need regular watering the first year until they are established. If new plantings are necessary, consider planting fewer than planned now and perhaps planting the rest in fall.

Of the most common fruit and nut trees, almonds, figs and olives are the most tolerant of drought. Apples, apricots, cherries, pears, prunes and walnuts are moderately tolerant, with nectarines, peaches, and citrus being the least tolerant.

About 40 percent to 50 percent of ahousehold’s water use is used outdoors. As smart gardeners, we can have a meaningful impact on water conservation by reevaluating our landscape watering regimen. The Master Gardeners of San Luis Obispo County are commit ted to educating the public on water conservation methods. Find weekly tips on our blog at  , or continue to read our weekly articles as we share water conservation tips for home gardeners.


Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners: at 781-5939 from to 5 p.m. on Monday and Thursday; at 473-7190 from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Arroyo Grande; and at 434-4105 from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Templeton. Visit the UCCE Master Gardeners website at or email

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