JoAnne Skelly: How to water wisely

automatic sprinkler watering fresh lawn

automatic sprinkler watering fresh lawn

Watering wisely is necessary, even after a lovely wet winter. Surface streams are already drying out. Washoe Lake has water, but is nowhere near what it was a few years ago. Lake Tahoe is looking good for now. However, groundwater still needs to be recharged.

For us, water conservation isn’t something that happens only in the really dry years. It is something that should be the norm in our area where the average annual precipitation is only seven inches or so.

How can we, being the water conscientious gardeners we are, use water wisely and still maintain our vegetable garden and ornamental plants? I once read that Indians and farmers in Nevada planted their crops in trenches below grade in order to capture all the water that might come their way. That way the water wouldn’t run off. Our contemporary version of this is putting wells around all plants to contain the water for the plant’s use. By adding mulch to the wells and around all plants, we can reduce evaporation and keep the soil moist longer.

Another important water efficiency tip is to water with a drip system on a timer rather than with an overhead sprinkler. This allows the water to go directly to the plants rather than to the empty places between plants. It also reduces weeds! Who wants to waste water on weeds? Using a timer means the plants will get a regular application of moisture, which helps plants stay healthy. Healthy plants are more drought tolerant.

Don’t water when it’s windy. All that valuable water simply blows away or evaporates before it has a chance to soak the soil deeply. The best times to water are early in the morning or late in the evening, so plants have a chance to absorb as much water as possible when it is cooler. Choose plants that are drought tolerant in the first place.

You can have a water-efficient landscape and garden that is attractive and productive.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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