As we reported in our June issue, large areas of the West have been suffering from prolonged droughts. California was especially dry last year, and while this year's rains helped mitigate the situation somewhat, the state is still facing a crisis.
Even if you don't live in California, cutting down on water usage makes sense not just from an environmental perspective--homeowners can save money, too, whether using water in the garden or inside. As summer approaches and the mercury rises, now's better than ever to incorporate some of these H₂0-saving tips from our Home and Garden editors.
Save your big trees. If a coast redwood or Japanese maple dies of thirst, it’ll be the biggest (and costliest) loss to your landscape. Let the lawn go if necessary (see below), but give trees a deep irrigation this month, focusing your water on the root zone beneath the tree’s canopy. Drill 1-inch holes 1 to 2 feet deep every few feet around the tree’s dripline (the perimeter of its canopy) to increase water penetration, then fill them with organic mulch. Coil soaker hoses around the tree at the dripline and halfway between the dripline and the trunk, then run the hose slowly to moisten the soil 18 to 24 inches deep. Citrus trees may need additional deep watering in summer—watch for wilting or yellowing leaves.
Embrace a brown lawn. Your lawn can survive on as little as 1 inch of water every 2 weeks, so give that schedule a try. Your grass will turn straw colored and go semidormant but bounce back quickly after weather cools in fall.
Make friends with mulch. A layer of mulch about 2 inches thick around plants helps keep moisture in the soil. Ground bark is a good all-purpose type.
Cover that pool. Covering an unused swimming pool stops 90 percent of water evaporation waste. For a 400-square-foot pool, that’s almost 1,000 gallons a month. The safest covers are track mounted.
Spy on your system. A leaky irrigation system wastes water fast. Watch yours run, then adjust sprinkler heads so they won’t wet sidewalks or driveways. Be sure your drip emitters put water into the soil near plant roots.
Plant a water-wise garden. Using unthirsty plants doesn't mean you'll have a drab garden bed. These water-wise plants and landscaping ideas will give your yard an eco-friendly and eye-catching overhaul.
Test for leaks. Leaking toilets are major water hogs. To test yours, put food coloring in the toilet tank. Wait 15 minutes; if the dye has spread to the toilet bowl, you have a leak. The most common culprit is the flapper, the round rubber seal at the bottom of the tank. Replace it if you’re handy, or have a plumber do it.
Try a high-tech toilet. You may just want a new toilet. Look for the WaterSense label (EnergyStar’s liquid counterpart) to ensure a 1.28-gallon-per-flush (GPF) average. Or go for Toto’s 1 GPF with two water jets. Toto UltraMax II 1G, $793; totousa.com.
Upgrade your dishwasher. Five gallons per cycle is the goal for EnergyStar water-efficiency in dishwashers. But Bosch’s sleek unit uses less than half that: 2 gallons per load. 800 Plus dishwasher, $1,299; bosch-home.com/us.
Shower with power. California’s 2013 CalGreen building code requires that showerheads in new homes flow at 2 gallons per minute (GPM) or less. Even better: A hand shower from Kohler has a 1.5 GPM rate with a toggle to get a little extra blast at 2 GPM. Awaken B90 hand shower with Eco-Boost technology, $50; us.kohler.com.
Wait on gray water. It sounds efficient: reusing gray water (household wastewater) outdoors. But because gray water can transmit harmful salts and microorganisms, the practice is still illegal in many areas. So try this: While your shower or kitchen faucet warms up, capture water in a bucket, then use it in your garden.