Sunset published this booklet, Waterwise Gardening, in the midst of a California drought during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

It wasn’t the first time we wrote about the West’s water future, but it was very forward-thinking in its evaluation, bringing up problems we still face today: population growth, ground-water depletion, and the natural cycle of our semidesert climate, which, unfortunately, guarantees droughts.

We can look to those factors when trying to explain the current California drought—one of the worst here in recorded history. But we published this book to help Western gardens survive the inevitable, and we know you could use its help, given that 58% of our state is experiencing a severe drought.

Here are some tips from our Waterwise Gardening booklet that are still handy, even today.

  1. In 1989, we reported that “more than half the water used by a typical single-family residence goes outdoors—mostly on lawns.” Today, that number remains about the same at 53%, according to the California Department of Water Resources. It’s about time we ditch grass. For alternatives, check out our drought-tolerant plant guide.
  1. That said, now is not the best time to plant any new growth. We knew that back during the ‘80s drought, too, which is why we suggested mulching. A layer of organic mulch (such as compost, grass clippings, pine needles, or raked leaves) reduces water lost to evaporation, which means you don’t have to water as often.
  1. Even though your garden may look a little sad now, don’t let the weeds take over. They will compete for whatever water is available, short-changing your desirable plants (and hiking up your water bill).

For more, check out this comprehensive list of drought-fighting tactics.

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