You can save water in your garden through thoughtful design and plant selection and by using water wisely.
Design your garden for water efficiency
To save water in your garden it’s important to design it for water efficiency and to suit your lifestyle.
Start by drawing a plan of your garden. Consider existing elements like established trees and drainage along with environmental factors like sun direction, rain patterns and wind. Keep in mind that shaded areas prevent evaporation and help soil hold moisture, and in windy areas soil can dry out quickly.
Next, think about how you’d like to use the garden, what’s important for you and how much maintenance are you prepared to do.
Understand your soil
Getting to know your soil is a crucial step in planning your garden. Some plants are more suitable to different types of soil. You may need to take steps to improve your soil health before you can begin planting.
How to determine your soil type
To determine your soil type you can perform a simple ribbon test:
collect a handful of soil from your garden (remove rocks and leaves)
gradually add water
roll the soil in your palm until it forms a ball
slowly squeeze the soil to form a ribbon shape.
If you can form a bendy ribbon and it feels a bit like plasticine, then you’ve got clay soil. If the soil falls apart, feels gritty and you can’t form a ball you’ve got sandy soil. If you can form a ball but it falls apart when you try and form a ribbon, you’ve got loam soil.
Clay soils can be heavy and hold water. They can become compacted and are slow to drain. Clay soils are good for plants that need a lot of water. You can improve clay soils by adding compost and manure to aerate it and by digging in gypsum to break it up. You should water these soils deeply and slowly at long intervals.
Sandy soils are light but dry out fast. Water and nutrients often wash through them quickly. You can improve them by adding compost and manure. You may also want to apply a wetting agent to help the soil hold water. Water sandy soil in small amounts and at regular intervals.
Loam soils are thought to be the best soil for growing most plants as they hold nutrients, drain water and have good air filtration. You should water these soils deeply and infrequently.
In general, using compost and soil conditioners will improve moisture retention and add extra nutrients to your soil. You can also add more topsoil to improve the health of your garden.
Choose the right plants
There are many choices when it comes to selecting water-efficient plants for your garden. It’s important to choose plants that are suited to your soil type and garden conditions. If you have existing plants, think about which ones are doing well and consider planting more of these varieties. Selecting species that are native to your area is also a great option.
What to look for when selecting water-efficient plants:
light coloured leaves
hairy or tough leaf surfaces
deep root systems
It can be helpful to talk to someone at your local nursery about plant selections to meet the needs of your garden and soil type.
Start by creating water-use zones. Group your plants together by their water, sun and soil needs.
Water deeply only when needed
It’s important not to overwater your garden. If your soil is waterlogged, bacteria and fungi can grow and cause plant disease. Keep an eye on your plants and let them show you when they need water.
Water the roots of the plants, not the leaves and apply enough water to deeply penetrate the soil. Shallow watering can cause plants to grow surface roots. This leaves them more susceptible to disease and drought.
When to water
Water in the morning between 5am and 10am when the sun is low, and the temperature is cooler.
Avoid watering in the middle of the day when evaporation is high.
Keep an eye on the weather and if rain is forecast, hold-off on watering.
There are lots of different ways to water your garden. Handheld devices are labour intensive but allow targeted watering. These include watering cans, buckets and hoses fitted with leak-free trigger nozzles. Sprinklers can cover a large area of the garden but aren’t targeted and may waste water.
Consider installing a watering system such as a drip irrigation which can improve water efficiency and save time.
You can also install a rainwater tank to catch rainwater and save on your water bills.
Permanent water-saving rules
Permanent water-saving rules are always in place to help us use water efficiently. You must follow these rules when watering your garden. Learn more about the rules on our Permanent water-saving rules page.
Putting mulch on your garden beds is essential for keeping your plants healthy in the long term. Using mulch can reduce evaporation by up to 70 per cent. It also helps to control weeds, insulates plant roots and improves the quality of your soil as it breaks down.
The type of mulch you use also has an effect on your garden health. Organic mulch, such as sugar cane, pea straw or pine bark will break down and add organic matter to the soil.
For best results apply the mulch in a thick layer (5cm or more if you’re using pine bark) and keep it clear of plant stems. You should replace the mulch as it breaks down in autumn or spring.
Look after your lawn
If you’re planting new lawn or replacing your existing lawn, selecting the right turf is essential. Make sure your turf can tolerate the conditions of your garden. For example, partial shade or full sun.
Aim to mow your lawn to 3cm or higher so it needs less water. Avoid mowing in the middle of the day to shelter roots from harsh sun.