20 Ways to Save Water in Your Southern California Yard

Southern California seems to be in a near-constant state of drought, which means all of us need to do our part by looking for ways to conserve water. Many of us are already turning off the water while we brush our teeth and have updated our shower heads to more efficient options. Some of us have already installed rain barrels, replaced water-wasting natural grass with low-water alternatives, gone native in our gardens, and downloaded apps that help us manage and reduce our water usage. But there is always more that we can do.

To help you lower your water bill and your home’s environmental impact, here are 20 water-saving tips focused on saving water outside, which accounts for about 40% of water consumption in an average household and closer to 60% in areas like Southern California.

1. Eliminate Water Leaks

The first step in reducing water usage in your yard is to check for irrigation leaks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the “average household’s water leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year.” The organization also points out that “ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day.” (EPA.gov)

Many of these leaks are in the house and involve dripping faucets or toilet flappers, but anyone who has lived in the San Diego County area — or anywhere in Southern California — and has a drip system knows that critters love to chew through the line to get to the water inside. This means lots of little leaks to fix, particularly in times of drought.

While you are checking your irrigation system for leaks, be sure to also check your garden hoses. If they leak where they connect to the spigot, replace the washer and make sure the connection is tight to stop the leak. You will also want to inspect your hoses for leaks caused by kinks.

2. Add a Rain Sensor to Your Irrigation System

While we are on the topic of automatic irrigation, another easy way to save water is to install a rain sensor into your irrigation system. It may not rain here often but, when it does, this simple mechanism will tell your irrigation system to skip watering cycles after adequate rainfall.

You can also simply turn your irrigation system off manually when rain is expected or after receiving a good amount of rain.

3. Install a Smart Controller on Your Irrigation System

Another way to save water with your irrigation setup is to install a smart controller that allows you to remotely manage your system and to schedule when each section will run. This gives you more control over your water usage and can help you conserve water with every irrigation cycle.

If a smart controller is not in the budget at the moment or seems a little too high-tech for your taste, you can also install a simple timer that will cover for you if you turn on your sprinklers, and then get distracted and forget to turn them off.

How to Save Water in Your Southern California Yard

4. Focus Irrigation at the Roots

Having a drip irrigation system is, in itself, a great way to save water. Drip lines allow you to deliver the water directly to the soil and plant roots, which limits evaporation and is more efficient. Drip lines also give you more control over the amount of water each plant receives.

5. Group Plants Based on Water Needs

Plant in zones based on the amount of water each plant needs. For example, water-loving tropical plants should be planted together in one zone where you will have more irrigation, while succulents should be planted in a separate zone with less irrigation. This is an easy way to conserve water and is better for the health of your plants.

6. Manage Weed Growth Regularly

Weeds, which are essentially any unwanted plants growing in your yard, compete with your wanted plants for water and nutrients. You can keep desirable plants healthier and save water in your garden by pulling weeds regularly.

7. Mulch Regularly

A thick layer or mulch around plants and throughout garden beds reduces evaporation, improves water retention in the soil, and helps protect roots from temperature changes. As living mulches break down, they also add nutrients back into the soil. It is best to add mulch a few inches away from stems or trunks, since too much mulch against the plant or tree can cause rot.

8. Water Early

If possible, it is best to water your garden, flowerbeds, and natural grass lawns in the morning. This reduces water loss from evaporation and helps your plants prepare for the hot, dry day ahead.

Save Water in Your Southern California Yard

9. Use Drought-Tolerant Plants in Your Landscape Design

One of the best ways to conserve water in Southern California is to incorporate drought-tolerant plants in your landscaping. Often, these options will be native plants that can thrive in this area with less water and fewer maintenance requirements. There are also many drought-tolerant plants that are not native to Southern California but that can still thrive here with less water, since they come from other drought-prone areas.

10. Reuse Water

There is plenty of water used in your household that can be used again for another purpose. For example, put a bucket in your shower while the water is warming up, save the water you use to cook pasta or wash produce, and keep that murky water when you clean out your pets’ bowls. Now take all of that water out to the yard and save water by repurposing it to irrigate plants.

11. Install a Gray Water System

You can take reusing water a step further by installing a gray water system that redirects water used in your washing machine. Instead of going down the drain, this gray water can be used to irrigate ornamental plants. If you choose to use this as one of the ways to conserve water in your household, use eco-friendly laundry soap to keep toxic chemicals out of the soil.

12. Install Rain Barrels

Adding rain barrels to your gutter system allows you to collect rainwater from your roof. You can then use the harvested rainwater to irrigate ornamental plants.

13. Sweep Hardscapes

It is easy and convenient to spray down decks, patios, driveways, and walkways with a garden hose, but this is a completely unnecessary waste of water. Unless there is a safety or health hazard that requires scrubbing down or rinsing off, you can save water and burn a few extra calories by sweeping your hardscapes instead.

How to Save Water in Your San Diego Yard

14. Replace Living Ground Covers with Hardscapes

All living ground covers require water, so one water-saving tip is to replace them with no-water hardscapes. For example, reduce the size of your natural grass lawn by expanding your paving stone patio. This will give you more outdoor entertaining space while also saving water. You can also replace living walkways with gravel or mulch to reduce water consumption.

15. Cover Your Pool

You can save thousands of gallons of water every year just by covering your pool when not in use. Pools can lose hundreds of gallons of water every month just from evaporation, so invest in a pool cover that will make your pool safer, keep your pool cleaner, and help you increase your ways to conserve water.

16. Reduce or Replace Natural Grass Lawns

According to the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), a 1,000-square-foot lawn needs approximately 35,000 gallons of water per year. If that number already sounds big, consider that the ACWA estimates that most folks are over-irrigating by about 60%, which means that same lawn might actually be getting up to 75,000 gallons of water every year.

So, for every square foot of natural grass you replace with paving stones, drought-tolerant plants, or artificial turf, you can save somewhere between 35 and 75 gallons of water each year. That is significant. Look into low-water alternatives to natural grass, such as pavers, gravel, succulents, native plants, synthetic grass, and low-water ornamental grasses.

17. Care for Natural Grass Properly

Since natural grass lawns are the biggest water wasters in landscaping, it is important that we care for them properly if we choose to keep them. Keeping your lawn healthy helps conserve water. This means making sure you are not fertilizing it too much, regularly aerating it to help water reach the roots, raising your mowing blades for a grass height of about two inches, watering deeply and infrequently, and watering early in the morning to avoid evaporation.

18. Download Water-Saving Apps

There are lots of smartphone apps dedicated to water-saving tips and easy ways to conserve water. Some help you better understand your current water usage so that you can see where you might be able to easily cut back. Others let you know just how much water is being wasted by a leaking faucet.

19. Always Use a Garden Hose Nozzle

Keep a nozzle on your garden hose to easily allow you to stop water flow when walking between flowerbeds and to control water flow when watering your lawn or garden by hand.

20. Schedule a Water Audit

Visit your water provider’s website or give them a call to see if they offer no- or low-cost water audits (aka water surveys). The San Diego County Water Authority offers a free WaterSmart Checkup to help you see where you can save water both inside and outside of your home. You can apply for a Checkup on their website.

Additional Resources

You can find more water-saving tips in these guides.