Proper use of water benefits landscaping

Published 8:21 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

By Mark Carroll

Contributing writer

Water is a transitory resource that when used as effectively as possible contributes to a healthy and vibrant garden. So, if we can reduce our need for water and focus on best practices, we can make the most of the water within our landscape. 

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According to the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, waterwise gardening is “working with nature and natural practices to create a landscape.” 

More specifically it captures and retains water which reduces the amount of watering required, slows and cleans stormwater runoff flowing into the local watersheds, and enhances growth with less effort and cost. You may want to watch a more in-depth discussion on the MGNV YouTube channel at

We have to understand that good management prevents soil from being too wet and too dry, both of which can damage your plants and negate all the effort to cultivate plants. 

So, how can we do this? The first step is to observe and plan carefully. Think about where the water flows naturally across an area. Where, for example, does it drain well or tend to get saturated, and where does it collect? How does it get there? Is there a slope? 

These are all great questions that cost very little except time and will be the basis for your water-wise decisions.

As gardeners we love mulch and so do most of our plants. It reduces evaporation and insulates roots from heat and cold, while improving the soil’s ability to hold water. About two inches of mulch is ideal. When mowing, keeping your grass at a more mature height can help hold moisture. 

Try not to water plants, “whether they need it or not.” An inch or so a week is plenty for most plants. You could get a rain meter if you wish to be more precise. 

If you have timed systems, you may need to disable them when it is raining. Young plants may require more water than mature plants. 

Watering early in the day can limit evaporation and prevent disease. You can also water immediately after a light rain if the rainfall wasn’t sufficient. 

Leaves do not need water, remember to get the water where the roots are. Drip irrigation will not only help your plants absorb water better, but it can prevent fungal disease particularly on the vegetative parts of the plant. Also, native plants are more adapted to local rainfall and dry periods.

Rain barrels can capture water from rooftop sources and be a great way to get the highest quality water for use in your garden. Simply put, water runs off the roof where it is collected in a barrel or other container and stored so that it can be used later. 

It can also be important to understand what type of soil you have. Sandy soils tend to have difficulty retaining water, where clay soils hold on to it very well.

Other methods of water-wise landscaping include reducing grass area, planting plants which soak up water in water saturated areas or survive with less water and good drainage. Bioswales, terracing, and impervious pavements are also useful to understand when planning out your landscape design.

For more detailed information on these topics, refer to the VCE’s publications Creating a Water-Wise Landscape at and Stormwater Management for Homeowners at


Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis protected by law. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.