Plan a Water Smart Garden

Help keep our local waterways clean for swimming, boating, fishing and wildlife through smarter use of fertilizers, irrigation, and plant choices.

Create a Garden Plan in Early Spring

Taking time to plan your garden with consideration for varying climate conditions will help to conserve water – and save time and money.

Before plant shopping:

  • Take stock of the zones in your yard and choose plants that will tolerate the various conditions: hot/sunny, cool/shady, moist, dry, etc. For example, if you have a hot, dry zone, carefully select plants that can endure hot, dry conditions.
  • Wherever possible, choose plants that are drought-tolerant and native to our area, to reduce water use by up to 50%.

Use Compost & Mulch!

  • Add organic matter such as peat moss, compost, and grass clippings to improve soil structure and help with water retention.  Incorporate organic matter 12”-18” deep into the garden beds.
  • Once plants are in the ground, make sure to spread mulch around the base to help retain moisture.
  • Mulch flowers, shrub beds, and trees with pine bark mulch.
  • Use salt marsh hay or newspaper (no color pages) for your vegetable gardens.
  • Ground covers, such as ivy or pachysandra, also prevent evaporation around established shrubs and ornamental trees.

Plant a Rain Garden to Help Prevent Stormwater Pollution

When precipitation (rain or snow melt) falls on hard surfaces such as roads, sidewalks, driveways, and roofs, it can’t soak into the ground. Instead, it runs off the surface and often makes it’s way to the storm drain system. This runoff is referred to as “stormwater.”

Polluted stormwater runoff is the #1 cause of water pollution in the Neponset Watershed. It affects our drinking water resources, swimming, boating, fishing and wildlife, and fish habitats.

Read more about stormwater.

If water tends to collect in your yard or roadway during a rainstorm, you may want to consider redirecting it toward a rain garden.

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape, planted with grasses and flowering perennials, that collects rainwater from parking areas, driveways, walkways, and roofs.

During rainstorms, runoff enters the rain garden and slowly filters into the ground. The runoff is filtered and cleaned naturally by soil and plants, and reduces the amount of polluted runoff entering our waterways, keeping our environment healthier!

Learn more about rain gardens.

Diverting rainwater into a rain garden helps to prevent water pollution.

Try Different Irrigation Methods

Much of the water that is dispersed through sprinklers and hoses evaporates before it ever reaches the roots of the plants.  Try these more efficient methods:

  • Rain barrels are useful for smaller gardens that don’t require a lot of water and that are located near the barrel.
    • Place the rain barrel under your downspout, on cinder blocks (about 2-3ft up), so that it’s easier to get a watering can underneath the spigot, and to create some water pressure.  Multiple rain barrels can be connected together for maximum water saving. Most rain barrels hold 65 gallons of water.
  • Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses for shrubs, gardens, and plant beds.
    • Drip irrigation consists of a series of nozzles that deliver small quantities of water at low pressure directly to the root zones of plants.
    • A soaker hose is a canvas or rubber hose with perforations. It is most effective when it lies on top or slightly below soil level and mulch is placed over the soil and hose.
  • Redirect downspouts toward plants or shrubs. Use flexible downspouts for a more controlled flow of water.
  • Place ice cubes in hanging baskets, planters, and pots to give your plants a cool drink of water and help eliminate water overflow.
  • Water plants deeply but less frequently to create healthier and stronger landscapes. Water until the soil is moist 3-4 inches below the surface.

Reconsider Lawn Fertilizer Use

Caring for your lawn involves many options. For example, without a soil test, you might not know the right amount of fertilizer to use, leading to overuse and extra costs.

There is an environmental impact to fertilizer use as well. Improperly applied fertilizer can easily wash into local waterways through storm drain systems and cause problems in local streams and ponds.

Fertilizers cause algae to grow, which can deplete oxygen, hurt aquatic wildlife, and make boating, fishing, and swimming unpleasant.

Try these alternatives to fertilizer:

  • Set your mower to a “mulch” setting. This will chop up grass clippings and leave them on your lawn. As they decompose, they will release nutrients back into the soil.
  • Encourage the growth of clover and other legumes in your lawn. Legumes take nitrogen from the air, convert it into a form that is usable by your lawn, and store it in the soil.
  •  Mow your grass at a longer length, but more often. This will stress the lawn less, encourage root growth, and (BONUS!) make your lawn more drought-tolerant

Test your soil at least once every 3 years to learn what your lawn needs to be healthy. UMass Amherst offers a convenient soil testing option.

Learn more about fertilizer use.


Pay Attention to Drought!

Always follow your town’s water restriction policies, which help to conserve water for public health and safety.

Tips For Your Lawn During Drought

  • Keep your grass long by setting your mower to the highest setting. Tall grass shades roots and slows evaporation.
  • Just one inch of water per week from rain is enough to keep a lawn green. Overwatering your lawn weakens the roots, invites pests and disease, and wastes water.
  • Healthy grass can go dormant (turn golden) during dry periods but will green up with the return of rain, creating a drought resistant and healthier lawn.

For the latest news on drought in our area:

Visit U.S. Drought Monitor for drought updates.

Additional Resources:

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