Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Water-saving tips for the home garden

Almost a third of Marin County’s water is used for irrigation. The majority of Marin residents use around 8,000 gallons or less of water per month. Although this sounds like a massive quantity of water, consider this: 10 sprinkler heads running for 20 minutes can easily spew out more than 1,000 gallons of water. With water rates rising, here’s a list of some actions homeowners can take to conserve this costly and precious resource:

Determine if you have any water leaks. Learn how to check your water meter if you receive an unexpectedly high water bill. It could indicate a leak.

  • Tune up your irrigation system. Like cars, irrigation systems require maintenance. Emitters fly off, sprinkler heads break, timers go haywire. At least once a month, turn each of your irrigation stations on manually and observe what’s happening in your garden. If you spot a geyser or hear rushing water under a shrub, replace the missing drip emitter or spray head. Correct any tilted, blocked or misdirected spray heads. Consider replacing spray nozzles with “MP rotator” nozzles to improve coverage.
  • Adjust your watering schedule. If you have a timer, don’t just set it and forget it. Your garden needs the most water in July when days are long. As day length shortens, you can cut back your irrigation time. To avoid runoff on slopes, set multiple start times (for example, water for 10 minutes at 6 a.m. and then again at 7 a.m., rather than 20 minutes all at once). Try cutting back on your watering times by 10 percent and observe your plants for signs of stress. Sign up for the Marin Municipal Water District’s (MMWD) weekly watering schedule e-mail.
  • A Bay-Friendly Garden Walk offers pointers for reducing water use.
    A Bay-Friendly Garden Walk offers pointers for reducing water use.
    Reduce your lawn area. Turf grass requires more than 20,000 gallons of water per year per 1,000 square feet. There are many new lawn alternatives available, including native sods, groundcovers that tolerate light foot traffic and other ornamental grasses. They require less water, less maintenance and reduced use of fertilizers and herbicides.
  • Introduce plants with low-water needs. There are hundreds of California natives and plants from other dry-summer climates that are beautiful, need minimal irrigation and attract beneficial wildlife. Check out the Marin Master Gardener Water-Wise Plant Guide for ideas and photos.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch! Maintaining a two to three-inch layer of mulch conserves water, adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, and suppresses weeds. It is one of the easiest and best things you can do for your garden.
  • Check your water pressure. High pressure can damage drip systems and cause spray heads to mist, losing water to evaporation. Low water pressure diminishes the performance of your irrigation system. Appropriate pressures are 40-80 pounds per square inch (psi) for the house; 15-25 psi for drip irrigation; 25-30 psi for sprayers; 40-50 psi for rotors and impact sprayers. 
  • Cover your pool. An uncovered pool can lose hundreds of gallons of water per week to evaporation.
  • Sign up for a free Bay-Friendly Water Walk. Customers of the Marin Municipal Water District can call 415-473-4204 to schedule a visit by specially trained Master Gardeners who will suggest irrigation improvements and plant selections. Read more about this service.


Contributors: Faith Brown and Marie Narlock

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