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Extension: Conserving water indoors and outdoors
Photo courtesy of the UGA Extension Forsyth.

Summertime is full of great activities, but there’s one that always makes me cringe: opening the water bill. During the rest of the year, the cost is modest, but summer outdoor watering to keep the lawn and landscape plants healthy routinely triples our regular water usage. Fortunately, there are actions we can take to conserve water – indoors and outdoors – throughout the year.

Saving water outdoors

Most landscape plants need about an inch of water each week. Georgia’s average annual rainfall is 50-52 inches, which would seem to supply the need. Unfortunately, our rainfall isn’t scheduled quite so conveniently. Plant selection and watering methods are important for outdoor water conservation.

Select plants with water in mind. Plants have varying water needs. Daylilies and junipers are drought tolerant. Established trees can go a bit longer between watering than newly planted trees. On the other hand, hydrangeas and bedding plants are very sensitive to drought. They may be the first plants in the landscape to show signs of wilt. Concentrate plants with high water needs in small areas that are easy to irrigate by hand or with drip hoses.

Avoid losing water. Summer heat and wind can steal moisture from soil and sprinklers. Add 3-4 inches of pine bark, pine straw or other organic mulch around landscape plants to reduce soil water loss and moderate soil temperature. Mulch also helps prevent water hungry weeds. Apply water slowly so that it can soak into the soil; drip irrigation is most efficient. Water early in the morning when temperatures are coolest to minimize evaporation loss.

Put limits on turfgrass.  Turfgrass requires more supplemental watering than other landscape plants. Highly fertilized lawns grow faster and require even more irrigation. Reducing turfgrass area has many advantages besides saving water. Less lawn area can also mean less maintenance, cost savings through reduced pesticide use, and improved curb appeal. 

Water wisely. Use some simple tools to avoid overwatering. A rain gauge shows how much rainfall the landscape received. Subtract that amount from the weekly water need of one inch to determine how much supplemental irrigation to apply. To measure irrigation output, place an empty tuna can under the soaker hose or where it will catch spray from the sprinkler. Turn on the water for 30 minutes. Then use a ruler to measure how much water collected in the can. If it collected ¼ inch in half an hour, then the irrigation method delivers ½ inch of water per hour. That knowledge helps determine how long to keep the sprinkler running. Also watch to see where the water goes. If it hits the house, sidewalk, or driveway, reposition the sprinkler so water stays in the landscape.

Saving water indoors

We can save water indoors all year long with a few small changes.


Fix faucet drips and toilet leaks. Little drips from faucets, showerheads, and toilets can add up to thousands of gallons of water over a year. Many drips are quick, easy, and inexpensive to fix with replacement parts from the do-it-yourself store. A leaky faucet may simply need fresh O-rings. A new flapper can be the cure for a toilet that runs. See the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Fix a Leak Week” webpage at for lots of repair instruction resources.

More indoor water-saving practices. Good water-saving habits include:

·         Turn the water off while brushing teeth, shaving, and washing dishes until it’s time to rinse.

·         Only run the dishwasher or clothes washer when they’re full.

·         Upgrade to water-saving appliances.

For more water conservation information, visit Forsyth County Water & Sewer Department at

September Gardening Classes

Forsyth County Extension is partnering with Forsyth County Public Libraries Cumming Branch to present two gardening lectures:

  • Improving Your Soil – Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.
  • Planning Your Pruning – Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.

Register for classes at