- Buy an inexpensive moisture meter (around $7). Stick the probe into the soil and see what the moisture level is before you add water.
- Add mulch around the base of plants - but not right up to the stem or trunk - to keep evaporation down. Plants being grown in containers need mulch, too.
- Maintain your sprinkler system. The best time to run sprinklers is in the early morning, but that means you may not see if a sprinkler head is malfunctioning or broken, or if a drip line is clogged. Take the time to run your system during the day, when you can observe each watering zone for potential problems that might waste water.
- In some cases, it makes sense to convert pop-up sprinkler heads to drip irrigation lines. Remove the sprinkler head and replace with a screw-on adaptor. These are about $2; various models are available that can accommodate from two to six drip lines each.
- Slow, infrequent irrigation makes more sense for most plants than frequent, light watering. Tomato plants, for example, put down long roots and really appreciate a deep soaking with a hose end on low. Many Bay Area water agencies are offering rebates for water-saving irrigation system upgrades or retrofits. Some of the newest technology involves so-called "smart" systems are linked to satellites that control watering based on the weather
Holly Hayes is the garden writer for our media partner, The San Jose Mercury News.
Email Holly Hayes: firstname.lastname@example.org