Save water outdoors

Upgrade your landscape and irrigation system

The spring season is a good time to fine tune your sprinkler system and consider upgrades to improve efficiency. Maintenance performed now can mean significant water savings and help keep your landscape healthy. Begin by running your sprinklers to check how well they are operating. Look for uneven coverage, broken, clogged, or leaning sprinkler heads, misting (usually due to excessive water pressure), and weak spray patterns which can be due to leaking underground pipes. Areas with shrubs and narrow or odd-shaped areas are often good candidates for converting sprinklers to in-line drip irrigation. And, if you are tired of mowing a thirsty lawn that never gets used, EBMUD can help you convert it to an attractive and sustainable landscape. See EBMUD’s Landscape Rebate Program before you begin your project.

Lose your lawn by sheet mulching

Landscaping with plants adapted to our summer-dry climate is an attractive alternative to the traditional lawn. Converting a lawn to a sustainable landscape involves removing the existing lawn. Sheet mulching decomposes a lawn on site rather than digging up the turf and hauling away valuable organic material. Natural decomposition improves soil quality, preparing the way for new plantings. Summer is a great time to undertake sheet mulching since the soil will be ready for the fall planting season. See how to Remove Your Lawn with Sheet Mulch and learn about EBMUD's Landscape Rebate Program before you begin your project.

Water less frequently but more deeply

Think of your soil as a reservoir. Watering to the root depth of this reservoir creates a healthy, water-efficient garden. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Applying ½ inch of water to lawns with clay soil will moisten the soil to the root depth of 6 inches.

  • Shrubs need to be watered more deeply and less frequently.

  • You can determine how long it takes to apply ½ inch of water by setting out several catch cans, running your sprinklers, and measuring the time it takes to fill them to ½ inch.

  • Lawns in sandy soils need less than ½ inch each watering day but need more frequent applications.

  • You can also check watering depth by watering for five minutes, then probing the soil with spade to see how deeply you have moistened the soil. If five minutes of irrigation moistens your clay soil two inches, you would need to water for fifteen minutes to moisten the soil to a depth of six inches. This test only works during the dry season.

Watering Guide (PDF)

Adjust your irrigation controller according to the seasons

Your garden need less water in April than in July. Add days to your watering schedule for the summer season, then reduce the number of days as the fall rains begin. Lawns are the thirstiest landscapes. Perennials and shrubs require less frequent watering.

A better approach is to exchange your irrigation controller for a self-adjusting model. Weather-based controllers take the guesswork out of irrigation scheduling, providing plants the water they need based on current weather. EBMUD customers may be eligible for rebates for up to $300 on a weather-based irrigation controller. For more information, go to Lawn Conversion and Irrigation Upgrades.

Shorten irrigation run times and check for leaks

Set your irrigation controller to shorter run times. More water reaches the plant root zones per irrigation day with three 5-minute applications (with an hour in between) rather than a single 15-minute application. This is critical when you are watering on a slope or in clay soil, which absorbs water slowly.

Routinely check your irrigation system for leaks. It takes only moments to run through all of your stations to look for broken or misadjusted heads.

Choose drip

Drip irrigation systems apply water more accurately and more slowly. A drip system delivers water directly to plant roots at a rate of gallons per hour rather than gallons per minute typical of an overhead spray system. This slower application is beneficial to plants and prevents overspray and runoff onto sidewalks and into gutters. Sub-surface drip irrigation systems are available for lawns. EBMUD offers rebates to customers who install in-line drip irrigation systems.

Select plants adapted to our Mediterranean climate

Mediterranean or California native plants thrive on less water. They are a good choice, whether adding plants to your garden or replacing existing plants. You can create a colorful, interesting, and lush garden that is well-suited to the climates and soils in our region. For some great examples, see EBMUD's Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region.

Group plants with similar water needs together. Use separate irrigation stations to water according to high, medium, or low water needs.

Use mulch, the “secret weapon” of the WaterSmart garden

EBMUD recommends at least three inches of mulch to maintain moisture in the soil, suppress weeds, protect the irrigation system from the sun, and give the garden a finished look. Organic mulch (wood bark or compost) will also amend the soil as it decomposes. Avoid applying mulch right up against the main stem or trunk of a plant. For more information on mulch and other water-wise gardening tips, check out

Save even more water indoors

WaterSmart Center

Your resource for services and incentives for home and business, publications, workshops, events and more.

Contact Us

Phone 1-866-403-2683