Save water outdoors

Most people overwater their yard, unintentionally wasting money every time they take out the hose or turn on the sprinklers. Make time this irrigation season to be sure you’re getting the most out of your irrigation system, while keeping bills low and helping to protect the environment.


Quick Fix 

Watering shrubs and trees with that old sprinkler system can waste water by spraying everywhere.

Water waste with spray irrigation

Adjust Sprinklers. Check that sprinkler heads are high enough to clear plants that may have grown taller since the system was installed, and make sure you are watering plants, not sidewalks or buildings.

Try Drip. Narrow planter strips are ideal for drip irrigation. Switch out sprinklers with drip irrigation for your trees and plants. Learn more about drip irrigation and get a rebate.

Watering too often, too fast.

Sprinklers overwatering

Slow the flow. Clay soil cannot absorb water as fast as sprinklers and some drip apply it.  So instead of setting your schedule to water one long cycle per night, set it to water three short cycles per night. This will allow the water to soak in and encourage deeper roots.

Water deeply, fewer times a week. Deep infrequent watering makes plants healthier and better able to withstand drought. Lawns can thrive in peak summer with three to four days per week and established plants with two days per week. New plantings need more frequent watering.

Watering the same amount every month.

iStock_Irrigation Timer.jpg

Adjust your watering schedule according to the seasons (not just the temperature). When days are long and hot, plants need the most water. As days shorten and cool, plants need less water. By the end of August, start reducing the amount of water applied. Download our watering guide for more info.

 Consider "smart" technology. Climate or soil moisture sensor-based controllers use sensors and technology to automatically adjust the watering schedule to meet the specific needs of your landscape. Get a rebate to upgrade your standard controller to a smart controller.

July/August Watering Schedule

This is an example of a watering schedule. Adjust it according to your specific conditions. Download our Watering Guide PDF for figuring out how long to run each station (available in English and Spanish).


Outdoor Tips Library

Irrigation systems need regular maintenance to keep them working efficiently year after year. Damage from lawn equipment can cause leaks and other serious problems. 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.

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.


  1. 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.
  2. Adjust spray patterns and positions to make sure they aren’t watering “hardscapes” like sidewalks and buildings.
  3. Evaluate pressure and adjust as needed so sprinklers work optimally to distribute the water.


  • Retrofit the system with a rain or soil moisture sensor to prevent overwatering. Rain sensors stop the system from operating when it rains; soil moisture sensors use long metal probes to measure moisture at the root zone and turn off the system when no additional water is needed. Weather-based controllers automatically adjust the irrigation schedule as weather conditions change.
  • Areas with shrubs and narrow or odd-shaped areas are often good candidates for converting sprinklers to in-line drip irrigation. 
  • Before upgrading your system, apply  for our efficient irrigation upgrade rebate program.

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)

Your garden need less water in April than in July, not just because of temperatures, but because of the length of the day. 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 (usually not more than 1-2 days per week).

Leave the number of minutes you irrigate the same, but add or subtract days per week as the seasons change. 

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 installing a smart controller.

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.

Learn how to set your controller with the video below.

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 drip irrigation systems.



Saving water doesn’t have to involve the cost and inconvenience of tearing up your yard to install a new irrigation system. It’s easy to save water and reduce your utility bills with simple changes to your landscaping and gardening routine:

  • Landscape to suit our Mediterranean climate. Choose grass or plants that have low water requirements and will thrive in our local climate. You can create a colorful, interesting, and lush garden that is well-suited to the climates and soils in our region. Also, consider your lot’s exact features, including sun and shade, dry and damp areas, plant size, and how you plan to use each section of your yard. Check out our WaterSmart Plants.
  • Keep soil healthy. Aerating your lawn and around trees at least once a year helps improve water penetration. When planting, turn and cultivate the soil and add compost or fertilizer to improve moisture retention and grow healthier plants that need less water to stay strong.
  • Mulch well around plants, bushes and trees. Using 2 to 4 inches of mulch reduces evaporation, moderates spikes and lows in soil temperatures, improves water penetration and helps control weeds that compete for water. EBMUD has free mulch coupons.
  • “Hydro-zone” your yard. Grouping plants with similar moisture needs in the same area makes it easier to make sure they get the water they need without overwatering. Separate plants from grassy areas, which have different water requirements.
  • Plant in spring or fall. Avoid summer, when hotter temperatures mean plants need more water to become established. 
  • Save grass for functional areas. Plant grass in play zones and other areas where it will be used and enjoyed. Instead of planting turf on sleep slopes or other hard-to-water spaces, consider ground cover, perimeter plants or mulch. Apply for a lawn conversion rebate  before you start.
  • Plant shade trees. The shade they cast creates natural “air-conditioning,” lowering air and soil temperatures and reducing soil moisture loss. Your trees need TLC
  • Maintain your yard regularly. A well-maintained yard requires less water, so weed, prune and mow as needed. WaterSmart gardener

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 WaterSmart Gardener and watch our video below.

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.

Visit our Lawn to Garden Design Center and learn about EBMUD's lawn conversion rebate before you begin your project.