10 Ways to Save Water and Money in the Garden

By Teresa Odle | November 30, 2016
Image by Teresa Odle
by Teresa Odle
November 30, 2016

Teresa Odle lives and grows in southeastern New Mexico. A former Master Gardener, Odle now manages four acres, including a microfarm, in arid Southeastern New Mexico. She received Best Writing Silver and Gold Awards from GWA, the Association of Gardening Communicators, for her gardening blog www.gardeninginadrought.com. Odle also is active on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook  and Instagram.

Sure, I realize that not every gardener sees the need to conserve water in the lawn and garden. In some parts of North America, the problem is too much rain. Still, avoiding waste of this precious resource should be a priority for every homeowner and gardener. If nothing else, saving water also can cut your monthly water bill.
In the arid Southwest, where annual precipitation can be up to half of the national average (the U.S. average is about 30 inches a year, but we average only 14 inches a year in New Mexico), saving water is more than a personal value; it’s a necessity. Of course, we all want to save money, but not to the extent that we have dried-up turf or nothing but gravel on our lots.

Here are 10 ways to save money and water, but still enjoy some color and texture in the garden:


Xeriscaping doesn’t have to be boring and brown. Perennials and self-seeding flowers (cosmos) bring seasonal color.

1. Plant native wildflowers. Any plant native to your area has a better chance of survival and will use less water once it’s established in your garden. Checking zone and exposure (such as full sun or shade) before purchasing also gives your plant a better shot at making it; if a plant makes it, you don’t have to replace it, saving money and water required to start seeds or transplants. Start wildflowers as seeds right in the ground and save even more money. Many native wildflowers will re-seed the next year, and sometimes nature is an amazing landscaper.
2. Choose perennials over annuals. I just mentioned wildflowers, which typically are annuals. However, their tendency to re-seed is as good as a perennial coming back. Annual wildflowers, or a single “splurge” container filled with a few non-native plants for a pop of color can satisfy the urge to buy a plant simply because you love the flower. And it won’t use much water or cost much each year. A large bed of annuals costs more money to fill, uses more water each season to get going and costs you lots more money and time in the long run.

Gaillardia, or blanketflower, pops up all over our garden each year. Sometimes we have too much. Chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) is a xeric perennial here. And yes, the blooms smell like chocolate!

3. Use hardscape appropriately. Hardscaping, such as pavers, concrete patios and other nonplant materials can add interest and practicality to a garden. But a yard with nothing but gravel and cement is unattractive, causes water runoff and can increase heat in the garden and in your home. I get that rocks need no watering, but plastic fabric and rocks prevent water from reaching tree roots. Using caution protects shade trees and saves you money in the long run. Check out new water-permeable pavers and other products if you’re spending some money and time to landscape. At least water that hits these hard surfaces drains down to the water table.


We hauled a dead branch that was partially rotted from our orchard to the rock garden. Tim has filled it with lamb’s ear and planted nasturtium seeds.


This container was on-hand for clippings of a cactus Tim took from my daughter’s yard. The “tray” is an old plate left by the former owner of a former house. Is that repurposed repurposing?

4. Repurpose found objects. For that hardscaping, use rocks you find in your yard or on hikes (although check to see about permits for collecting rocks in forests, etc.). Repurpose household items as containers (just be sure to drill a drainage hole). Old serving plates make great plant trays for small containers. Fallen logs and driftwood add visual interest to a flower bed and make great planters or bed dividers.


This little cucumber is further along than the ones in our vegetable garden. And that’s good, because it’s in a container for convenience and decoration. I hope to trellis it up an old screen door.

5. Grow your own food. You don’t have to plant an elaborate vegetable garden. And trust me, one zucchini plant is enough for a family of 10. I exaggerate”¦ a little bit. Just plant one or two of your favorite herbs or vegetables. If pests are a problem, place a tomato in a container on your balcony or patio where it gets plenty of sun. If you plant only what you love to eat, you’ll save on grocery bills, even when considering soil and water costs. Starting a few tomatoes from seed is a little more work, but a money saver. As for saving water, here’s my take: Agriculture counts for 80 percent of U.S. water consumption. Common practices include flood irrigation and overhead sprinklers because of the enormous size of big farm fields. I can control how much water I use on my own edible plants.

6. Share with friends and family. Let’s say you did such a great job with those tomato starts that you have more than you need. Offer a plant to family or friends. Or trade food – let your sister grow the zucchini and you grow lettuce in your shady back yard. If you see an attractive wildflower in a neighbor’s yard, ask if you can save a few seeds from the plant in late summer or fall.

7. Rely on native grasses. Replacing a lawn costs money, no doubt about it. But if you have a water-hogging turf, especially in the Southwest, replace it with native grass. Local nurseries and master gardeners can help you select a turf grass that meets your needs. Cut the size of your turf area without going to lava rock. Native ornamental grasses are easy fillers for areas of the yard you want to convert from grass to garden. Most require shearing only once a year. No flowers to deadhead and typically few pest problems.

Native grass puts you more at Mother Nature’s mercy, but can look like a seeded turf. In smaller lawns, you still can water it, but will use much less than a non-native grass.


This DripWorks system waters our vegetable garden, saving time, water and plants! Although we had to buy parts of the system, we re-used lots of connections and hose left here by the former owner.

8. Water with drip irrigation and by hand. Drip irrigation systems also cost money, but save plants and water. Because they drip so slowly, the water has time to soak into the soil, which waters more deeply and stays wet longer. Check for simple DIY drip systems or spend the money upfront to have a pro install one. Your water and plant bills will thank you. I also water containers by hand. It takes some time, but gives me a chance to use rain water (bonus tip) from a barrel. Other bonus? A little more exercise.
9. Grow gifts. It’s one thing to share your homegrown zucchini. I’m not so sure that’s always the best gift, however. But if you love giving flowers, grow some for cutting and arrangements. There are plenty of low-water cutting flowers. I’m trying some gladiolas this year, which use more water than most of my plants, but are my favorite stunners in arrangements. If it goes well, I’ll give away or sell stalks. Lavender is a great low-water plant that gives you plenty of craft and gift choices; make sachets, cut wands or other scented gifts.

Drying lavender in the shed last year.

10.Enjoy your garden. Keep your garden simple to save water, money and time. But stock it with a few plants you love and spend time sitting in or walking through the landscape or patio. In fact, by bending down to smell or cut a flower or by hand-watering, you get a closer look at your plants so you can nip problems in the bud (excuse the pun). Most of all, enjoying your efforts gives you pride, satisfaction and relaxation. You can’t put a price on those feelings!

















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  • Linda G. Dickinson
    Comment added December 5, 2017Reply

    Nice post. This is a great read for saving water and Money in the Garden. Thanks for sharing this article.

  • Takeshi Kenshin
    Comment added December 3, 2016Reply

    Thanks Teresa Odle for these tips. My garden wastes a lot of waters because I grow many kind of vegetables.

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