Water > Landscaping

Efficient landscaping design and strategies can be an opportunity to substantially reduce outdoor water use.

Landscape Design and Maintenance

Consider the following design strategies and irrigation practices to improve the water efficiency of your landscaping:

  • Use xeriscaping techniques
  • Choose locally adapted and water efficient plants
  • Mulch around plants to prevent evaporation, and keep roots cool and moist in hotter climates
  • Water plants overnight or at the coolest part of the day to avoid evaporation
  • Use efficient irrigation technologies
  • Install submeters to help identify leaks and track consumption, and regularly check systems for leaks or damage
  • Use non-potable water for irrigation, such as captured rainwater, greywater, or recycled wastewater


Consider xeriscaping techniques when designing your landscaping. Xeriscaping is a landscaping method that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation, and is especially beneficial in arid regions where water is scarce. The basic principles of xeriscaping include proper site design, soil analysis and improvement, water-efficient plant selection, practical turf areas, efficient irrigation, mulching, and appropriate maintenance.  For more information on xeriscaping, visit Denver Water’s Xeriscaping page or CalRecycle’s Xeriscaping page.

Plant Selection

Choose native, adaptive, and drought-tolerant plants.  Native plants that grow naturally in an area require less water, fertilizer, and pest control.  Visit the Plant Conservation Alliance for information about native plants you can grow in your state, as well as invasive species to be avoided in your area. Adaptive plants are non-native, but can adapt well to the region’s local climate and soil conditions.   By choosing native, adaptive, and drought-tolerant plants for your landscaping, which require less water, your organization can save water and money.

Efficient Irrigation Technologies

Drip irrigation systems save water and reduce fertilizer needs by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots through a network of valves, pipes, or tubing.  This method reduces evaporation and surface runoff, increases irrigation efficiency to 90%. While a drip irrigation system might cost more up front than a conventional irrigation system, reduced costs water savings can often help offset these costs.

Weather-based irrigation controllers can also yield considerable water savings. Weather-based control systems adjust irrigation scheduling to actual conditions onsite or historical weather data, to allow for changes in watering schedules based on weather conditions and water requirements for plants.  Soil moisture sensors and rain sensors are also useful technologies to make watering schedules more efficient.

For a detailed guide on efficient landscaping and outdoor water use, see WaterWise Landscaping and Watering Guide.

For a detailed guide on water use efficiency, see New Mexico’s Water Conservation Guide for Commercial, Institutional and Industrial Users.

Efficient Irrigation Saves Money

The Harvard Business School Campus installed a computerized irrigation system that monitors ambient rainfall and weather, at a total cost of under $250,000. The system senses the irrigation needs of zones all around the campus and keeps moisture levels in balance throughout the year. The system saves almost 5 million gallons of water every year, totaling about $50,000 in annual savings.

In 2002, the Shoreline School District in Seattle, in cooperation with Seattle Public Utilities, implemented a number of water conservation efforts focused on increasing the efficiency of the district’s irrigation operations at sixteen sites north of Seattle. Improvements included rain sensors and a more analytic approach in determining irrigation schedules. After an initial capital cost of $175,000, the district now saves over $50,000 per year. Case Study

Environmental Benefits

In the summer, outdoor water use for landscaping can exceed all indoor water use for the entire year. Native species of grasses, plants, and trees have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years and are well adapted to regional climates, soils, and pests. Because of this, they require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, saving money, conserving water, and reducing water pollution. Conventional irrigation technologies and daytime watering often results in water evaporating before it can be consumed by plants. By using water-efficient irrigation technologies such as drip irrigation, and by watering in the evening and overnight, your organization can reduce the amount of water that evaporates, saving water and saving money.

Additional Resources

EPA – Green Landscaping
EPA WaterSense
EPA – Using Water Efficiently: Tips for businesses
EPA – Water Efficiency Programs by State
Bay-Friendly Landscaping
USDA Natural Resources Conservation List of Drought-Tolerant Plants