Saving Water in the yard and garden

Watering in the garden

Knowing a few basic tips and tricks as to when and how much to water plants, and what kinds of plants are best suited to Australian climate can be helpful in reducing unnecessary water use and keeping your water accounts lower.


  • Avoid watering gardens in hot windy weather.
  • Water gardens in the early mornings and evenings, before 10am and after 4pm (part of our Permanent Water Wise Rules).
  • Deliver water to the root zone and avoid watering foliage.
  • Most shrubs and young trees need water only once per week, even in warm weather.
  • Used bath and shower water can be bucketed onto garden plants.
  • Collect rainwater for garden use in tanks and containers.
  • Upturned bottles and cans with small holes can act as slow release drip irrigation to the base of shrubs and trees.
  • Timers can help forgetful people to turn off watering systems, sprinklers and hoses. A forgotten sprinkler can waste thousands of litres of water.
  • Drip and microspray watering systems can use less water than older type sprinklers.
  • When watering the garden use a hand held hose fitted with a trigger nozzle or watering can and only water when those areas need it.

Planting and general tips

  • Keep your lawns healthy and maintain them at a height of 6.5 centimetres; taller grass holds water better, and a healthy lawn will choke out weeds.
  • Reduce your lawn and consider planting ground covers or low maintenance perennials instead.
  • Choose plants carefully, there are many water wise varieties available which need much less maintenance and watering. Use Australian native plants that can survive drought conditions in your garden, where possible.
  • Mulching the garden is a great way to reduce evaporation and water run-off.  Good quality mulch will also provide nutrients and reduce weed growth.
  • Shade reduces moisture loss from the ground so keep plants dense and bushy by pruning them after flowering
  • Plan before planting new garden beds; group plants with similar water needs and take advantage of the characteristics of your garden.

Find the right plants for your garden

Having trouble finding the right plants for your garden? Smart Approved WaterMark’s indicative list of water efficient plants to help your approach to sustainable gardening. Discover what plants are right for your climate, soil type and maintenance level with Plant Finder.

Discover more about saving water in the garden

  • When to Water - discover when its best to water your vegetable garden, pot plants and ornamentals.
  • How Much to Water - are you giving your garden, pot plants and lawn to much water?
  • Designing a Water Efficient Garden - ideas and tips on designing a water wise garden from scratch and useful information on revamping an existing garden.
  • Your Perfect Garden - create a beautiful garden that is attractive, water efficient and meets the needs of your family.

Rainwater tanks

Rainwater tanks are popular for saving water and the environment, especially in the garden. They’re easy to use and available in styles to suit most homes.

Why you should install a rainwater tank

  • Collecting rainwater allows you to be prepared for times of low rainfall, so you can still maintain your garden. Permanent Water Wise Rules do not apply to the rainwater you catch.
  • Your garden loves rainwater. You can also use it to top up your pool or to wash your car.
  • Using rainwater can reduce your water bills as rainwater is free. You can have your tank connected to your outdoor taps or even plumbed into your toilet or laundry. Toilets use approximately 14 percent of drinking-quality water in the house and washing machines use around 16 percent.
  • Tanks plumbed to the toilet and laundry can be used effectively during periods of high rainfall when you don’t need to water your garden. By connecting a tank to the toilet or washing machine with a switching pump you can use your tanks all year round. When tank water is available, the pump uses it and automatically switches to mains water when the tank is empty. You should speak to a plumber about making these connections.
  • Tank water should be used in preference to greywater, especially for herbs and vegetables. Even better, use tank water in conjunction with other recommended water-saving measures like mulch, drip systems and soil additives. If you’re in the process of planning a new house think about including a rainwater tank. At the planning stage you can arrange for a suitable space for your tank, including underground and bladder style tanks for under your decking. You will save water and add considerably to the value and enjoyment of your house and garden.
  • Capturing rainwater reduces the load on stormwater systems because roof runoff is not flushed into the drains. This helps reduce stormwater damage to creeks.
  • Using rainwater reduces the amount of mains water taken from natural waterways and the need to build more water storage dams, which may have to be situated in environmentally sensitive areas. 

Discover more about using rainwater tanks


Watering systems

Different plants and garden areas have different watering needs. Each component of the garden – lawns, garden beds of annuals and perennials, containers, the vegetable garden, fruit trees and ornamental trees and shrubs – all have differing watering needs and require different approaches to their irrigation.

The extent of irrigation required will depend on the amount of rain naturally falling in the area. In some areas of high rainfall, an occasional watering from sprinklers or by hand during hot dry spells may be all that is needed. In drier climates, however, much of the garden may not be possible at all without a good irrigation system to supply what is not available naturally.

Excessive watering can result in valuable nutrients being washed from the soil as well as wasting our most valuable resource. Soil type and condition will also influence the amount of additional watering necessary. Clay soils, for instance, retain water more effectively than sandy soils. Digging plenty of organic matter into clay soils will help them drain more freely, while helping sandy soils retain moisture more effectively.

Types of watering systems

Drip Irrigation

The most efficient way to water is to water roots, not leaves. Drip irrigation systems that deliver water at or below the ground surface are very efficient. Smart Approved WaterMark has certified a range of efficient, above and below soil irrigation systems. Drip irrigation delivers a controlled trickle of water directly to the roots of the plant and avoids wetting the foliage, helping to control some diseases. Weeds are not encouraged and evaporation of water from the soil is minimised. The slow rate of application means that no water is wasted through run off.

The simplest form of drip or trickle irrigation is the soaker hose, which requires no installation other than being connected to the tap or the end of a hose. Water seeps slowly through its porous surface all along its length. It must be moved about the garden for complete coverage and requires the same timing precautions as sprinklers to avoid over-watering.

More sophisticated, semi-permanent dripper or trickle systems typically use 13 mm diameter polytube as feeder lines into which drippers or emitters are inserted. The drippers may have either a fixed flow rate or may be adjustable according to the water requirements of individual plants. Drippers may also be connected to lengths of flexible 4 mm polytube which is in turn plugged into the feeder lines, enabling plants some distance from the line to be watered effectively.

Drip irrigation requires lower water pressures than sprinklers so a pressure regulator should be installed in the main line just after the filter. If a regulator is not fitted, the water pressure may cause drippers to blow out.


Filters and Backflow Valves

Both micro spray and dripper systems are vulnerable to clogging from water-borne debris. To avoid repeated blocking, an inline filter should be installed just after the main tap. Some local authorities require a backflow valve to be installed by a plumber before any irrigation system may be installed. This valve prevents water from the irrigation system flowing back into the household supply.

Moveable Sprinklers

The simplest solution to watering the garden is a hand-held rose attached to the end of a hose. This may be all that is required for the watering needs of a small inner city garden with small beds and a few pot plants.

The next step is to a movable sprinkler attached to a hose and moved about the garden as required. Such sprinklers vary enormously in complexity and price from very simple sprays to complex mechanical ‘butterfly’ units with adjustable spray patterns. Sprinklers like this are easy to forget once switched on, so an inexpensive clockwork timer fitted between the tap and the hose is a worthwhile investment.

This is not an efficient solution for irrigation because there is a higher potential for wind spray and evaporation and for this reason it has been banned under water restrictions in parts of the country. The ideal rate of application is about 12 mm per hour. At higher rates some water will not be absorbed by the soil and will run off to be wasted.

To determine the flow rate of a sprinkler, check the level of water filling straight-sided containers such as cans placed at various points under the spray after 15 minutes.

Fixed Sprinklers

Micro irrigation was developed in Israel to make the best use of a limited water supply in an arid climate, not unlike much of Australia. Miniature spray heads or jets are mounted onto rigid risers plugged into a network of black pvc irrigation tubing, known as polytube, as feeder lines, usually 13mm in diameter.

The spray heads are available in a variety of spray patterns and spreads enabling efficient, even coverage only to those areas of the garden requiring watering. Like moveable sprinklers this irrigation is prone to wind spray and high evaporation losses and is not permitted under water restrictions in some parts of Australia.


Various forms of time controllers can be used to turn watering systems on and off and these vary widely in their complexity and expense. The simplest type is a clockwork timer which is fitted between the tap and the hose line or irrigation system, allowing up to two hours of watering before switching off.

More complex computerised units allow several independent lines to be programmed to turn on and off independently. The units control low voltage electric solenoid valves which open and close each line, and the more sophisticated of these devices allow each line to be operated independently several times daily over a period of a week or more.

A rainfall sensor connected to the timer should be used to cancel the system in periods of high rainfall when additional watering would be unnecessarily wasteful. Regardless of the system it is important to only water in the early morning and at dusk when temperatures are lower and evaporation is less. A digital watering timer can also significantly reduce the amount of water used particularly for sprinkler systems where even a few minutes can use thousands of litres. Many irrigation systems come with controllers to help you do this.

Water Wicking

A wicking bed is a garden bed with a waterproof lining which holds a reservoir of water at the base.

The water is drawn upwards through the soil via natural osmosis or ‘wicking’ through the damp soil below to the drier soil above to help maintain consistent and optimal growing conditions. Wicking beds can be found in all manner of containers and materials so long as it can be waterproofed and doesn’t corrode when in contact with damp soil. Water wicking offers many benefits in the use and management of water including significant reductions in water waste as none is lost to the evaporation effects of wind and sun which happens when beds are watered from above.

As the wicking bed ‘self-waters’ it’s a very popular low maintenance option for many growing situations as the improved water use efficiency means beds only need to be watered periodically by filling the reservoir rather than everyday as is usually the case with other irrigation methods. As the reduced watering process also improves the soil biology it results in healthier and happier plants and crop.

There are many different wicking bed designs to choose from and a little on-line research can provide a wealth of advice on the materials to use and how to build and maintain them. Check out the wicking products approved by Smart Approved WaterMark they have a unique re-cycled plastic cell which allows wicking beds of all manner of shape and size to be constructed easily and economically to ensure that precious water is used effectively, and your garden will flourish no matter how harsh the growing conditions.

Mulching and compost

Simple changes in the garden, such as mulching and composting can improve the efficiency of water use by reducing evaporation, improving water infiltration and storage in the soil and keep your garden happy, even during times of drought. 


Mulch is a protective blanket for your soil and essential to maintaining a water efficient garden.  It not only helps conserve water and reduces the need for irrigation, but also reduces the soil temperature and improves the health of your garden.  Mulch helps to:

  • Reduce the watering needs of plants by up to 70% by reducing evaporation of water from exposed soil.
  • Moderating the soil temperature, keeping soil cool in summer and warm in winter, reducing water loss and stress on plants.
  • Slows run off, improves the intake and storage of water and reduces erosion; improving the drought resistance of plants,
  • Improves the soil quality soil and health of the plants, especially when using a nutrient rich composted mulch.
  • Keeps the weeds away, meaning more time to enjoy your garden.

Quick tips for applying and maintaining mulch

  • Remove all weeds first.
  • Break up the soil and water well.
  • Spread mulch evenly across the soul surface to the recommended depth; your local nursery can guide you.
  • Clear mulch from the base of plant stems to avoid disease.
  • If the mulch becomes dry and repels water, rake it over to break up the sureface and then water.
  • If weeds appear, remove or spray before they flower and seed.
  • Top up the mulch periodically as it decomposes over time.
  • Consider a groundcover or living mulch,

Any mulch is better than no mulch, however your local nursery will be able to provide expert advice on mulching your garden or visit your local library and read one of the many books on the subject.  Waterwise Gardening by Kevin Walsh, an Australian Horticulturist, is full of valuable information on waterwise design, mulch, watering systems and drought tolerant trees, shrubs, ground covers, perennials and bulbs.


Healthy soil holds more nutrients and water and results in healthier plants. Improving your soil is the best way to save water and work in your lawn and garden. Compost is decomposed organic matter that increases the organic content of the soil.  It holds more water and provides the perfect environment good bacteria and worms need to breakdown and keep the soil alive and full of nutrients. 

Adding compost to your garden also:

  • Opens up the soil structure allows water to infiltrate and to drain.
  • Adds valuable nutrients meaning worms and other living organisms help keep your soil healthy.
  • Improves soil quality, plant growth and resilience to drought.


  • Know your soil; look for compaction or other soil problems you can fix.
  • Add compost; digging 2-3 inches of compost into the soil when planting new garden beds or lawns.
  • Top up compost every 2-3 years; spreading another 1 inch on garden beds or ½ inch on lawns.
  • Fertilize responsibly.

Compost can be easily made at home or check with your local nursery or landscape supplier for recycled green waste, mulches and compost.

Composting at home is an easy and a great way to recycle yard waste and kitchen scraps into fertile sweet-smelling soil. Compost helps grow healthy gardens, lawns, trees, and shrubs that need less water, pesticides and fertilizer, reduces water use and household waste.

Washing cars and other vehicles

Saving water starts at home. Taking a few, simple steps when washing your boat or vehicle (including automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, and trailers) can help to save water and protect the quality of nearby waterways.

  • Wash vehicles using a bucket with soapy water.
  • Rinse vehicles with a hose equipped with trigger nozzle attached.
  • Using a low flow high power pressure washer can conserve even more water
  • washing the car on the lawn, using biodegradable cleaning chemicals, gives your grass a good watering in addition to cleaning your car.
  • washing with greywater from your bath

Pools and spas

There's a big source of water consumption in your backyard—it's called a swimming pool.  The average swimming pool holds between 20,000 and 60,000 litres of water.  It may hold a lot of water, but it doesn’t need to consume very much. 

By learning more about your pool or spa and the steps you can take and repairs you can make, there are a lot of effective way to reduce water wastage in the pool and spa. 

Water saving strategies for pools and spas

  • Reduce evaporation by using a pool cover or liquid pool barrier; a good pool cover will not only reduce evaporation but also pool chemicals and salt use.
  • Increase shade with a shade sail; this has the added benefit of protecting swimmers from harsh sun rays.
  • Check for leaks; look for damp spots downstream of the pool, check for leaking pipes, valves and joiners, loose tiles or cracks could be an indicator of a leak. Contact your pool provider if you suspect a leak.
  • Installing a rainwater tank is a great way to reduce the use of mains water in your swimming pool.
  • Changing pool behavior, pools are designed for us to have fun, but there are ways that we can do this without wasting water. Concentrate on keeping water in the pool, discourage pool users from bombing and continually getting out and jumping back into the pool and drip dry on the top step so that water goes back into the pool.
  • If you have a pool heater, try reducing the temperature during the summer, reducing water loss to evaporation.
  • Backwash backwashing filters only when necessary, keeping the pool and filters clean to reduce the frequency of backwashing.
  • Plant pool-area shrubs and use fences or privacy screening as barriers or to help reduce water loss from wind evaporation.
  • Run the pump only as long as needed, start by running the pump for eight hours per day. If the pool stays clear, run the pump less often. If it starts to get cloudy, run it a bit more each day until it clears. You may find that different run times are required at different times of the year.
  • Use a timer that's rated for the size of your pool pump. You can also save on operating costs by matching the size of the pump to the needs of your pool. When replacing the pump or the pump motor, get only the horsepower you need and look for a two-speed or variable-speed pump motor.