Good Guide to Reducing Your Water Use, Part 2: Outdoors
2A: Lose the Lawn, Water Hogs
Potential water savings: up to 150 gallons per day, per household.
There are much better ways to decorate or shade your turf, and it largely depends on where you live. Here's a primer.
Planting appropriately is the best way to conserve water and not kill your plants. Much of the Western United States, for example, is built on or near deserts. That means that drought-tolerant planting is key. In the Midwest's colder climes, you should opt for hardier varieties of flowers and shrubs. Getting creative can save thousands of gallons per year on outside use.
Since 1960, the United States Department of Agriculture has published something called the hardiness zone map-a road map for planting locally. But it doesn't offer other variables like rainfall, the number of sunny days, and soil conditions. With that in mind, we've created our own map of the country, which shows you what to plant and what not to plant, while using the least amount of water.
Climate Because rainfall in Brooklyn, New York, for example, averages a healthy 44 inches per year, with a few tweaks, storm runoff and water recycling can take care of all your watering needs.
Local plants Flowering dogwood, highbush blueberry, wild leek, birdfoot violet
Smart landscaping choice Pennsylvania bluestone. A layered sandstone, it originates in the Northeast and is pretty to look at. Best of all? No watering needed.
Climate Sacramento, California, has a Mediterranean climate with winters that are cool and wet and summers that are hot and dry. As in much of the west, water is scarce, so a synthetic lawn would save water.
Local plants California wild grape, elderberry, California black walnut, coyote brush
Smart landscaping choice An ecologically sound synthetic lawn-seriously, it's that bad. If you can't live without real grass go with Eco Lawn, a brand of drought-resistant grasses that require very little watering.
Climate Boise, Idaho, is a city of extremes: hot and dry 90-degree summers and cold snowy winters. As in other nearby cities, rainfall is scarce, so using local plants accustomed to the climate is crucial.
Local plants Western juniper, Utah honeysuckle, prairie junegrass, Rocky Mountain maple
Smart landscaping choice Recycled rubber pavers. A sustainable softscaping option, rubber flooring is easy to install, low-impact, and the recycling diverts it from landfills.
Climate As the southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West, Florida, is essentially in the Caribbean, and the same climatic limitations apply. The weather is temperate all year long, but there are dry and wet seasons, and taking advantage of the former is important to keeping your environs thriving.
Local plants Coconut palm, bellflower, Key lime, saw palmetto
Smart landscaping choice Seashell mulch. The mulch functions as a barrier to lock in moisture and prevent evaporation for the dryer season and help prevent excess weed growth.
Climate Tucson, Arizona, which lies in the Sonoran Desert, suffers from serious water issues. It rains during the month-long monsoon season, but not much during the rest of the year. More than half the local golf courses use recycled water.
Local plants Fishhook barrel cactus, desert ironwood, Arizona poppy, Parry's agave
Smart landscaping choice Permeable concrete pavers. Rain scarcity makes lawns unsustainable without a ton of watering, and permeable pavers send water into the landscape instead of into sewers.
2B: Garden Grows
Potential water savings: more than 40 gallons, per household.
A few ways to water your plants and grass without going broke.
First, the good news: There are more tools than ever-like downspouts and 100-percent-recycled plastic cisterns-to harvest every precious drop of water. Now the bad: Not everyone can afford these newfangled products. But don't fret. You don't have to be MacGyver to rig up a low-cost alternative.
A Plant-watering Buy
Watering plants too much is as damaging as watering them too little, especially with dwindling water sources. One option is to buy stackable planters by Stack and Grow, which drain water from plant to plant, making sure each one is adequately quenched. It's also expandable. Just stack up to four additional modules on top of the main unit. They cost around $40 each, and are very nice to look at.
An A/C Plant Watering Hack
Air conditioners drip a little while they're running, which could mean wasted water and damage to your building's façade. All A/C window units have a drain hole, so get a basic funnel for a buck at the hardware store, and tape it to the drain. Then, get thin rubber tubing for a few dollars, and tape that to the funnel tip. Run the tube down and place it in an idiot-proof plant. Mint is a great choice. Now you're watering your plant for free.
A Rain-barrel Buy
For about $100, you can get a Smith & Hawken collapsible rain barrel, which retains up to 35 gallons of water, folds flat for under-bed storage in the off season, and is small enough to fit on a New York terrace. There's no excuse not to recycle rainwater.
A Rain-barrel Hack
Rain is basically free water. It's not the cleanest, thanks to pollution, so you wouldn't want to drink it, but it's perfectly useable for all your outdoor water needs. If you can get your hands on an old drum, great. If not, any 5-gallon bucket will do. Place the bucket underneath the downspout of your home's gutter. If you're a renter, or not near the gutter, just put it anywhere outside. After a nice rain, remove the bucket and save it to water your plants and yard later.