Weeds zap valuable soil moisture from your plants. One of the best chemical-free ways to control weeds is with a layer of landscape fabric under your mulch. It's air- and water-permeable and easy to plant into--just use scissors or pruners to cut an X, pull back the fabric, and plant.
Mulch (left) is like a blanket for your plants. It slows evaporation of soil moisture, meaning you'll need to water less. Mulch your pots, too.
Your sprinklers are on a timer, but have you checked the water output? Place a rain gauge where it can collect water from your sprinkler. Then adjust the timer to give your lawn or plants just what they need. Most cool-season grasses need about 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week to maintain color and growth. One penetrating, weekly soaking (1 to 1.5 hours) encourages plant roots to grow down in search of water, which makes them healthier and more likely to find water without additional watering.
If you don't have a rain gauge, you can also set out cans to collect water; simply mark the inches on them or dip in a ruler to measure the water.
Modify your hose with quick-release connectors that waste no water when you change attachments. One pull and you can switch to the best sprinkler or nozzle for the job. Not only can quick-release systems save water; they also save the hassle of twisting and untwisting connections.
Don't mow too short. The cool-season grasses of the Midwest will be healthier--and need less water--if you mow higher and less often. Cool-season grasses typically do best at a mowing height between 2 and 3 inches, with the upper range best for summer. Lawns mowed at higher heights tend to have deeper roots and fewer weed problems than short lawns.
A faucet-mounted timer (left) remembers to shut off your sprinkler so you don't have to. Tip: To prevent water runoff, set your timer to turn off your sprinkler, allow the water to seep in for a spell, then start watering again. Timers are available at garden centers and home supply stores.
One of the most surprising things about a rain barrel is how quickly it fills, even in the lightest of rains. And the water you collect is free of city water chemicals. Connect the barrel to your downspout or use a pretty rain chain to guide the water. Most hardware stores and nurseries sell barrels.
A plant can take up only so much water at a time. Soil polymers (left) retain moisture and release it slowly back to plant roots. Add soil polymers when planting beds or containers.
Once established, drought-tolerant plants can handle extended periods without water. That's not to say they don't need water, just less than other garden plants. A layer of mulch keeps them even happier by maintaining soil moisture and temperature.
In the Midwest, try plants such as sedum (left) (Sedum spp.), ornamental grasses, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), sage (Salvia spp.) and yarrow (Achillea spp). Check with your local garden center to see what's best for your area.
Problem: You set your sprinkler to water while you are sleeping, and it runs even if it rains. Solution: Use a mechanical rain monitor (left) that detects when it has rained and overrides your automatic system.
Adjust sprinklers (left) so they water the lawn and not your driveway, the street or sidewalks. Check your system periodically to see if the sprinklers are still aimed at the right areas and if any spray heads need to be repaired.
Changing out weather-hardened O-rings is a simple fix for leaky hose ends. Or treat yourself to a new kink-resistant hose; you won't waste water while you stop to straighten out your hose. While you're at it, try a new hose holder (left) to keep your hose tidy and in good shape.
Water in early morning to reduce evaporation from sun and wind and also to decrease the potential for diseases.
Not sure whether you need to water? Walk across your lawn and see whether the grass springs back or whether you can still see your footprints. If you can see your footprints, it's time to water.
Drip irrigation of landscaping beds (left)--slowly applying water directly to plants' root zone--doesn't waste a drop through evaporation and prevents molds that can develop with droplets on plant leaves. Purchase easy-to-install sets at any garden or home center.