Soaker hoses are one of the most underused water-saving tools in the garden arsenal. They're lengths of hose designed to let water seep through their material evenly, making for a slow, even watering along their entire length.
The best way to use them is to install them when you build your flowerbed, or when you've pulled out your old plants in preparation for replanting. Run the hose in a loop around the perimeter a few inches below the surface. Buy good-quality hose, as ideally it will stay in the garden for years.
Each hose should have the rate of water dispersion listed on the packaging, but the best way to judge is to use a moisture meter, available for a few bucks at any hardware store or home improvement store.
Be sure and set a timer to remind yourself you've got the hose running, or you could end up creating quicksand in your herb garden.
Soaker hoses are great, but don't stop there. Use them along with our next tip ...
No. 2: Mix in mulch
Mulch and soaker hoses are the peanut butter and jelly of gardening. They complement each other perfectly and make a whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Not only does mulch help keep moisture in the soil, it helps control the soil temperature to protect delicate feeder roots from roasting on especially toasty days. As an extra bonus, as it breaks down it enriches the soil just like compost. When I take my dahlia bulbs out of their bed for splitting every two years, I till in the old mulch before replanting.
Hardwood mulches are the best, although pine needles are the choice of many landscapers because of their cheaper price and attractiveness. You can also get "permanent" mulch made from things like shredded used tires. It's excellent, but best used in places where you have no plans to swap out plantings frequently.
Last but by no means least, let's talk about your biggest water-user, your yard ...
No. 1: Choose the right grass
Sure, you want the lush, vibrant, aggressively green grass you see at the golf course and conference center. I want a unicorn. We both need to come to terms with reality.
That grass you envy is a water-sucking monster that requires near-daily soaking to keep its luster.
Unless you plan on selling a kidney to pay your water bill, you need to go with a grass that is more drought-tolerant such as Zoysia, centipede or other hybrids. There are even Kentucky bluegrass hybrids now that will stand dry weather better than their more lush cousins.
Will you have a lawn that will stop traffic? Maybe not.
But if you're that obsessed with your grass, you probably need a hobby anyway. Whittle some nice yard statuary to salve your ego.