We first published this article back in February, when we were still dreaming of our summer garden…  today, as the temperatures heat up and the thunder storms roll through, it’s time to take another look at how to maximize the water in our yard!



For every 1,000 square feet of rooftop, a 1” rain will generate approximately 608 gallons of water. Nearly 28,000 gallons of water each year pours off  the average roof in the Illinois River Watershed. Imagine all that rainwater going down the storm drains and into the River! Imagine, instead, all that water going into our gardens and percolating into the groundwater, where we need it most! Why not utilize this free resource? Here are TEN Inspiring Ideas to help YOU achieve a water-smart yard!

We’ll start with the basics…

WaterWise_IRWPWater-wise landscaping is cost efficient and beneficial

Photo Credits Below


1.     Compost

You may not think of composting as something that saves water, but when adding compost to your garden or landscape it helps to save water by providing a natural barrier against evaporation. Soil that is rich in organic matter retains water much more readily than poor quality soil. As a result, compost decreases the land’s need for water by 30% on average.

2.     Mulch

Mulch cools the earth below in warm weather, and shields sensitive roots and plantings from the cold in the winter. Mulching holds in moisture, decreasing the amount of watering necessary — typically by hundreds of gallons a year. Mulches help protect tree and plant roots, and the organic varieties such as pine bark and shredded hardwood provide valuable fertilizer as they break down over time. A good rule of thumb is to apply a 3-4” layer of mulch around the base of the plant or tree and replace once per year, or at least every other year.

3.     Drip Irrigation

Sprinklers may be fun for the kids but they are certainly not the most cost-effective landscape tool out there…Drip irrigation methods are much more water-smart because they deliver water right to the root zone, where the plant needs it most! This irrigation method is typically more than 90% efficient at allowing plants to use the water applied. Unlike other forms of irrigation, such as sprinklers that are only 65-75% efficient, drip irrigation reduces runoff and evaporation. Drip irrigation applies the water slowly at the plant root zone where it is needed.

4.     Rain Chains

Rain chains are considered a great alternative to guttering systems on the sides of the home. Rain chains are meant to slow and direct the flow from rain gutter systems.

 Award winning Water-wise LandscapingAward winning Water-wise Landscaping

Photo Credits Below


5.     Celebrate Water from Your Downspouts

In the past, we have been driven to hide the water and pipe it out of our property as quickly and efficient as possible. Today, we are seeing more creative approaches to delivering rooftop runoff by celebrating the resource and incorporating high-end art as part of the process. Some downspout art features have music incorporated into the design, AWESOME!

6.     Rain Barrels

Becoming more common, rain barrels are efficient at capturing rain and storing it for later purpose, such as supplemental water for the landscape. It also reduces the amount of water on our properties and helps with keeping stormwater where it falls. The only drawback is that you really need to take into consideration that a typical rain barrel is only 55 gallons, and remember, we determined that a 1” rain will generate 608 gallons of water, it would be recommended to have a strategic overflow plan for excess water or have multiple barrels setup to allow for capturing the most water.

7.     Rain Garden

Rain gardens are shallow depressions in our landscapes that capture and filter stormwater, returning rain to the ground cleaner than when it entered the garden. They typically hold water for 24-48 hours which prevents mosquitoes, are sized to about 1/3 of the roof or driveway square footage and are planted with native plants that can handle both water and drought conditions. Once established, rain gardens are a low-cost, low-management landscape, and will be working for you to provide cleaner water and habitat for our communities!


WaterWise_IRWPReplacing the lawn is the ultimate water-wise landscape

Photo Credits Below


8.     Native Plants

Our native plants are adapted to our region and do not require as much irrigation or management as our non-natives, which is a Water-Smart move for your landscape. They are beautiful additions to any yard and also provide food and shelter for local wildlife and can serve as host plants for important species. Native plants can be planted to look “natural” or “formal” and are a great alternative for water-thirsty exotics. Start by replacing a few or introducing some native plant species to your landscape and build on it each year.

Native Plant BrochureClick here to download our Native Plants for a Rain Garden Brochure


9.     Pervious Paving

Impervious surfaces, such as roads, parking lots, rooftops and driveways are a big problem for watershed and stream health because water cannot soak into the ground and ends up traveling over the surface, picking up various pollutants with it and depositing them into our nearby waterways. Pervious paving sounds like a fancy word but it can be as simple as using brick along the driveway instead of concrete, or flagstone paths instead of sidewalks to connect spaces. Pervious surfaces allow water to soak through, impervious surfaces do not.

10.  Replace the Lawn

The ultimate water-wise landscape! I think of what it might look like to look down a street and instead of a large sea of short Bermuda grass lawns, to see a colorful canvas of native flowers, shrubs and trees along a streetside. Perhaps a vegetable and herb garden too. In my opinion, this is the ideal watershed landscape. It works to provide food and forage for our wildlife (and us if you have food production!), sends water through a gauntlet of leaves, roots and soils, provides shade for cooling our homes, is constantly changing throughout the season and most importantly, requires little care.



Interested in learning more about creating a water-wise landscape?  Register for our Rain Garden Academy or Rain Barrel Workshop!

Rain Garden Academy Registration

Rain Barrel Workshop Information (or email: contact@irwp.org)


Follow our Water-Smart Yard board on Pinterest!


Related Posts:

Watershed Landscape: The Dirt on Soils

Watershed Landscape: Plant This… Not That!

Watershed Landscape: Rain Gardens… A Blooming Good Idea!


Photo Credits:

Image #1: Water-wise landscaping is cost efficient and beneficial

Compost: Evols.org 

Mulch: MoreMulch.com

Drip Irrigation:Tend Collective Blog 


Image #2: Award winning Water-wise Landscaping

Rain Garden: SustainableBallard.org

Rain Barrel: SustainableBallard.org

Rain Chain: Prairie Break Blog

Downspout art- metal wheel: ArtOfRain.com


Image #3: Replacing the lawn is the ultimate water-wise landscape

Native Plants: SustainableBallard.org

Pervious paver: HistorialBricks.com

Lawn Replacement: SustainableBallard.org