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Portland Water Bureau

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3 Ways to a Greener Thumb

Orange echinacea flower

I’m not the gardener in the family, I leave that to my partner. (I clean the bathrooms and that works for us.) But I am the water nerd.  We’re pretty low-key about our yard, but we love having summer veggies, some shrubs, trees, and flowers around our little outdoor space.

When it comes to thinking about how much water we should use outside when the weather is hot, here a few things we’re trying out.

#1. Use a watering timer. I use my cell phone timer, but a kitchen timer or any old timing device works. It sounds simple, but making it a habit to set a water timer has saved me moments of panic, wondering if I left the water running. You can also find hose bib timers (usually for under $25) that shut the water off for you…just make sure they don’t leak!

Weekly Watering Number tool#2. How much to water—change it up. The amount of water our plants need changes throughout the summer depending on the weather. The amount of water needed also varies from plant to plant.

I’m not much of a morning person, but giving our plants a few minutes of attention in the morning is a habit I’m trying to get into. If the plant looks wilted or dry in the morning, there’s a good chance it’s thirsty! Potted and newer plants may need the most water in the height of summer. Established plants and your lawn need watering only one or two times per week. If you have an automatic irrigation system, you can take the guesswork out of it all together by getting free custom watering recommendations with the weekly watering number!

Garden hose nozzle#3. Get in the (root) zone. We have some shrubs in our front yard that are struggling—even though they are water-efficient varieties. The soil in that area is high in clay and it takes a long time to absorb the water these newer plantings need. Even when I would take extra care to hand water these clay-rich areas, water was running off. I was losing my patience!

I don’t have a drip irrigation system yet, so I improvised and used my hose on a low setting with the nozzle removed. And of course, I set my timer.  Instead of trying to get the water to my plants all at once, I let the water soak-in slowly over a longer time. And if the water still runs off, I break up my watering time, allowing the soil to absorb the water and saturate deeply. By watering thoroughly, you’re helping new plants to establish a better root system so those plants you have can live up to their water-efficient qualities.

BONUS! Rebates and free water-smart tools. Do you love a good deal? I do!

If you’re thinking about installing or upgrading an automatic irrigation system, don’t forget that the Portland Water Bureau offers rebates on WaterSense-labeled controllers and water efficient multi-stream rotating nozzles. And while supplies last you can order a free hose nozzle and guide to Water-Efficient Plants for the Willamette Valley. With your new hose nozzle, you’ll save 5 – 7 gallons per minute!

Get your free hose nozzle by giving us a call or sending us an email at 503-823-4527 or

Penny: author bio photoPenny is a water conservation coordinator at the Portland Water Bureau’s water efficiency group. Penny’s job is teaching others how to save water and practice simple water-wise tips at home and beyond. When not in the office, you can find Penny around town hosting  free water conservation presentations and giving away conservation devices at community events. Penny lives on the west-side of town with her partner and pup named Taylor.