My top 10 waterwise tools + 2

A mix of technology, body parts, and products, the common denominator for my top waterwise tools below is their startling value to sustainability. They embody Marshall McLulan‘s aphorism: “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”

#1. Meter

The water meter is a veritable truth-teller on use by day, by zone, by function. I read ours daily for real-time actionable data and early leak signals. Make it your new best friend.

#2. Spreadsheets

Whether an app or paper and pencil, spreadsheets tell it like it is. I have two. One allocates supply and tracks daily actuals vs. budget. The other manages each zone’s irrigation to spot issues and optimize scheduling based on weather and plant performance. Leave no stone, oops gallon, unturned.

#3. Hose nozzle

The humble nozzle is less costly ($5) and bigger impact (90%) than any other water-saving device like high-efficiency toilets, low-flow shower heads, or smart controllers. California drought regulations ban hoses without nozzles to wash cars. They’re non-starters in gardens too.

#4. Lightweight coiled hose

Forget traditional garden hoses. They’re shockingly wasteful. Instead use a small-diameter hose that stretches and automatically rebounds. I sing their praises.

#5. Eyes and ears

Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and observe small details. Clues to robbers lie in puddles, squirts, or hisses (leak), ailing plants (overwater), disturbed earth (critters), and the like.

#6. Hands

Overwatering, more common and damaging to plantings than under, is incredibly wasteful. Feel the soil by emitters after irrigation or rain to determine how much to do when.

#7. Screwdriver / dandelion digger / soil probe

To figure out if a plant gets too much or too little water, go down deep to check soil moisture with a screwdriver, dandelion digger, or soil probe such as a Soil Sleuth. Or if soil is softer than ours, simply poke with what Nan Sterman calls “10 little moisture sensors (your fingers).”

#8. Mulch

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Supermulch! The glories and necessities of this water-saving tool are covered (pun intended) in Revere Mulch.

#9. Newer-generation irrigation

Drip, micro-rotors, smart clocks, and soil moisture sensors are adaptations from commercial agriculture and perennially-dry countries such as Israel. Old can often swap out for new, as in retrofitting spray sprinklers to drip for plants or to microsprayers for lawn.

#10. Controller manual mode

In early 2014 I shut off our controller‘s auto mode and cut programming settings. Manual activation and regular tuning have optimized water use and plant health. Humans 1: automatons 0.

While not directly saving water, these 2 bonus entries’ motivational powers warrant their inclusion:

+1. Camera

Snap photos of an aloe in bloom, ceonythus with new growth, or other signs of a hard-fought battle to garden responsibly. Scroll through them to sooth any angst during the next hot spell.

+2. Gloves

When the Fed Ex driver saw how beat up my hands were from gardening sans gloves, he showed me his Nitrile gloves. With a fit like a second skin, no task is too daunting and my blisters, cuts, and dirt under nails are gone. I, a former glove-averse gardener, am a convert. Pass it on.