Fall is here, and with the hot, dry conditions of summer behind us it’s easy to let thoughts of water conservation slip one’s mind. Though much outdoor plant-life goes dormant when the mercury drops, there are many things we can do now to prepare our lawns and gardens to thrive, help save much-needed water supplies and reduce water bills once hot weather of summer returns. Here are a few suggestions.

Become a rain harvester.

Now that we are getting rain, why not take advantage of it and save what you can for your garden, landscape or other uses. One might be surprised how much rain can be collected from a single shower.

Rainwater harvesting can be as simple as a bucket placed under the downspout of your home gutters or a children's wading pool. More elaborate systems can include barrels or larger capture areas, networks of pipes and storage tanks.

According to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, in many communities, 30 to 50 percent of water people use is for landscape irrigation. Imagine the savings if instead of taking that water from the tap, you could collect it from the source, as it falls from the sky. Captured rainwater is ideal for landscaping and gardening, because it is typically free of salts, disinfectant by-products, harmful minerals and other contaminants. It needs no treatment before such use.

Rainwater collection eases the strain on municipal water sources and groundwater. With water supplies limited and Texas population expected to more than double in the next 50 years, such alternative sources of water will prove vital to helping meet our needs.

Besides watering plants, people have come up with a variety of uses for this collected water. It can be used in evaporative coolers, to flush toilets or wash cars – even to fill chlorinated swimming pools. To learn more about rainwater harvesting, please click here.

Give that irrigation system a makeover.

The cooler months, when gardens and lawns require less water, is a great time to take a fresh look at our watering methods. There are many ways to get water to a garden, but some are more wasteful than others. If you are using a rotary, oscillating or any other type of sprinkler that sprays water into the air to spread over a wide area, chances are you are wasting water.

When watering garden plants, one should focus the water where it will do the most good, atop the root system immediately around the plant instead of spraying it into the air where much can be lost. Soaker hoses are more efficient, because they usually weep water directly into the soil. However, they typically release water along their length, including between plants.

Watering using a hand-held water wand placed close to the soil near a plant is more efficient. However, if you don’t have the time or inclination to water each plant by hand, you might consider a drip irrigation system. This allows one to slowly release water at specific sites instead of the entire length of the hose. Connecting the system to a timer, one can carefully regulate how much water the plants get. Now that the garden is dormant is a good time to place a drip irrigation system in your garden bed so it is good to go when you are ready to plant. To learn more about drip irrigation, please click this link.

The fall and winter is also a good time to evaluate one’s lawn irrigation system. Over time, water lines can spring leaks and spray heads can malfunction. It’s a good idea to periodically watch the system to make sure it is functioning properly. Also, look to see whether the sprinkler heads are sending water onto your lawn and not onto a street, driveway or sidewalk.

You might want to check to make sure the system is putting out no more water than is needed for your lawn. AgriLife Extension has developed on online calculator that will allow people to apply within a 10th of an inch the amount of water their turf grass needs. The calculator allows people to plug in specific information about their area. It uses weather data from 30 automated scientific weather stations around the state. It also takes into account the type of grass, amount of sunlight it gets and other factors.

To begin using the calculator, please click here. For more information about conducting a sprinkler system audit, go to this link.

Keep it under cover.

The cooler months are also a good time to stock up on mulch to help your garden thrive and use less water during the heat of summer.

Mulch is a gardener’s best friend during drought. A nice layer of shredded bark, straw or other plant material will help keep the water you put on each plant from evaporating before it is absorbed by the roots. Mulch also helps moderate soil temperature, promoting greater root development.

There are plenty of commercially available mulches out there, but why spend money for something you can easily find at home. Any plant matter free of weeds can be used. Mulch materials can include hay, grass clippings and compost. One great source can be found in those pounds and pounds of leaves that cover your yard when trees shed each fall. Instead of putting those leaves at the curb to take up landfill space, why not set some aside as a ready source of mulch for your garden?

These are just a few ideas of ways you can get a leg up on preparing your garden to thrive this spring while conserving water. The Brazos River Authority website features numerous other conservation tips, which you can check out by clicking here.