What to plant

  • Choose drought resistant plants that can tolerate dry conditions, so you don’t need a lot of water to keep them alive during summer. For some ideas, visit the smart water plant gallery. Young drought tolerant plants do need some care but once they have fully developed root systems they can survive long periods without water.
  • Native plants are naturally suited to our climate and require less watering. Talk to your local garden centre about the most suitable plants for your regional climate, environment and soil type.

When to plant

The best time to get plants in the ground is in autumn so they have six to nine months to settle in and establish before the hot weather sets in. Even young drought tolerant plants need looking after, with a drink once every fortnight during the first summer. If you plant in spring you will need to water once or twice a week.

Where to plant

  • Position plants with similar watering needs all together, this enables you to water them more effectively — this is called hydro-zoning.
  • Put plants close together so they create their own shade for the soil and reduce evaporation.
  • A smart water landscape can have plants with high water needs, however, save them for a feature location in your garden.
  • Keep plants with high water needs, such as vegetables and herbs, near the house so they can be watered with water collected from the shower or stored rainwater.
  • If you are planting on a sloping section, proper grading allows water to soak into the soil and be used by plants rather than running off your section.


  • Prioritise watering fruit and vegetables. 
  • Plan for fewer and longer watering sessions. These are more effective than lots of small, short sessions and encourage root systems to grow deeper into the soil. Every 3 – 5 days that pass without rain is enough.
  • Look out for signs of overwatering, including leaves turning a lighter shade of green or yellow; wilting of young shoots and growth of algae or fungi.
  • Drip line irrigation and soaker hoses are two of the best ways to water shrubs, plants and vegetables, as they water the root zone directly. Spray irrigation can waste a lot of water to evaporation and runoff.
  • If you are using a sprinkler or drip lines, set a timer to remind yourself to turn it off!
  • Water your garden early in the morning or later in the evening to maximise absorption to the plants.
  • Use a rain gauge or a tin to monitor rainfall at your house and adjust your watering to suit.
  • Always use a trigger spray gun when using your hose.

Mulch & compost

  • Mulch is any material you use to cover the surface of your soil around plants.  It holds moisture in and keeps watering down.
  • Good quality organic mulch can save about 70% of water from being lost to evaporation. It also keeps the weeds down, stops runoff and adds nutrients to the soil.
  • Organic mulches include leaves, grass clippings, bark and straw - you need at least 10cm depth for maximum protection against evaporation.
  • Plan for groundcover plants to eventually replace the need for mulch. As they grow they will start to spread and suppress weeds, retain soil moisture, insulate the soil and keep plant roots cool.
  • Healthy soil grows healthy plants. Adding compost is an easy and effective way to improve your soil. Compost improves the structure of soil, aeration and nutrients as well as increasing how much water it can hold (water retention). Different soils have varying water needs. Clay soils absorb water slowly and cause surface runoff if watered too quickly. Sandy soils dry quickly because of fast downward filtration. Adding bark or compost will improve either type of soil.
  • Consider using a natural soil enhancer like biochar (a form of charcoal) for your lawn and plants. Biochar helps build a stronger and deeper root system and can reduce the need to water by 40%.

Supplementary water source

  • Collecting rainwater from your roof and into a water tank/rain barrel is a great source of water for your garden without having to use drinking water from your house.
  • Greywater is water from bathtubs, showers, bathroom washbasins, washing machines and laundry tubs. Irrigating your landscape with greywater will save drinking water resources. Re-using greywater will also ease the strain on your septic tank (if you have one), especially during the summer months. The simplest way to re-use greywater is to catch it in a large bendy bucket (the type with two handles) from your shower, washing machine and laundry sink and carry it outside to use.*

Be sure to use ecofriendly soaps/detergents to avoid contamination, or reuse the water on non-edible parts of   your garden. Greywater is produced every day, all year round and is a reliable source of irrigation.


*Not recommended for the elderly or those with restricted mobility.


  • To get the most out of your smart water garden it’s important to keep it maintained. Try to keep the gardens weed free — weeds steal valuable nutrients and moisture from your plants.
  • Use daylight savings as a reminder to check irrigation lines, taps and hoses for leaks, breaks and drips.
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