Native gardens have a reputation for not needing to be watered. This can be true once a garden is mature with all plants situated in appropriate locations. Placing plants with attention to the natural amount of soil moisture compared to the requirements of the plant will lead to happier, lower maintenance plants. Native gardens still need coddling during the establishment phase with regular watering until their roots have extended far enough to draw in the plants moisture requirements. To encourage roots to expand water the entire root zone and not just the base of the plant.
Garden plants prefer being watered with rainwater instead of tap water. Additionally, why waste precious drinking water on plants that do not need or want their water purified. Rain barrels are an excellent way to collect rainwater for irrigating the yard. The regular 55 gallon rain barrel holds enough water to keep a small garden watered. If the garden contains water features, these should be filled only with rain water. Treated water may kill tadpoles and any other wildlife that depends on that pond.
Water new plants weekly the first year after planting. Plants straight from the garden center are used to being watered every day. They will need some time to establish and should not be allowed to dry out during that time. Younger plants need less water to establish. Buying first year plants gives them more opportunity to establish healthy root systems in their home soil. Also, when digging a planting hole be sure to break up the clay at the base and sides so that roots can escape. Mulching around new plantings traps moisture so they don’t need to be watered as often. Health roots is the key to drought resistant plants.
As our climate changes, droughts have become more common. Some of our common garden plants are being pushed to the limits of their tolerance. We must either, plant more drought/heat tolerant plants or be ready to water during droughts. Even native plants, especially trees, require water during droughts, even in winter. Saving water during times of abundance in rain barrels to supplement the yard during times of scarcity is one way to help a garden through a drought.
Unfiltered rain barrel water is notorious for clogging sprinklers and drip irrigation lines. I generally run my rainwater through a hose and walk around the garden to each thirsty plant. This also allows me to personally inspect each plant in case it has other maintenance needs. If drip irrigation is already set up, it is an easy way to water a new garden. However, a sustainable yard should not need irrigation.
The easiest way to avoid watering is to absorb every drop of water arriving in the garden. Use rain scaping methods such as swales and rain gardens to catch water and retain it on site. Rain scaping is beneficial to the garden and reduces storm surges in local creeks. Make zero runoff your goal.