Photo: RCB

My plants demand it, but I hate watering. Every minute I spend at one end of a garden hose is like a teaspoon of my soul being sucked into Purgatory. I loathe wasting water even more, which is something I see gardeners do all the time. You can avoid this sin and save our planet by promising never to do any of the following dumb things ever again.

Mistake #1 -- Setting Your Sprinkler System on Automatic When you're driving, do you point the car so it's going straight, turn on cruise control, and take a nap? Not if you're reading this. When you're cooking, do you turn on the burner and then leave for two weeks in Australia? You bet your Aussie you don't. Then why would you set your sprinkler system to come on at 4 AM for 20 minutes every single day, no matter the season or weather?

I've seen sprinkler systems showering plants with water during a tropical storm. I've seen them glazing hapless plants with ice during an Arctic freeze. I've seen broken systems shooting geysers of water the height of "Old Faithful" onto the driveway and street, because the homeowners have never actually been awake when the systems were on.

Run your system when you're conscious so you're sure it's operating correctly. Install a water sensor to keep it from operating in the rain or when the soil is wet. Turn it off when your plants and lawn are dormant. And during the growing season, instead of running it 20 minutes every day, run it for an hour twice a week. The water will penetrate the soil more deeply, so plants will grow deeper roots and better tolerate drought.

Mistake #2 -- Watering in Mid-day When It's Hot and Sunny This is like pouring Jack Daniel's on weeds to kill them. What a disheartening waste! Watering when it's hot means that most of the water will evaporate before it ever reaches the roots. The best time to water is very early in the morning when it's cool.

Mistake #3 -- Watering the Leaves and Not the Roots Leaves absorb a minute amount of water, but roots suck up the lion's share. So when watering with a hose and nozzle, don't shower the foliage, even though the droplets on the leaves look so pretty and sparkly in the sun. Direct the water to the roots. If it starts to run off, pause until it soaks in, and then continue.

Mistake #4 -- Planting Lots of Water Junkies During hot, dry weather, French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) need watering every day. So do impatiens, coleus, hibiscus, elephant's ears, caladiums, pentas, many ferns, and vegetable plants. After watering them for 6 days in a row only to see them wilting like they did before you started is the best way to sell plastic flowers I know. So temper these choices with plants that tolerate drought, like sedum, daylily, black-eyed Susan, yucca, agave, lantana, salvias, ornamental grasses, and yarrow. Or plant mainly in containers that are quick and easy to water.

Mistake #5 -- Overwatering Just because a plant wilts doesn't mean it's thirsty. And giving a plant too much water will kill it quicker than giving it too little. Group together plants with similar water needs, so you won't be drowning some and parching others. In times of drought, let warm-season grasses like Bermuda, Zoysia, Bahia, and buffalo go dormant and brown. They'll green back up and be fine with the first good rain. And here's a tip about wilting. In hot sun, a plant can wilt even if the soil is wet. So look at a plant early in morning before the sun hits it. If it's wilting, water it.

Mistake #6 -- Neglecting to Mulch Adding a 2 to 3-inch deep layer of mulch over the soil around plants is a great way to conserve water. Mulch cools soil, reduces water run-off, and keeps moist soil moist.