Some suggestions from Patrice Hanlon of The Gardens at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek, and Kathleen Norris Brenzel from Sunset Magazine:

  • Hydrozone: "For newbies, you go to the nursery and you see attractive groupings of plants, but you take them home and they don't always have the same water needs," Hanlon says. "With hydrozoning, you group plants together that have the same water requirements. Pay attention to what you're buying."

  • Let potted plants tell you what they need. Put trays under pots in summer, and water until the tray is full. Then don't water again until the tray is empty and the plant has sucked up the water.

  • Pull back on fertilizer. "Fertilizers will make plants grow quicker, which is great, but then they need more water too," says Norris Brenzel. "Go for organic amendments to the soil."

  • Things to do right now. Mulch. Compost. "The more you can build soil up with nutrients, the less water needed," Hanlon says.

  • Rethink your irrigation system. Look for leaks. Change from overhead irrigation to drip, if possible.

  • Change water habits. "If you water every day for five minutes, you're not helping the plant," Norris Brenzel says. "Infrequent deeper waterings encourage a stronger root system."