Using hydrozones in the design of your backyard landscape means positioning plants with similar water, soil, and sun needs together. This reduces water use and protects plants from being under or water watered.   Here are the basic need-to-knows to get you started on this environmentally friendly practice.

Hydrozone areas can be broken down four zones.

Zone 1: Routine Irrigation. The principal hydrozone is the area that experiences both the greatest impact on the land and the largest water and energy use. For example, your backyard as a whole would be considered the principal hydrozone, because this is probably where you spend most of your time when you’re outside.

Zone 2: Reduced Irrigation. Areas that are visually important but less used for activity are considered the secondary hydrozone. A good example is the shrub or flower bed near the main entrance of your home.

Zone 3: Limited Irrigation. Minimal hydrozones are the areas of your yard that receive little or no human use, and therefore justify little irrigation. These include buffer zones, distant views, and directional delineators such as strips of grass between the sidewalk and street and embankments. For best results and easiest maintenance, these areas should be matched with native plants that survive with pretty much only rainfall.

Zone 4: No Irrigation. The elementary hydrozone describes the area of your yard that receives only natural rainfall and no supplementary water supply. Here the human use intensity is lowest. These areas include spots for utilities, mulched parkways, and naturally existing vegetation.

Factors in determining zones range from types of plants in that area to element exposure. For example, grass, trees and flowers planted in an area that gets direct sunlight will require more water than those planted in a shady area. Similarly, if materials are planted at the top or bottom of a slope, irrigation should account for runoff and accumulation.

Even with careful planning of where you’ll be placing plants, trees and shrubs based on element needs, you need to begin with a good base. Over time, soil compacts and forms a nearly impenetrable surface.  To help ready your yard for water, give aeration a try. Aerating your yard breaks up the hard surface so the water can soak in to give your plants more oxygen, nutrients and water. 

For planter beds, you can use a hand tool to gently turn the surface of the soil.  Be careful working in the root zones so you don’t damage your plants. For lawns, use a manual coring aerator (available at home improvement stores) or rent a machine – either one is easy to use.  For best results, make two to three passes over each area, with holes about 3-inches apart.

Hydrozoning takes some strong up front planning but can allow for a healthy, sustainable landscape over time.  If you ‘d like to get started but don’t know how, talk with an experienced landscape professional.

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