Naturescaping : making more water efficient gardens

February 10, 2020

India alone will add 500 million more urban residents by 2050. With rapid urbanization, there is a significant increase in not only residential but also commercial/industrial complexes, where large portions of the developed land parcels are covered by landscaped surfaces that need irrigation. 

Yet even as India modernizes, our gardening systems seem to have be stuck in the 1960s. It is not common on a morning walk to see a sight like this. A gardener or “mali” leaving a hose pipe on to water a lawn or wash a sidewalk.

Because cities have the priority of water over agriculture (and the richer parts of cities have better infrastructure), urbanization in effect allows the rich to feel no pinch during drought, while the rural poor, particularly women, bear all the burden of the shortages, as village water scheme run dry.

There is no known estimation of outdoor water use in India where the water use efficiency of urban landscaping has been quantified. Estimates from developed nations indicate that outdoor water use comprises a large fraction of urban water use, ranging from 36% in Barcelona (Domene and Sauri, 2006) to 66% of water use in single family homes in Arizona (Guhathakurtha and Gober, 2007) to as high as 50-70% of urban water use in California (Gleick et al., 2003). 

But anecdotally almost all irrigation in India is highly inefficient mainly consisting of using a garden hose and more recently, sprinklers. Yet, outdoor water use has largely escaped attention in current discourses. Moreover, unlike indoor water use (e.g., showers, taps, and toilets), which end up as sewage and can be potentially recycled, water used for outdoor landscapes is "consumptive"; and is lost – it does not show up as sewage. So efficiency improvements in outdoor water use have huge benefits.

In the western world, drip irrigation is being increasingly used in urban landscapes. Xeriscaping and artificial lawns are becoming common in drought-prone areas. Indeed, the biggest savings during recent droughts in Western United States were achieved from restrictions in outdoor water use (Kenney et al., 2004). Thus, there is likewise tremendous potential for improvement in water efficiency through drought-resistant landscapes and drip irrigation but at present there is no such market in urban India.

However, there are several innovations in garden water use that we can implement in our own homes. 

Naturescaping – Grow plants suited to the landscape. More trees, fewer lawns.  Ask your local nursery what is a native variety.

Drip irrigation – formal

Drip Irrigation – DIY

Artificial lawns- companies like Treemendous ( offer this service for balconies, and terraces.

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Naturescaping : making more water efficient gardens