About 65 percent of Georgia is currently grappling with abnormally dry weather or drought. Georgia hasn’t seen significant rainfall in over a month, and bodies of water across the state are at dangerously low levels. Governor Nathan Deal says it’s time Georgia residents start taking water conservation more seriously, and he has imposed a Level 2 drought response in 52 in counties, including the 10 counties comprising the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Northwest and western Georgia are the hardest hit regions of the state. These areas have been classified as being in “exceptional drought,” which is the worst category on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s scale. The Atlanta area is in “extreme drought,” the second-worst classification.

If you live in the Atlanta, you’ve probably observed the dry conditions with your own eyes. The brown, patchy lawns and dying shrubs and trees can’t be missed. And really it’s not surprising, considering only 20 inches of rain fell in the Atlanta region from March through October—which is nearly 13 inches below normal. On top of that, Atlanta has just experienced the second-hottest summer in its recorded history. Soil moisture levels are now critically low, approaching record low levels set in 2007 and 2011.

Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that unusually warm, dry weather patterns will continue in Georgia throughout the upcoming winter months. This is still another reason why the new water restrictions have been enacted.

Level 2 drought response: In a nutshell

So what exactly do the Level 2 water restrictions entail? For starters, homeowners are restricted to watering their lawns, shrubs and trees no more than twice a week. Exactly which days you can water depends on your house number. Even numbered addresses may water Wednesdays and Saturdays, and odd numbered addresses may water Thursdays and Sundays. Watering must be done between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m.; no watering is allowed in the heat of the day.

There are some exceptions to this rule. It is okay to use drip irrigation, soaker hoses, hoses with automatic cutoffs and handheld watering cans anytime during the day or week to water personal food gardens, as well as new or replanted seed, turf grass, seedlings or other plants for a period of 30 days following installation. Watering from wells and bodies of water on private property, or from an alternate source (e.g., grey water, rain water, air-conditioner condensate) is also permitted.

Aside from watering plants, all other outdoor water use at residence is prohibited, including washing hard surfaces such as streets, gutters, sidewalks and driveways; filling fountains, reflecting pools, waterfalls or other ornamental uses; filling installed swimming pools (except when necessary for health reasons or structural integrity); washing vehicles (cars, boats, motorbikes, golf carts, etc.) at home; and high-pressure washing of any buildings or outdoor structures (except for fire protection).

For those who do not comply with the water restrictions, be aware that local water departments will be on the lookout for violators and will be penalizing those individuals. Penalties can include fines, and even a required appearance in Municipal Court or water service shut-off for repeat offenders.

Water-smart landscaping and gardening

Some of these measures may sound severe, but keep in mind water conservation is very important, especially in times of drought. We must use water wisely to ensure we have an adequate, high-quality water supply for the present, but also for future generations.

All this is not to say you have to forego having beautiful landscaping and gardens. But it does require some careful planning and planting. At Oasis Landscapes & Irrigation, we can help you come up with a plan for your yard and garden that is both water-efficient and aesthetically-pleasing. For starters, we recommend some basic conservation tips:

Use low-water-use trees, shrubs and plants that are drought-tolerant and actually thrive in drier soil. Ginkgo biloba, crape myrtles, hawthorn, Leyland cypress, shagbark hickory, salvia, deer grass, pampas grass, flowering quince, coneflower, lavender and vinca are a few top choices in this regard.

Install new plants and transplants in autumn or early spring when temperatures are cooler. By doing so, you’ll need far less water to get the plants off to a good start. By the time summer arrives, the plants will have established deep, healthy root systems and won’t need nearly as much watering.

Make sure your sprinkler is placed to only water your grass, and not your house, patio, sidewalk or street—so you’re not directing water where it isn’t needed.

Check your irrigation system, hoses and nozzle heads periodically for leaks, and make any necessary repairs and adjustments—again, so you’re not wasting any water.

Add several inches of bark or hardwood mulch to the surface of the soil after planting. Mulch not only limits water loss, it also prevents the growth of weeds (which obviously compete for water).

Water in the morning or early in the evening, when there will be less water evaporation than in the heat of the mid-day. Of course, when you follow the Level 2 water restrictions (which prohibit watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) this is something you’ll already be doing.

Remember, we’re all in this together. Conserving water today will not only help us get through the drought, but it is an investment in our future!