10 Quick Tips About Drought and Landscaping
This morning is a little grey, and we are looking out the window hoping it will turn to rain. Often during the winter you will hear groans when wet weather comes, but in California most of us are hoping that this long-awaited grey weather will turn into a full on rainstorm. Earlier in the season, blizzards and intense winter weather deluge the rest of the country while we Californians watched on from our mild climate, thankful it wasn't us. But now that we can see the bare Sierras (in tandem with the low rain from the previous year), many would not quibble over a blizzard or two - especially up in the mountains!
Even if today does turn into a rainstorm we have a long while yet before California has a replenished water system, which means we will all be taking the precautions that we can to limit the water we use. So, it seemed like a great time to share ten tips about landscaping and drought!
On To The Ten Tips!
Tip #1 Remove Part Or All Of Your Lawn
This is a tough one for many since a vibrant, emerald green turf has become the calling card of American landscaping. But it is also one of the worst culprits for water usage! The National Wildlife Federation (among other organizations, like the EPA), tell us that 50%-70% of our residential water goes toward landscaping, and most of that is for lawns. You can easily see the impact that you would have by removing part or all of your lawn -- for the overall drought as well as your water bill!
Tip #2 If You Must Keep Your Lawn, Make It More Water Efficient
Part of landscaping is having an environment that suits and pleases you - so some of us will want to keep our grass, and that is okay! There are still ways to make your grass more drought-friendly.
- Cut your grass longer that normal. The longer the blade of grass the deeper the root, which means your grass can tap in water hidden deeper in the soil.
- Aerate your lawn. This process takes small cores out of the lawn allowing for less water runoff (more water to the roots), and during the hotter months allows for more air circulation (so your grass doesn’t cook!). While you can aerate your lawn yourself, we suggest hiring a lawn care service instead of buying a machine that you will use once a year.
- Choose a drought tolerant grass, like Zoysia if you don't mind a grass that turns golden-brown during cold months but puts up with a lot of foot traffic, or Chewings fescue grass if you prefer green turf year round that handles moderate foot traffic. (As a bonus, unmown fescue results in a soft meadow look.)
Tip #3 Space Out Your Watering For Better Absorption
It is pretty well known that if you are going to water your yard during a drought, you want to get that rolling early in the day so that you don’t lose as much moisture to evaporation. But did you know that you can improve absorption by spacing your watering? Whether you water by hand or have an irrigation system, you can reduce water runoff with shorter watering sessions spaced by thirty minutes. This has the double benefit of more water going into your soil, and less tainted water (if you fertilize) going into the sewers.
Tip #4 California Natives Are No Strangers To Low Water Conditions
There are hundreds of native California plants for you to choose from, and they have naturally selected to our environment - which includes the drought seasons that California has periodically. Usually when people think about California natives, they tend to envision the tufted grasses and spiny shrubs that you frequently see on nature hikes. But really, California natives have tremendous variety. You can find beautiful showy flowers like the Showy Penstemon, Rockrose, and Broad-Leaf Lupine. If you are looking for natives with intoxicating scents, you are still in luck. Just a few options are Western Azalea, Western Pennyroyal, and Mock Orange. Prefer to an an edible element to your garden? While not native, there are several fruit trees that are drought tolerant and grow well in the SF Bay Area. Citrus trees are very drought tolerant, as are common fig trees (Ficus carica), Quince trees (which also have a beautiful fragrance), and delicious pomegranates.
Tip #5 Mulch Is Your Plant's BFF
We think that mulch is the unsung hero of the drought season. When you use an organic mulch, there are several benefits for your garden. First and foremost, mulch traps water and keeps soil moist, helping elongate those less frequent waterings during a drought. Also, during the warm months, mulch slows down the evaporation process and keeps your soil cooler. By using an organic or natural mulch, you also have the added benefit of soil enrichment - as the mulch breaks down, it's components mix into the soil.
We usually suggest avoiding rubber mulch, especially with edible gardens, because the rubber does eventually break down into the soil. And while stone mulch is popular, it does not help as much with water conservation. Natural mulches are definitely the way to go during a drought!
Tip #6 Watch Where The Water Goes
If you are redesigning the layout of your garden, or are willing to do some transplanting, then watching the natural water pathways in your yard can really help you find the best place for your "thirstiest" plants. (Since rain is lacking at the moment, you may have to do this artificially with a hose.) Find the highest point in your yard and let your hose pump out enough water that you can watch the water runoff, and then pay attention to where it had a tendency to stop and pool. Since water has a tendency to naturally settle in that spot, that means is is a great area to plant!
Tip #7 Trees Should Have Water Priority
When we are really having to buckle down on watering our landscape and have to create a priority list, trees should always be at the top of the list. This is for two primary reasons:
- Trees are far more expensive to replace
- The shade provided by trees helps reduce evaporation, which helps your soil and plants retain moisture
So if you find that we are hitting the point where you have to ration water, make sure that your trees get a good, deep soak.
Tip #8 Hardscaping And Stonework - Beautiful And No Water Necessary
Making the decision to do a substantial amount of hardscaping or is not one to go into lightly. It has higher costs associated with it, and the design process usually goes best if you hire a landscape architect. That said, the outcome can be both stunning as well as water efficient. It can also be very long lasting, making it a great deal financially in the long run. (Check out our last blog Why We Love Flagstone (And You Should Too!) for more about the costs of flagstone)
Tip #9 Pool Ownership During a Drought
Pools are a pretty substantial (yet totally fun!) investment. But during a drought, a poorly maintained pool can have an even greater cost to your water bill and the environment. There are two big things that you can do to lower your pool's water usage:
- Invest in a well-fitted pool cover. The U.S. Energy Department estimates that uncovered pools require 30%-50% more refill water than their covered counterparts.
- Have a professional pool company check your pool for cracks and leaks - this can be a big water loss, and an estimated one-third of all pools in the U.S. have leaks.
Tip #10 Get An Irrigation Check-Up
An irrigation system is great for water conservation, as long as it is working properly! Generally it is good to get your system checked once per year, but during a drought that becomes especially important. In addition to making sure there are no leaks and all of the lines are working properly, it can also be a great time to talk to your irrigation specialist about setting up shorter and more frequent watering sessions (like we referred to in tip #3).
So there you are, ten tips to get you on the road to having a drought friendly landscape. We would love to hear from any of you about the things you have done to make your yard more water efficient!