Water is consumed by all living things to survive. We use it for everything, from cleaning, to cooling, to cooking, to powering the electricity in our homes. By far, the biggest user of water is the agricultural community. With the need to grow food for the entire world, it’s not surprising that the amount of available water has decreased substantially even from just ten years ago.
Here in arid southern California, we are acutely aware of limited water supply and are doing our part to conserve what’s left as best we can. In recent years, much research has been conducted in the name of conserving water in our own homes and yards. Of course, we want our landscape to look nice… but how can we sustain the dwindling water supply while delivering moisture to our plants and other vegetation? The Yard Fairy looks at ways to cut down on water use while helping San Diego homeowners save money and resources.
Lawn areas are the most water-intensive parts of a garden. One of the best ways to cut back on water use outdoors is to consider removing or reducing the size of your lawn. To put this in perspective, think about the 40 or so inches of water your entire lawn needs in a year to stay thriving and green. Add to this the chemical fertilizers required to keep it green and weed free, along with the gas emissions from a lawn mower and blower used by your maintenance crew… not to mention their truck, and the cost of disposing the grass clippings in the local landfill. This should give you a sense of how much it really costs to have a lawn. Many San Diego homeowners are now converting their former lawns to low water landscapes, making use of alternatives such as low maintenance ground cover, low water plants, and extended hardscapes. This significantly cuts down on water use, which is something desperately needed in this area of the world.
You may wonder how to accomplish this in your own yard. With a little advice from a professional, plus a strategic conversion plan, cultivating a low water landscape that is not only beautiful but optimally functional is easier than one might think. Here are some tips for getting started:
Sit down and plan out what features you’d like to see in your garden. Select specific shapes and colors of beds and plants, considering the many different styles of landscape design that there are to choose from. Make a list of your favorite plants, particularly those native to our part of California or ones that come from other Mediterranean climates. Clip out inspirational photographs from magazines. Take pictures of local landscapes that you admire. Here at The Yard Fairy, we can help you sort through these ideas and come up with a cohesive plan for a new, low water landscape that is strikingly beautiful and uniquely your own.
Choose succulents for your low water garden. Succulents store water in the fleshy parts of the plant’s leaves, so they are more likely to thrive in extreme heat or survive a drought. A forgetful gardener can rest easy knowing his plant beds are filled with easy-to-care-for succulents, which also happen to look luscious as a featured part of the landscape. With all the different types of succulents, you’re bound to find plants in the color and height preference of your choice. Once you select your favorites, you can set about replacing the more water-intensive plants with this type of plant. As well as being drought tolerant, succulents aren’t too picky with soil type. Even with our problematic California soil they will easily grow and thrive.
Add shade to prevent water loss. Plant several trees or higher growing plants on the West and South side of your garden to shield the more low growing plants from the sun’s damaging rays. Or, if you don’t want the hassle of growing and maintaining a tree, then perhaps select the shady spots of your house as the areas to develop the landscape. Even partial shade is enough to save some water for your plants, and you will surely enjoy spending time in those shady areas during the heat of the summer.
Opt for natural boulders and stone around plants. Rocks come in a wide range of color and sizes, so they too can provide interest in the garden, and they never need to be watered or tended for. You might incorporate a dry rock bed or create a stunning rock design in a place where plants would normally be. Plants love to be paired with boulders and rocks, as the moisture in the soil seems to accumulate around them, and the rocks provide some heat stabilization for the plants’ roots.
Group plants together according to their water needs. This is known as Hydrozoning. If you have to have a certain plant that happens to need lots of water such as Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), then find some others that also like that amount of water. Place them together in their own little planter area with their own irrigation zone. By arranging plants in this manner, you won’t waste anymore water than you would need on a single plant.
Always add mulch around your plants. Mulch placed on the soil blocks the sun’s rays just a bit more, so that water stays in the soil and gets to the plant’s root system better. Without it, direct sun hits the soil, causing water to evaporate more quickly which means you must water more often to provide the moisture your plants need. The soil in our region tends to develop a thin, hard crust on them which causes the water to take longer to penetrate. By placing mulch on top of this layer, any irrigation water is first absorbed by the mulch, then released more slowly to the soil below.
The Yard Fairy prefers organic mulches such as wood chip or humic compost, as these are better for the environment, your plants and won’t contaminate the air you breathe and the soil you walk upon. Put your mulch down around plants in a layer 2″ to 4″ thick. You might even try creating your own mulch using a home composting system. This will further reduce your family’s impact on the environment. For more information, consult with The Yard Fairy who can take you through this process step by step.
An automatic irrigation system is a must in San Diego county if we want our landscape to thrive. Unfortunately, it is also a key area of water waste. Check your irrigation system regularly to make sure there is minimal overspray on to walkways, patios and driveways. Be sure there are no leaks, and that the zone run times are adjusted to give just the right amount of water to the different areas of your yard throughout the year. Simply doing these few routine maintenance checks can make a world of difference in the size of your water bill.
At The Yard Fairy we recommend the following components of a highly efficient irrigation system:
Rotating spray heads, such as the Hunter MP Rotator, instead of traditional sprinkler heads on lawn areas gives you an immediate saving.
Drip irrigation technology such as Netafim drip line to further reduce water use in planter areas. It also overcomes many of the problems of using spray heads too close to the house, which can damage stucco. Finally, drip irrigation solves the problem of water flow being blocked by plants as they grow larger.
Smart, ET-based irrigation controllers, such as the Weathermatic Smartline. This type of controller has a wireless weather station that sends local weather data to the controller every night, automatically adjusting the run times on each of your irrigation zones. Smart controllers know when it’s raining, and turn themselves off until the soil has dried out. They also know when the weather has been extra hot and dry, and in that case they tell the controller to run longer. Other cool features of Smart Irrigation controllers: they take into account soil and plant types, and factor in slope height. Based on the information they receive, the controller can break up longer run times into shorter cycles that allow the water to be better absorbed by the soil, thereby reducing runoff.