A husband and wife from out of town were about to make an offer on a hilltop, ranch-style home with a mature garden. They asked if I would walk the property with them to address their concerns about the garden’s high water use. Here is a menu of suggestions, from easiest to most difficult and from least expensive to most costly, that you can incorporate into your own landscaping.
Irrigation: Few irrigation systems are as efficient as they could be. Start by auditing your system regularly, looking for broken or leaking heads, leaky valves and backflow devices. Check that the water pressure is correct for your system. Make sure that the watering days and run times are accurate and that the proper amount of water is being applied to prevent runoff.
Water harvesting: Rainwater harvesting is not practical in Southern California, but harvesting gray water can be. Several systems are available for retrofitting, as well as new construction. The Internet is a good place to start your homework.
Plant grouping: Check the water requirements of each plant in your landscape. You may be watering three or four times a week because one or two plant varieties in an area need regular water, while others in the same area only need one or two water cycles per week. Replant items so those that need more water are clustered together in smaller areas like entry courtyards or patios. Thirsty plants should be close to the house; drought-tolerant plants (California natives and plants from the Mediterranean, Australian and South African regions) can be farther away.
Lawns: Because lawns can be the biggest water users in a yard, removing as much grass as possible will quickly drop water usage. Synthetic turf has its place for putting greens, kids’ play areas and dog runs. If you enjoy living and entertaining outdoors, replace big lawns with permeable paving. Try creating patios of flagstone or stone pavers on decomposed granite. Another good surface is decomposed granite mixed with pea gravel. Around the perimeter of the new patios, create berms and swales to direct water. Then add plantings to create shade, screening, interest, texture and fragrance.
Bill Schnetz, President
Certified Landscape Professional
Schnetz Landscape Inc.