Tag Archives: drought

Drought Tolerant Landscaping

Courtesy of SacramentoAppraisalBlog.com*
Photo Courtesy of SacramentoAppraisalBlog.com*

With severe drought conditions across large swatches of the west and pockets of the rest of the United States, many homeowners are looking for ways to conserve water on landscaping. But there’s no need to rip out your whole yard and replace it with gravel—unless you want to. There are plenty of other ways to create a drought-tolerant landscape while also creating a beautiful and functional space. And drought-tolerant landscaping not only saves water immediately, but will be more resilient against future droughts. Here are some ideas:
Take on manageable pieces
Identify your biggest areas of water consumption. Besides lawns, the biggest areas of water use tend to be rose gardens, summer vegetables and cut flower gardens. If you’re not ready to eliminate these areas entirely, figure out how you might want to reduce their size. A rose garden, for example, could be made into a smaller group of favorite bushes. Vegetables and cut flowers can go in containers or raised beds where you will have more control over how much water they get. Mix compost into soil for better moisture retention.

Make your lawn more water-efficient
If you want to keep a lawn, consider downsizing to a smaller swatch, picking a spot where you’ll get the most use, like a play area for kids. Find low water grasses for your area. Raise the blades on your lawn mower—keeping grass longer will reduce evaporation and promote deeper root growth. Leave clippings on the grass after mowing to help retain moisture and return nutrients to the soil–extra clippings can also be tossed on the compost pile. Aerate soil with a soil aerator tool to reduce runoff and help water absorb into the soil.

Or go lawn-free
Consider replacing your lawn with an alternate ground cover. Try ornamental grasses for interesting textures, low-growing flowering plants for seasonal color or edibles like low-growing herbs or strawberries. Some cities offer financial incentives for switching to a drought-tolerant landscape or for using gray water (reused water from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other kitchen appliances.) Check your area for opportunities.

Add more areas of low-water use
Replace a section of lawn with an outdoor seating area, a sandbox for kids or a raised bed with herbs. Create intrigue by laying down paths of flagstone, pavers, gravel, mulch or other porous material. Add new focal points like a porch swing, fire pit, or a patio. Instead of water-thirsty blooms, think of other ways to incorporate color with colorful perennials, planters, chairs or bright native grasses.

Optimize your sprinkler system
Inspect your sprinkler system for leaks, broken heads or misdirected heads that water driveways, sidewalks, or the street. Make sure the system runs early in the morning or late in the day. Consider a “smart” system that will monitor the soil and automatically adjust watering as necessary. Try watering less frequently or for shorter periods. When reducing your irrigation, make changes gradually, so plants and trees have time to adjust.

Water smartly
If you have plants with high water needs, plant them together. Use a drip irrigation system or soaker hose to minimize run off and evaporation. Watering deeply and infrequently encourages deeper roots and more resilient plants. Take advantage of natural sources of water by putting in plants next to paths, driveways and other spots where water run off naturally occurs. Direct eave spouts into raised beds or other planted areas and consider using rainbarrels to collect rain water.

Go native
Native plants are a great choice for drought-tolerant landscaping because they won’t need much (if any) watering once established. Over time native plants have developed a natural resistance to pests and won’t require added chemicals and special care. For ideas on good native plants for your area, ask at a local nursery, look on the EPA’s listing of native and regionally appropriate plants, or contact your local extension office.

Plant smartly

Shrubs, perennials, bulbs and trees use less water than most annuals and lawns and well-established plants use less water than newly-planted ones. Evergreens and other trees are also a good choice—they’re drought-resistant and offer shade that helps retain moisture in the rest of the yard. Cover steep areas with deep-rooted native ground covers and/or shrubs to discourage water run-off and erosion. Mulching is essential—it helps soil retain moisture and keeps weeds at bay. Use organic mulch like bark, cocoa husks, or pine needles that decompose and nourish the soil. Layer mulch about three inches deep and replace as necessary.

And don’t worry too much about the pool
New research indicates that pools use only about as much water as a lawn of the same size. And covering a pool will cut water use by 50-70 percent, making a covered pool about equal in water use to drought-tolerant landscaping.

 

* Click here for more info on how to order “Brown Grass Is Sexy” signs.

Phone Apps Target Water Wasters

The community reporting app has added a drought section inspired by the social media hashtag #droughtshaming
The community reporting app has added a drought section inspired by the social media hashtag #droughtshaming

With Californians being urged to cut water use as the state’s historic drought drags on, a growing number of local water agencies are enlisting the public to play water cop with their smartphones.

From Long Beach to Placer County, officials are rolling out apps that allow users to snap and send photos of homes and businesses that are violating watering restrictions or operating broken and wasteful irrigation systems.

The apps put more boots on the ground to spot waste and leaks that might go unnoticed, officials say. They say the high-tech citizen reporting programs are intended to encourage water conservation, and not to be used as evidence to fine offenders.

But at least one private company is taking things a step further. Creators of Vizsafe, a neighborhood watch app, have added a feature allowing users to map photos of water wasters — a practice dubbed “drought shaming” on Twitter and Instagram.

The company’s app provides people with useful information about their communities, said Peter Mottur, chief executive of Rhode Island-based Vizsafe. “People have a right to hold others accountable and that is what I think we are doing.”

Privately reporting excessive water use or leaks that have gone unnoticed is “fantastic,” said Karen North, a professor of social media and psychology at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“But to the extent that people then publicly shame each other for that behavior,” she said, it could force “a lot of really solid compliance, but it can also lead to a lot of animosity.”

Matthew Kahn, a professor of economics at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, said the mere existence of the apps could increase conservation.

“While we all fear Orwell’s Big Brother,” he said, “we all try harder when we are being watched, even if that is a little creepy. You may need these social apps to motivate these behavioral changes.”

Long Beach’s water department released its first app to report water waste in 2010, but revamped it in August so users could add photos, said Melissa Keyes, a special projects coordinator who helped design the service.

The number of app-generated complaints initially increased five-fold, to about 25 a day, but has recently returned to lower levels, she said. “We wanted people to feel they had an outlet to get their frustrations out when they were doing their part and they saw others weren’t,” she said.

The anonymous complaints typically prompt a letter from the water agency to the property owner. Most complaints involve broken sprinklers or irrigation leaks, Keyes said, and often the owners aren’t aware of the problem. So far the city hasn’t seen fence fights erupt over use of the app, she said.

The water-waste app provided downtown Long Beach resident Sherry Ray-Von a convenient way to deal with a nearby apartment building resident who she said washed his car every day for months.

She tried to discuss the matter with the man, she said, but he shrugged her off.

When the upgraded city app came, she thought: “This is great. This is my chance to get this guy.”

She said she snapped a photo of the runoff, sent it to the water department and a few days later, the car washer stopped.

In Placer County, the water agency released a multipurpose water-saving app in May. It lets users report water waste, but it also features a shower timer that estimates how many gallons a person uses. So far, the agency has received 30 complaints, mostly about water runoff, said Matt Young, the agency’s director of customer services.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District forwards app complaints, most involving over-watering or irrigating outside permitted periods, to five water inspectors in the field, who remind offenders of the water usage rules, said spokesman Marty Grimes.

In Palm Springs, 67-year-old real estate salesman Victor Yepello said he used to see broken sprinklers and excessive watering when he biked around the city. But when he got home, he’d often forget the locations or to call the local water agency to complain, he said.

Then he discovered the Desert Water Agency’s new waste-reporting app. This summer, Yepello saw a small river of runoff coursing down Mesquite Avenue from a nearby house, so he stopped, snapped a photo and sent it and the address to the water agency.

Within a few hours, he said, an email came back telling him the problem was a broken irrigation line the property owner hadn’t noticed.

“I don’t see it as a way to snitch on your neighbor,” Yepello said. “If you spot something that is a real problem, report it.”