A New Era

This article first appeared in the April 4 edition of the Porterville Recorder newspaper.

               You’ve probably heard that on April 1, the state Water Quality Control Resource Board announced new state-wide water restrictions. This was no April Fool’s joke, however. Stricter restrictions were expected, so there was nothing surprising in the announcement, and nothing to be too worried about if you already have a low-water-use garden or plans to replace your lawn and other water-thirsty landscape plants. It is not too late to start this year. I’ve not met anyone yet who has regretted changing their landscape to one that works better with the climate. Lower water, lower maintenance, more California native plants are the trends for California gardens.

With landscaping, the new restrictions will affect mostly large commercial developments and places like golf course, cemeteries, parks and schools, although cities, water districts and towns will have to report to the state how they are enforcing lawn-watering-restriction and other methods of conservation. For new developments, potable (drinkable) water will only be able to be used if water-efficient drip systems are installed and utilized. The lawn in median strips in cities and commercial lots won’t be watered. State-owned properties will replace lawn with low-water-use plantings. Many of those changes will not be reversed. So we are really talking about a new era in California landscaping.

A new low-lawn garden being installed in Visalia, CA
A new low-lawn garden being installed in Visalia, CA


Here are some things you can do immediately:

1) Repair any broken parts in your existing irrigation system.

2) Review with your hired gardeners the need to adjust the controller seasonally, and to only water the lawn twice a week unless other restrictions apply.

3) Reduce or eliminate watering with sprinklers during the daytime when evaporation is at the highest. The best times to water is in the evening or early morning.

4)Replace sprinklers with drip irrigation wherever possible. Where you retain sprinklers, replace them with the newer water-efficient rotating heads wherever possible. Visit an agriculture-supply irrigation specialist to get advice. We have Crouzet’s Irrigation in Porterville, for example, and the staff there are very friendly and helpful whether you are a farmer or a homeowner.

5) Reduce or eliminate fertilizing your ornamental plants during a drought. They and you don’t need to try to support even more growth during stressful times. For this reason as well, only prune as needed for safety and don’t prune more than 20 percent off any tree or large shrub. Pruning is wounding, and in stressful times, we try to reduce wounds on our plants. Stressed plants are the first magnets for pests and diseases, and this includes even our best California native plant species.

Consider which of your plants can be replaced over time. Of course, lawn is the first best choice to replace, especially if your lawn is a cool-season species like fescue. Bermuda grass is actually a low-water-use ground cover, but a large Bermuda grass lawn is still a water guzzler compared to other options. This may be a plan carried out over time. Most districts that restrict water have a exclusion in place for new landscapes and for water-efficient landscapes, so you can still plant in a drought. In fact, many districts have incentives, supported by the state and Propostion 1 funding. Don’t plant any more Coastal Redwoods. Please.

Where necessity dictates, design thrives. You do not have to live with a

Lawn free, low-water & lovely! Visalia, CA
Lawn free, low-water & lovely! Visalia, CA

boring or dry, ugly landscape just because you can’t water it everyday. Many of us love the desert, but that doesn’t mean a desert-like scheme works well for every style of architecture or every homeowner. There are lots of possibilities beyond lawn and foundation-planting in urban developments or lawn as default space-filler on large lots. Yes, you can have flowers and conserve water. Probably not the same flowers as your grandmother, but your grandchildren will thank you for keeping California and our valley a productive and possible place to thrive!

Utilize water recycling whenever possible for ornamental plantings. It’s amazing what is possible once you decide to “go for it” and re-use laundry and other water. Like with most things, the hardest part is deciding to change old habits. Then, excitement and a feeling of confidence returns. I’ve seen it over and over as I work with clients. It is more enjoyable to get in front of the curve and make a decision to be a pioneer rather than wait to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new era. If you are reading this, you are probably pioneer-minded, and I salute and congratulate you.

A new era. There will be hard choices. Money spent. But we can do this.

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