Gardening in a Drought

                While hand watering my container plants on Wednesday, the approved day to water in my district’s guidelines, I thought about comments people made to me last week. They were basically of two kinds:      

                “We’re all going to have to move out of California.”

                “We can’t have gardens anymore. There is no water.”

                These musings led me to consider, what is a garden? How many plants do you need to have a garden?

                How am I going to keep watering these thousand or so plants that I (and my crew) are responsible for, now that we’ve brought them into the world? How am I going to keep watering even these few dozen container plants, if this drought is the new normal for California?

                Some of our Quercus plants are grown for revegetation projects, intended to eventually help a disturbed or natural area return to some semblance of wild.  Most of our plants are intended for residential and small commercial landscapes. We primarily grow California native species, many of which will eventually be part of low water-use landscapes, part of the solution of gardening in the new California.

                What I was hand watering, however, and thinking about, were some of the hundreds of my personal plants, many of them in containers in my front porch, which I grandly call my conservatory since it has two walls of glass. I already save water from household use for plants, use gray-water on ornamental trees, have drip and timers and mulch and areas I don’t water at all (brown, brown, brown: just look away, move on, get back to those lovely conservatory plants…).

                Is it possible that we will run out of water?

                During the most recent drought, we were amazed at how the rivers kept flowing, albeit sluggishly. But have we wrung out all the stored water the last go-round? If this drought (or, as some experts think, this continuation of the same drought) goes on another five years, or more, will even more trees in the forests and oak woodlands die?

                The plain truth is, we don’t know.

                All we know is we can do everything we can think of to be efficient with our precious water resource. Not just during a hot and dry July, but also in a rainy February. Here’s things we know to do:

  • Fix leaks – the #1 water waster.
  • Reconsider the lawn. Remove it, or reduce it, and/or switch to a low water species.  Replace some or all of it with coyote brush, yarrow, Kurapia, Bee’s Bliss Sage, or an entire redesigned garden room of low-water-use mixed plantings and open space.
  • Gray water systems, catch basins, rain barrels, compost (which helps soil hold more water), mulch.
  • The majority of the garden planted in climate-adapted, low-summer-water plant species. That doesn’t mean no edible garden or home orchard.

                The solution of how to garden in a drier California will be found. Many will resist. The inevitable will overtake us all. We can not know the future precipitation, but it does not hurt to flex and adapt, to be prepared. To neither predict doomsday nor live in denial.

                I will get more and more creative to figure out ways to use water efficiently. I will support leaders’ efforts to figure out ways to conserve and manage what water we have, every year. So that I can keep hand-watering my little pots of succulents, by container lime tree, and my hanging spider plants. So we can keep watering these little California native and other water-saving species in our nursery. Mindful of each drop.



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