UC Master Gardeners of San Mateo & San Francisco
University of California
UC Master Gardeners of San Mateo & San Francisco

Water Wisdom in a Drought

Landscapes Without Lawns April 2015

With the drought on everyone's mind, a talk on "Water Wise Gardening" drew a sizable crowd to an Atherton's 2015 Earth Day event in Holbrook-Palmer Park, by Julie Montanari, a master gardener and landscape designer from San Mateo. Read a summary of that presentation. 

Additional resources:

University of California Garden Web

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Water restrictions and conservation should be taken into consideration when deciding on starting an edible home garden. If local water allocation allows for an edible garden, homeowners can grow fruits and vegetables in their backyard using water-wise practices.  Check out what UC says about planning your garden in a drought year.

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Irrigation controllers are commonly used to set start times, frequency and duration of a home's sprinkler or drip system. Over irrigation is very common, most home landscapes irrigation times and frequencies can be reduced by 20 to 40 percent with little to no effects on landscaping.  Check out what UC says about irrigation in a drought year.


Water Conservation

Some good advice from our friends at Sloat Garden Center

All of us are facing drought conditions that may or may not change in the next months. 

Below are tips to help you conserve water and still enjoy your garden. I also recommend visiting your local water district websites for great conservation information, grey water usage tips and drought condition updates (see links at bottom of this note):

  • Proper planning and planting practices will improve your success in the garden. While there are numerous plants that are considered less thirsty or “drought tolerant”, the truth of the matter is that any plant, regardless of type, requires water to become established. Cacti and succulents are an exception in that they need very little water, whether established or not.
  • When you are planting new plants this season, consider using water holding polymers such as Soil Moist. These non-toxic granules will hold water longer than soil alone, thus minimizing moisture loss due to evaporation. 
  • Applying mulch such as Microbark or Forest Mulch Plus will also reduce moisture loss as well as keep roots cool. Both practices are recommended for in-ground and container planting. Use mulches on established and new plantings.
  • When watering plants, especially if a drip system is used, irrigate for an appropriate amount of time. You do not save water by irrigating for a shortened amount of time, just the opposite. When you do not add enough water to the root zone, plants get thirsty faster and more water is lost to evaporation. The result is that you will need to be irrigating more often. You will get better results irrigating for a longer period of time (more deeply), less often. Watering early in the day is always recommended to cut down on evaporation. Never water to the point of runoff. Focus your watering, whether an irrigation system or hose watering, on the plant root zones and don’t allow runoff down the sidewalk or driveway. Hit your target. 
  • Choose fertilizers carefully. Use transplant fertilizers such as EB Stone Organics Sure Start at the time of planting to hasten establishment. Feed with an appropriate food 6 weeks later, especially vegetables and flowers. Established plants need a feeding in spring and late summer, or fall at minimum, to keep them looking good. Consider using dry or slow release fertilizers in containers as opposed to water soluble foods. Dry fertilizers will feed your plants for a longer period of time.
  • Ensure that your irrigation equipment is functioning properly and is the right system for the job. If you have automated irrigation controllers, consider replacing them with Smart controllers (utilizing weather patterns to irrigate) or manually operate them when needed. Replace washers on hoses and water bibs to prevent leakage. Run water at a moderate flow rather than opening the tap all the way, especially when hand watering. Use shut off valves on hoses so that water is not wasted as you move about the garden.
  • Consider reducing the size of your lawn or replacing it. Sheet mulching, a layered mulch system that suppresses weed and grass growth, is a very efficient method for reclaiming the space and provides a good base for replacement with low-water-use groundcovers and shrubberies.

Together, we hope to come through these drought conditions with water to spare and a deeper understanding of how to use it wisely, regardless of the weather.

MORE SMART TIPS

The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) offers water conservation programs to help you use water efficiently and save money!

Save Our Water is a statewide program aimed at helping Californians reduce their everyday water use.

Links to Bay Area water agencies.

Webmaster Email: kmstewart@ucanr.edu