In January 2014, Governor Jerry Brown declared a severe drought State of Emergency after 2013 became the driest year after 119 years in California history. This has initiated incentives from state officials and the president to prepare for water shortages, fund drought relief programs and encourage the community to conserve water and reduce water waste. California is asking that all of its residents cut their water use by 20% in order to meet our water needs in the upcoming year. Considering the severity of the drought we are experiencing, it is crucial that we come together as a community in order to preserve this precious resource.
Approximately 70% of our water use is spent indoors, and 30% of our water is used outdoors, mainly to water our lawns and gardens, although this can sometimes take up to 50% of our water use. Across the nation, landscape irrigation accounts for almost 1/3 of residential water use; that is more than 7 billion gallons per day. Unfortunately, 50% of the water used for watering our lawns is wasted due to overwatering, inefficient watering systems, evaporation and wind making this one of the most significant sources of water loss. By choosing to explore alternative ways to landscape our homes, we can reduce our water usage by 50%, reduce our maintenance costs, reduce the amount of waste going into our sewers and cut our water bill by half.
Xeriscaping or zerogardening refers to alternative ways to landscape our homes, using plants that flourish in our local weather, require little water or maintenance and is becoming increasing popular in drought-prone areas and areas with limited access to fresh water. By learning about the principles of this eco-friendly method of landscaping, we can begin to understand how it works and why it is a successful way to reduce our water usage and reduce our water cost.
The 7 Principles of Xeriscaping
- Analyzing the Site – Xeriscaping is about making your yard as resourceful as possible, considering cost, function, aesthetics, maintenance requirements, as well as water and energy efficiency. Analyzing the soil and mapping out sun patterns is also a part of this process, working with what you already have is the most practical way to start planning and designing.
- Choose Plants Wisely – Determine the type of soil you will be working with, and research plants that can thrive in it, using local plants and succulents that can survive in our weather will eliminate maintence and reduce watering needs. You can use websites like The California Garden Web by The University of California to learn more about native plants and maintenance requirements. (www.cagardenweb.ucanr.edu)
- Incorporate Turf – Although sometimes it is better to maintain some of our lawn, it is encouraged that we consider turf as an alternative to natural grass. With proper planning, installation, and maintence turf can bring a natural look to our landscape while further eliminating waste, maintenance cost and water consumption.
- Irrigate Efficiently – Use trees, plants, shrubs, and turf areas on different valves so you can time their irrigation separately if required. If watering by hand, avoid sprinklers that throw water high in the air or release a fine mist, the most efficient for grass are low-pressure, low angle sprinklers. Drip, spray or bubbler emitters are the most efficient for trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers. Never water between 10am and 6pm to reduce water evaporation, and it is suggested that you check and adjust your sprinkling system 4 times a year to accommodate weather conditions.
- Soil Improvements – There are variations of soil quality and composition, while clay soil is dense and takes long to absorb and release water, sandy soil doesn’t hold much water and can tend to dry out plants if not watered frequently. Prepare to make soil amendments, although this may not be needed for native plants.
- Use Mulch – Mulch covers soil, therefore reduces water evaporation, it also cools the soil under it, preventing weak growth and erosion. Organic mulches can be used on new beds since they nourish plants as they decompose, inorganic mulches, such as rocks and gravel, rarely need to be replaced but they should not be placed near the sunny south or west of the house, as these retain and radiate heat.
- Maintenance – Initially, xeriscapes will need to be watered, pruned and fertilized similarly to a traditional landscape, but it will decrease over time. Properly maintaining your xeriscape will allow plants to grown healthy and keep water use low, as well as time and money spent.
2014 is foreseen to be the hottest year in 500 years, 60% of California is already in severe drought, areas like the San Joaquin Valley are already starting to run out of potable water in their homes, relying on county-supplied water tanks, and the Los Angeles County is offering its residents up to $2,000 rebates for removing their lawns, as well as increasing their number of “water cops” and fines for water wasters. The problem isn’t as far to home as we think, California supplies 50% of America’s fruits and vegetables and the municipal water system has already declared its inability to supply water to our farmers, agriculture is expected to cost the state up to $2.2 billion dollars in losses this year. Knowing what critical condition our state is under, residents are encouraged to put their best efforts towards this cause, take the time to examine your home for water leaks, over watering, and run off. There are many resources and information that is accessible to everyone online and by visiting the local Imperial Irrigation District to educate ourselves and our families, if we all do our part, we can ensure our water supply can be enjoyed now and in the future.