One simple, cost-effective way to reduce your water use is to set up a greywater system that allows you to capture and redirect water from your washing machine for use on landscape trees, shrubs, ground covers, and lawn. (It should not be used on vegetable gardens where you are growing root crops or where edibles touch the ground.)
On average, a laundry-to-landscape system will recapture 17 gallons a day per person. For a family of four over one month, that amounts to a whopping 2,000 gallons for reuse.
Some counties offer rebate programs that cover all or part of the material costs for setting up a greywater system. The Santa Clara Valley Water District offers a Graywater Laundry to Landscape Rebate for properly connecting your washing machine to a greywater irrigation system. For most cities in the district the rebate is $200; some, such as Cupertino, are subsidizing the program and offering $400 per household.
According to Justin Burks, manager of the rebate program, “laundry to landscape greywater systems are simple, relative to other greywater systems. Most folks are able to set the system up over a long weekend or two.” But if you aren't all that handy, or just don't have the time, there are many trained professionals who can do the job for you. Installation prices range from around $700 to $1,000, including materials. A properly maintained system should last about 10 years.
Greywater can't be stored; it needs to be distributed to one or more areas that have been dug out, backfilled with mulch and are large enough to absorb the water. The mulch basin must be large enough to prevent runoff or pooling, and tubing needs to labeled appropriately so the water isn't used for drinking.
When you apply for the rebate, the water district will provide you with the square footage needed for a minimum mulch basin, based on your washer's age and type, the amount of laundry you do and the soil type on your property. In many areas, no permit is needed, but customers must verify that with their local planning or building department before starting the project.
No pre-inspection by the water district is necessary, but after installation, an inspector will visit to verify the system was set up and is performing properly. After passing the post-inspection, applicants will receive their rebate checks in four to six weeks.
When using the system, you will need to use biodegradable and non-toxic detergent (widely available) and avoid bleach, since it can be harmful to plants and soil. It's also best to avoid using greywater to irrigate acid-loving, pH-sensitive plants, such as blueberries, ferns, camellias, and rhododendrons.
“Recycling and reusing every drop of water that you possibly can not only saves you money, it's the right thing to do,” says Richard Santos, vice chair of the district's board of directors. “Using water wisely, especially on your landscape, is a win-win!”
But before you reach for that toolkit, go to the website valleywater.org to check out the rebate requirements and fill out the application. Wait to receive a Notice to Proceed before starting work.
Although a greywater system may not be at the top of your holiday wish list, it truly is a gift that will keep giving back — to you, your family and the planet!
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the December 10 print issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
And what about those trees, plants, and landscapes?
Forest fires are a needed natural occurrence. They clear out overgrown areas, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor — and encouraging a resurgence of native plants and an abundance of wildflowers. Native birds, bugs, and bees are drawn to the new growth, and they can reestablish themselves and thrive.
Fire can destroy invasive species (including weeds) and eliminate, or reduce, plant disease and insects that can cause significant damage to old-growth forests. When the humus layer is reduced, several unwanted pests can be eliminated as well, including sawflies, red pinecone beetles, and maple leaf cutters.
How do some trees and plants survive, when everything around them has burned? Native plants have root structures that can grow to 25 feet deep, and such roots are generally unaffected by a fire. They bring moisture up, allowing the plant to sprout just a few days or weeks after the fire.
Many trees that grow in fire-prone areas develop thick bark, which protects the inner (cambium) layer from damage. This layer is responsible for moving water and nutrients to keep the tree alive.
Ponderosa pine is a good example. It has thick, flaky bark and drops its lower branches – which protects it from some fires. Other species, like the shortleaf pine or California buckeye, have extensive root systems and dormant underground buds that quickly re-sprout after a burn.
Some species of pine (Jack, lodgepole, hickory) regenerate by fire-stimulated seed dispersal. They have serotinous (hard, thick, resin-sealed) cones that can hang on the tree for many years. Only when the resin is melted by fire are the cones able to open and release their seeds.
Other plants such as Ceanothus, Coffeeberry, and Redberry have seeds with tough coatings and depend on fire to break their dormancy.
Ash from burned trees and decaying plants can be beneficial, too. Nutrients (potassium, calcium, magnesium and other trace elements) that were held captive in old, decaying plant matter are released into the soil in ash, benefiting surrounding vegetation.
Without wildfires, plant diversity can diminish significantly or disappear entirely. And without plant diversity, the ecosystem of native birds, bees and bugs would fail, leading to the extinction of some species.
So, what should you do after a fire? Although it is difficult, patience is the best approach. Trees may need six to 12 months to show signs of recovery. Here are some steps to take:
- First, hose down your trees and plants. Wetting everything down will allow the surviving leaves to transpire (“breathe”) and will help nutrient-rich ash seep into the soil.
- After the waiting period, have large, dead limbs removed, but try to leave all new growth intact so that the plant can manufacture food.
- After about two years, you can start to make appropriate pruning cuts to reshape the plant or tree into a healthy and appealing form.
- Small plants that have been severely damaged can be cut to the ground. Many will re-sprout from the roots.
- If you have a prized tree or plant that you want to save, the worst thing you can do is move too quickly! It needs as many branches as possible in order to produce enough new leaves to recover.
If you suffered significant or total landscape loss, you have an opportunity to rethink what you really want and need in your landscape. Consider replanting only native or Mediterranean plants, low-water options.
Think about creating a fire-safe zone around your home by building concrete or stone walls, patios, and walkways. Don't over-plant vegetation close to your home — that will only add fuel to any future fire that gets started. Create fire-breaks using flower beds, gardens and appropriate ground covers close to your home.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the November 12 print issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
Our dog, Cooper is very much loved and VERY spoiled. Not only does she have a special outdoor space, she has her own lounge chair, her outdoor area offers both sun and shade, and she has full run of our home, with doggie beds in almost every room!
So, as I said, we DO love her, and we are careful to pick up and dispose of her poop. However, her outdoor area has started to smell bad, and I am determined to see if I can fix that.
I've reached out to several Master Gardeners, done a fair bit of online research and talked to a couple of our local nurseries to see if plants can make a difference. Below are recommended options for pet owners to try.
Flowers: Phlox prefers sun but will tolerate a bit of shade; the plants are quite fragrant and come in white, pink, salmon, purple, red and bi-colored. Dianthus is low-growing, likes full sun and thrives either in containers or in the ground. It has a spicy vanilla-like scent. Try ‘Fruit Punch Sweetie Pie' (pink) or ‘Itsaul White'. Stock is quite fragrant, can grow in part shade or sun and is available in many shades of pink, purple and white.
Shrubs for full sun: Roses are good choices. ‘Mr. Lincoln' is scarlet-red with an incredible scent, and ‘Princesse Charlene de Monaco' has double light-apricot to pink flowers. Buddleia (Butterfly bush) will attract butterflies to your garden from mid-summer to mid-fall; try ‘Blue Chip' (purple) or Miss Ruby (magenta). Peonies are shrubby perennials that go completely dormant in winter, but the gorgeous spring flowers and enticing fragrance make it well worth trying. Good choices are ‘Festiva Maxima' (pure white blooms with crimson flecks), ‘Sarah Bernhardt' (medium pink double blooms) and ‘Shirley Temple' (soft pink to ivory white).
Shrubs for part sun: Viburnum is a tough spring-blooming plant with a distinctive spicy scent. Check out ‘Spice Girl' (pink),'Fragrant Snowball' (white) or ‘Spice Baby' (white). Daylilies grow in full sun to part shade, but only a few are known for their pleasing aromas — ‘Savanna Debutante' (apricot-yellow), ‘Hyperion' (lemon yellow) and ‘Chance Encounter' (rose/mauve).
Trees: Crabapples like full sun, have showy flowers in the spring and provide fruit that birds absolutely love; try ‘Prairiefire' (vibrant pinkish-red buds) or ‘Royal Raindrops' (magenta flowers with deep purple foliage).
Trailing option for containers or rock gardens: Sweet Alyssum, works in full sun to part shade. Consider ‘Snow Princess' (white) or ‘Dark Knight' (deep purple).
Vines: ‘Scentsation' honeysuckles prefer sun and are extremely prolific and fragrant. Birds and butterflies love this variety. ‘Sweet Autumn' clematis blooms from late summer to fall and has an intoxicating aroma; butterflies and pollinators love its dainty, white star-shaped flowers. Plant in sun to part shade.
Of course, many herbs provide a fabulous scent as well as culinary delights. Options include lavender, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, marjoram, thyme, catmint, and mint.
Most of the above options can be grown in containers — a great idea since most plants won't survive (much less thrive) with the heavy concentration of nitrogen found in animal urine.
Even if you don't own a pet, the recommended plants will not only brighten your landscape but entice you into the garden with their tantalizing scents! Think about using them near an outdoor dining area, gazebo, hammock, or other areas where you like to spend time. You'll be able to take plenty of time out to smell way more than the roses.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the October 15 print issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
Even if you are not planning to plant many veggies and herbs this fall, you should definitely invest the time to plant a cover crop in both your garden and raised beds. Cover crops take very little effort. You plant them once, water initially to get them started, and then let Mother Nature take over — assuming we are blessed with another wet winter.
Here in the Bay Area, the primary need is to add nitrogen to our heavy clay soil in order to loosen it up and feed our plants. Excellent nitrogen-fixing crops include vetch, cowpeas, fava beans, and crimson clover. Buckwheat is a great choice if you want a quick fix. It germinates in about five days and is ready to be turned under in about a month. You can feed your soil now, and still get a great fall garden planted.
For information and cool-season crops, don't miss the upcoming Fall Garden Market at Martial Cottle Park's Harvest Festival Oct. 7. The festival celebrates the agricultural heritage of Santa Clara Valley. There will be food, entertainment, activities for the kids, park tours, and more.
You will find seedlings of many Asian and Italian greens such as Chinese broccoli, pak choi, tatsoi, chicory, escarole, and radicchio. There will be dozens of varieties of beets, cabbage, and cauliflower. Try growing a few leafy greens that are great in soups, stews, and stir-fry meals, such as chard, kale, and mustard. They are cut-and-come-again plants that will keep on giving through next spring. And, if like me, you can't live without a fresh salad, you will find a variable salad bar of lettuce, spinach, arugula, cress, and mache to grow; all you'll need for serving them is a little vinaigrette!
And yes, there will be peas, turnips, onions, and even kohlrabi, collards, and artichokes.
Don't miss out on the blooming beauties: Agrostemma, Clarkia, Delphinium, Larkspur, Linaria, Snapdragons, Sweet Peas. Flowers not only add beauty, but bring in the bees and beneficial insects necessary for pollination and fending off the “bad bugs” that can damage your garden.
Whether you are a seasoned-gardener or just starting out, you can pick up lots of tips from the festival's free educational talks — Amazing Succulents, Cool Season Vegetables, Glorious Garlic, and Native Plants.
Growing your own food, whether with your family or by yourself, is not only enjoyable but truly important! You will conserve water, waste less (no one wants to throw away what they have worked to grow), avoid using harmful chemicals, nurture your soil, and help support and feed our native birds, bees, and other insects. And most importantly, you will make a huge, positive impact on your children; kids actually will eat what they grow! So head on out to one of our upcoming Fall Markets, and dig in!
Upcoming Fall Fall Markets
There are three upcoming Santa Clara County Master Gardeners Fall markets The main event will be at San Jose's Martial Cottle Park (5283 Snell Ave.) on Oct. 7, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free, but there is a $6 parking fee.
Other Master Gardener Fall Garden Markets will be presented Sept. 23, 10 a.m.-noon, Palo Alto Demo Garden, 851 Center Dr., Palo Alto; and Oct. 14, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Guglielmo Winery, 1480 E. Main Ave., Morgan Hill.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the September 17 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
The most important is to create a defensible space around the house perimeter. Ideally, you should have a 30-foot “free zone” from all buildings, structures, and decks. This space gives firefighters room to their job if needed. Often firefighters will bypass a home that has little to no defensible area in which to work, opting instead for one they think they will be more likely to save.
If at your place it isn't practical to remove all vegetation, it is extremely important to remove any dead plant material — dry leaves, pine needles and highly flammable plants such as Italian cypress, pine, fir, spruce, eucalyptus, junipers, palms, Japanese honeysuckle and some ornamental grasses.
Create fire-safe zones by building concrete or stone patios, walkways, and walls. Flower beds, gardens, appropriate ground covers and mulch placed near your home can also serve as a fire-break.
Removing highly flammable plants and replacing them with fire-resistant options is highly recommended — especially if you live in a high-fire zone.
What makes a tree or shrub fire-resistant? If it's non-oily, deciduous (drops its leaves in winter), large leaved and/or has high-water content. These fare best when exposed to high heat or fire. To ensure that your plants are as fire resistant as possible, make sure they're healthy, well hydrated and free of dead wood.
Excessive vegetation adds fuel to a flame. The plants nearest your home should be widely spaced and low-growing. Avoid large masses. Instead, plant in small clusters using a wide variety of species. Here are some fire-resistant options to consider:
Trees: California live oaks, native redwoods, California bay laurel, maples, citrus, cherry, apple, strawberry tree, dogwood, ash, loquat, ‘Little Gem' magnolia, toyon, white alder, weeping bottlebrush, redbud.
Large shrubs: Aloe, ceanothus, cotoneaster, escallonia, currant, pineapple guava, flowering quince, Island bush poppy, Pacific wax myrtle, photinia, pittosporum, mock orange, plumbago, podocarpus, laurel, viburnum.
Flowering plants: Azalea, camellia, hibiscus, lavender, monkey flower, California fuchsia, coral bells, society garlic, salvia, rhododendron.
Ground covers: Woolley yarrow, Ajuga reptans, purple rockrose, creeping coprosma, creeping thyme, ice plant, mock strawberry, wild strawberry, evergreen candytuft, lantana, Lamium, African daisy, wooly thyme, star jasmine, sedum.
Vines: Trumpet vine, potato vine, Cape honeysuckle.
Mulching around your trees and shrubs will help them retain moisture, reduce weeds and provide nutrients to the soil. However, if you are in a high fire area, avoid using wood chips and or pine needles, which can feed a fire. If you do have wood-based mulch, make sure to keep it moist, and add a layer of compost on top. Using compost by itself or layers of rocks or pebbles might be a better choice.
Raging fires can produce extremely high heat. Investigators of the 2008 Trabing Fire near Watsonville reported that temperatures had reached more than 3,000 degrees. Unfortunately, no plant would survive that!
If there is a fire near you, please heed the advice from your local fire authorities and evacuate if and when you are asked to do so.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
Photo: Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the August 17 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.