I love rainy days. . .I love the pitter-patter sound of it, the smell of wet dirt, and fresh air. Rain nourishes our gardens, turns into snow in the Sierra Mountains (which in turn eventually melts and flows into our rivers), and provides balm for our spirits. Earth is appropriately called the “Blue Planet” since about 71% of it is water. However, 96.5% of that water is ocean salt water which is unavailable for human purposes. Only about 0.26% of the Earth's total water is freshwater and much of it is stored in glaciers and thus inaccessible. Of the remaining freshwater, about half remains in rivers and lakes for nature's use, with the other half being available for human usage. About 80% of the human portion is used for agricultural needs to provide our food, leaving only 20% freshwater for our gardens and homes! So, we must use this valuable freshwater wisely.
Rainy days are becoming scarce in California with droughts happening more often. Paleoclimate records going back more than one thousand years show many significantly dry periods. Droughts occurred frequently during the 20th century. Due to climate change, droughts are expected to become more common with longer durations in the 21st century. The last major drought was just a few years ago in 2012-2016.
Don Pedro Dam, May 2021. (author photo)
Whenever a drought happens in California, most of us look for ways to conserve water in our gardens and home. However, with droughts becoming the norm, rather than the exception, practicing water sustainability needs to become a way of life.
How can we conserve water in our daily lives? Our gardens are a good place to start, since about half of urban water is used for outdoor irrigation. The following are some suggestions which can have an impact on the amount of water you use in your gardens.
If you have lawn, consider reducing the amount you have, since lawns are the major source of where garden water goes. Water only as needed to maintain your lawn. If you have water runoff (aka “urban drool”) onto concrete areas or the street gutter, water is being wasted. If this occurs, reduce the length of time and/or frequency you water your lawn. Also, set mower blades to three inches, which encourages deeper roots. Leave some lawn clippings behind when cutting, which is known as grass-cycling A half an inch layer of thatch functions as mulch, moderating the temperature of the soil, helping it retain moisture.
Water wise garden. (Johnny Mullins)
Practice water-wise garden irrigation by changing sprayers to drip system whenever possible, since sprayers decreases the amount of water going to your plants due to evaporation. Water according to the season, reducing or eliminating watering during the cooler, wet winter months – investing in a water timer with a rain sensor can help with this. Water early in the morning or late in the day when temperatures are cooler. Check your irrigation system regularly to check for leaks, repairing or replacing as needed.
Knowing your soil type is valuable information. There are three basic types of soil: sandy, loamy, and clay. Each has different water-holding capacity and thus your watering scheduling needs to be adjusted accordingly. To learn how to determine your soil type, go to: https://ucanr.edu/sites/CEStanislausCo/files/348681.pdf
Arboretum All-Stars. (UCCE San Joaquin County Master Gardeners)
Plant water-wise plants that need little water once established. The above link will provide you with many suggestions. Another wonderful source of plant information is the UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars: https://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/arboretum-all-stars
There are ways to reduce our water use in our homes also, including having a water-efficient washing machine, dishwasher, shower and toilet, and not letting the faucet run while shaving, brushing our teeth, or washing our hands.
These are a few of the many ways we can make being water-wise a way of life in our gardens and homes. Every drop of water counts!
To learn more about our water and ways to use it wisely, join the UCCE Stanislaus County Master Gardeners on Tuesday, June 29th at 6:00pm on Zoom for our talk “Water-wise Tips for Your Garden and Home.” You can sign up at: http://ucanr.edu/water-wise/2021