By Cindy Watter, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
It all started with the water bill. That is how Linda St. Claire, a former UC Master Gardener of Napa County, described her conversion to storing rainwater to use in her garden.
St. Claire's house is in north Napa, and she has a fairly large yard by city standards, one-fifth of an acre. After going into shock about how much she was paying for water to irrigate her yard, she decided to figure out how much water she could collect by capturing the runoff from her roof.
St. Claire calculated that she could collect 600 to 700 gallons of water from each inch of rain that fell on her 1000-square-foot roof. Even during a miserly rainy season, that can add up.
St. Claire bought seven used 55-gallon barrels for $20 each. One barrel can fit in her Prius. She also has a 200-gallon barrel that she got with help from a friend with a truck. The barrels require only a scrubbing once a year with food-safe soap, and a good rinse. Rainwater collected in this way is not potable but it is safe for watering a yard.
St. Claire took a Master Gardener class on how to harvest rainwater and how to set up drip irrigation. She also took advantage of the City of Napa's Cash For Grass program to tear out her front and back yards. Her drip irrigation has sensors so plants don't get watered when it's raining.
St. Claire's barrels are connected with a "daisy chain" of piping and covered. If you have roof gutters, you need to attach a diverter to filter out leaves and other detritus after the first rain of the season. Mesh gutter guards also work. Because of all her innovations, St. Claire's yard was featured on a Bay Area Water Wise Gardens tour.
According to the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association, St. Claire's method of saving rainwater is suitable for homes that have roof areas that drain to downspouts. You need a firm, level surface for the barrels, because a filled 55-gallon barrel weighs over 400 pounds. Some people strap the barrels to their house, although St. Claire says that her barrels might have pulled off her home's wood siding if they had been strapped on during the 2014 earthquake.
The area where you intend to use the water should be nearby. You should have an overflow path to your storm drains in case the rain barrel overflows.
My grandmother had rain barrels all over her farm in West Virginia. We didn't fall into them and they didn't fall on us, but these days people are more cautious. Make sure your barrels have lids and that children understand they aren't toys.
While you may not be able to find barrels for $20 like Linda did, it's worth looking around. The barrels will pay for themselves sooner than you think. I have seen all types of containers for water storage, from enormous "water bladders" for serious agriculture to slender, flat containers that stand next to a fence and aren't noticeable, especially with plants in front.
Even if you are collecting rainwater, you should follow the guidelines for water economy. Water in the morning or evening, when it's cooler. Water the soil, not the plants. Use compost and mulch around plants and trees for moisture retention. Get rid of weeds; they compete with your plants for water. Check for water leaks.
Water only when your plants need it. If a handful of soil clings together, you can wait. Prioritize your plants; trees and matures shrubs should have a higher priority than easily replaced annuals and edibles. This calls for a certain ruthlessness, of course.
Looking at St. Claire's garden, I sensed a lost opportunity. I had thought about installing a rain barrel, but the last two years lulled me into thinking it would never rain again. Then we had December's deluge. It's only January so there's still a chance for more.
When I visited St. Claire's property, she was getting it ready for spring planting. Her landscape contains many California natives, but the lion's share is given over to food crops. She has peach, pineapple guava, pomegranate, Honeycrisp apple, Asian pear, lemon and fig trees, as well as elderflower, raspberry, blackberry and olallieberry bushes, plus vegetable beds. St. Claire's garden yields a cornucopia, and its abundance wouldn't be possible without her rain harvesting.
Food Growing Forum: Napa County Master Gardeners will host this forum on “Planning & Record Keeping and Crop Rotation” on Sunday, February 13, from 3 pm to 4 pm. Register to receive the Zoom link at https://ucanr.edu/2022FoodForumFeb.
Got Garden Questions? Contact our Help Desk. The team is working remotely so please submit your questions through our diagnosis form, sending any photos to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a detailed message at 707- 253-4143. A Master Gardener will get back to you by phone or email. For more information visit https://napamg.ucanr.edu or find us on Facebook or Instagram, UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
By Susanne von Rosenberg, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
Many of us set goals at the start of a new year, and most of us give up on them fairly quickly. How about focusing on your garden this year instead? That will probably be a lot more fun than any resolution you were going to make.
Your garden intention can be an enjoyable way to improve your health and well-being and help the planet, too. Win-win-win! Set an intention rather than a goal. An intention creates a path you follow and avoids the stress of having to meet a specific expectation. After all, gardening should be enjoyable.
So what will your win-win-win garden intention be this year? Here are some ideas:
Consider making your garden more environmentally friendly:
Reduce your water use. Install drip irrigation (it's really not that hard) or focus on rainwater harvesting. Alternatively, replace some particular thirsty plants with drought-tolerant choices.
Improve your soil. Keep mulching and use organic fertilizers. Your plants and the planet will thank you.
Plant more native plants. They're beautiful and,once established, need little care.
Choose plants that support native pollinators. We need to support diversity in the pollinator population.
How about planting some plants that will help reduce your energy consumption by shading your home or its south- and west-facing windows?
Learn more about climate-friendly gardening. For example, did you know that you can help trap carbon in the soil through the right kinds of gardening practices? And these practices improve your soil, too.
Create habitat for wildlife. In addition to planting native plants and other plants to provide food for wildlife, provide water and shelter. Leave your garden a little messy; it's better for wildlife.
Replace your lawn with drought-tolerant plantings. All of the cities in Napa County have cash-for-grass programs that pay you to remove your lawn and replace it with a drought-tolerant garden.
Learn to make compost. It's the best way to recycle your yard waste and some food scraps. And if you can't make enough compos to mulch your garden, buy it from the municipal waste company.It's inexpensive and certified as a soil amendment for organic agriculture.
Learn more about your garden:
Spend more time observing it. How does the light and shade change throughout the year? Where does the rainwater flow? How does the wind affect your garden? Which critters call it home?
Track the daily high and low temperature and the rainfall in your location. You can find inexpensive gauges in most garden centers and nurseries and online. Keep a notebook or other journal to record what you observe.
Experiment with something new: new plants, new tools or new ways of taking care of your garden. Did you know that no-till gardens are the wave of the future?
Make your garden work better for you:
What are the big challenges in your garden, and what one action could you take to make the biggest dent in dealing with that challenge?
What can you do to make your garden more enjoyable? Do you need more seating? Or perhaps more shade or sun? Do you want to create a peaceful nook for meditation?
Simply spend a bit more time gardening. Fifteen minutes a day can have a big effect and will make for a relaxing break, no matter what time of day you go out.
Consider contributing fresh produce to the local Food Bank (check first to find out what is needed). This is a wonderful activity to share with kids.
Do you have grandkids or nieces and nephews? How about introducing them to the joys of gardening?
Knowledge makes you a better and more confident gardener. Check out the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu/) for useful information as well as upcoming workshops and events.
Or you could simply decide to spend more time in the garden. Fresh air and being in nature are wonderful for your heart and soul. Being more at peace is a wonderful intention for the new year.
Workshop: The U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will present a workshop on “Growing Spring and Summer Vegetables” on Saturday, March 9, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Do you want nutritious, easy-to grow and utterly fresh food from your garden this spring and summer? Learn what the garden needs to successfully produce spring and summer vegetables from seeds and plant starts. In addition to growing basics and hands-on activities, this program includes watering, fertilizing and harvesting tips, with a dash of Integrated Pest Management for pest and disease control. The delight of growing your own groceries is matched only by savoring them at harvest. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Workshop: The U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will present a workshop on “Summer Vegetables” on Sunday, March 10, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Get tips for growing your own summer vegetables. Learn some basics, get keys to success, and do hands-on activities to learn about new varieties and review old favorites. Enjoy healthy vegetables taken straight from your garden to your table. The delight of growing your own vegetables is matched by savoring them at harvest. Online registration or telephone the Parks & Recreation Department at 707-944-8712.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County (http:/napamg.ucanr.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
By Iris Craig, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
In the midst of drought, our home's well-watered green grass was the source of comment from our ecologically minded friends and neighbors. Early morning water was seen cascading down our slope into the gutter, subject to comment.
My husband, Dale, and I turned off the water and watched the lawn turn brown. We didn't know how to make it better until we saw an ad for a free workshop on water-wise gardening given by the City of Napa.
Over four meetings in Napa's Kennedy Park, we learned how to change our lawns to less thirsty plantings; how to install a drip system; how to choose water-wise trees, shrubs and other plants; and how to apply for funds from both the City of Napa and the State of California to fulfill our goal.
The next step was to find out if we qualified for the “Cash for Grass” program. Patrick Costello, water resource analyst from the City of Napa's Public Works Department, whom we had met through the workshops, came to look at our yard and measure the grass. We had more than 3,000 square feet.
We qualified for both the local “Cash for Grass” and the state “Save Our Water” turf- replacement rebate. We began by removing an overgrown and diseased cottonwood tree and other diseased trees on our property. We piled the wood chips in the front yard to the delight of a few neighborhood children, who used them to play “king of the mountain.”
We hired a landscape designer knowledgeable in water-wise garden design to help us choose plants with maximum color and attractiveness to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. She suggested adding a curving walkway from our back patio to a circular stone pavilion with a fountain and a view of the mountain. We constructed the walkway and pavilion early in the process.
We purchased a long roll of cardboard and scrounged large use cardboard boxes that required removal of tape and staples. These we double-layered, overlapping them across every inch of grass. We ordered 15 cubic yards of screened compost and topsoil and spread those on top of the cardboard. Then we quickly spread the wood chips from our trees to cover and secure the compost. (We were told that arborists and tree cutters will sometimes deliver wood chips at no cost.)
Then we began planting. Most of the plants we chose need little water once established; others require a little more, but the important thing is that we grouped them by water need.
For the front yard, we chose a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum'); a dwarf male gingko (Ginkgo biloba ‘Jade Butterfly'); hyssop (licorice mint); Agastache ‘Kudos Yellow'; winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata'); white coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'Pow Wow White'); California fuchsia (Epilobium canum ‘Calistoga'); bishop's hat (Epimedium warleyense ‘Orange Queen'); dwarf maidenhair (Miscanthus sinensis); dwarf dusty miller (Jocobeae maritima ‘Silver Dust'), the only plant that did not thrive in our soil); Provence lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Provence'); dwarf fringe flower (Loropetalum); bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa); hardy Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana); and autumn sage (Salvia greggii).
Into the back yard went an ‘improved Meyer' lemon tree; a persimmon tree (Diospyros kaki ‘Hachiya'); coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull'(tickseed); more winter daphne, autumn sage and California fuchsia; white coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan'); lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus); and bamboo muhly around the future fountain and garden swing.
With help from our yard-maintenance man, we removed the sprinklers and converted the sprinkler system to a drip system with valves just below the same control box to reduce the water pressure. We have yet to know how much our water bill has been reduced because, along with all of the preceding, we extended three of our vegetable garden beds with their own drip system. While it does use a fair amount of water, this garden has given us many baskets of tomatoes, kale, onions, rhubarb, chard, thyme, oregano, peppers and corn.
The final touches were a thick layer of redwood bark—not strictly necessary but pretty—and a fountain in the shape of a large colorful urn in back of the swing and the pavilion.
Today our yard is filled with hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and an occasional dragonfly, flitting among the flowers, while Muhlenbergia (a native bamboo-like grass that does not replicate or spread) waves in the breeze. A neighbor brought us an orchid and lucky bamboo plant to thank us for improving the neighborhood and for returning her family's view of the mountain when we cut down the cottonwood tree.
No longer embarrassed by wasted water, we proudly answer a multitude of questions from neighbors and friends on how this beautiful landscape came to be.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Growing Bulbs” on Saturday, September 17, from 10 a.m. to noon, at Mid-City Nursery, 3635 Broadway Street, American Canyon.Bulbs are among the easiest plants to grow and deliver a welcome dose of color and scent, often when the winter is dreary. Master Gardeners will showcase a variety of bulbs, rhizomes, corms, tubers and stolons. Learn how to plant for successive bloom; how to care for, store and divide bulbs; and how to force blooms and encourage rebloom. On-line registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (cash or check only).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143.
For now, I've turned my energies to creating a rain garden in an area of my yard that tends to produce runoff. In wet weather, this silty water flows onto the sidewalk and then into the street. The plans that I perused required creating a declivity or basin filled with and surrounded by foliage and larger rocks.
The rain garden is not a pond feature; it is actually dry most of the time. It is intended to hold water only briefly during and after a rain, allowing water to filter slowly through the soil and rocks.
People have collected rainwater since ancient times, but the modern rain-garden concept originated in Prince George's County, Maryland, in 1990. By keeping water off the sidewalks and out of the streets,a rain-retention basin reduces the flow of contaminated water into storm drains. It slows the water flow, allowing soil and plants to break down and filter out the pollutants.
Select your location carefully. Look for a natural declivity or a flat place that receives water from a downspout or overland flow during a storm. You can construct a rain garden on a hill but that requires more digging. Avoid locating it over a septic system or near tree roots. Also consider how the nearby landscape plants might adapt to the new watering regime. Finally, avoid underground pipes and pick an area that gets full or partial sun.
Choose a design that complements your existing landscape. Size depends on the collection surface; a 1,000-square-foot rooftop requires at least a 200-square-foot garden. The garden should be able to hold an inch of rain at one time.
In our mediterranean-type climate, we can expect little or no rainfall for at least six months every year. With that in mind, choose native or drought-tolerant plants. Those plants in the basin and the ones on the berm will have different water access so plan accordingly.
You will have to water your plantings for the first year or so, until they get established. Mulch them with a heavy material,such as shredded wood or wood chips, that won't float away during the flooded periods.
The area under consideration in my yard was actually a raised mound. After a rain there was always a mud slick on the sidewalk that filled up the parking strip and then flowed into the street.
The hiccup in my plans was when I realized that I would have to remove and dispose of an astronomical amount of soil. So I had to shelve the rain-garden concept. I solved the runoff problem by digging a two- by two-foot trench around the mound. As it was, I was hard put to find a home for just that amount of soil.
All my garden beds needed freshening, so I mixed the excavated soil with equal amounts of compost and topsoil. With that mixture, I fluffed up my planting beds. I then filled the resulting trench with about six inches of gravel and topped it off with two- by three-inch cobbles that matched the rest of my landscape. I now have created a so-called French drain around the problem location.
Although I am not using the water for irrigation, I hope that percolating the water through the rocks will cleanse it naturally. Based on the meager rains we've had since I completed the work, the water is definitely being re-routed. I no longer see a mud slick on the sidewalk. Instead, the trenches catch the runoff to refill the aquifer.
I was really looking forward to creating a rain garden, but you do the best you can with the situation you have. I planted a succulent garden on the remaining mound, which will help conserve water, and I am quite happy with the result
For more information on creating a rain garden, visit the website of the Watershed Information Center & Conservancy. Also check out the website of California Sea Grant (https://caseagrant.ucsd.edu/sites/default/files/GS3%20Rain%20Gardens_8-10-09.pdf.)
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will lead a workshop on “Drought-Tolerant and California Native Plants” on Saturday, August 1, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at Martha Walker Garden in Skyline Park in Napa. Enjoy a walk around the garden to observe drought-tolerant and native plants, and discover the elements that help them thrive in our mediterranean climate. Learn how to use them in your own garden to replace some of those water-hungry ornamentals. On-line registration (credit card only) Mail-in registration (cash or check only)
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.