The answer is mixed. Although we made great inroads into saving water we need to continue conserving.
Our rain-year runs from July 1 to June 30, and fortunately, we got 96 percent of the annual average. The numbers were so good that this spring the State Water Resources Control Board updated its emergency regulations, allowing water retailers throughout the state to set their own restrictions based on local conditions and requirements beginning in June.
Many water districts in the Bay Area chose to ease restrictions or drop them altogether. Santa Clara Valley Water District, for example, reduced its restrictions to 20 percent from 30 percent, while Fremont, Newark and Union City dropped their reductions all together.
Some worried that the savings we saw under the mandatory restrictions would evaporate when residents began relying on their best judgment on how much and how often they water their landscapes; however, recent numbers show that we are continuing to conserve.
In June, compared to the same month last year, San Jose Water Company cut water use by 27.8 percent, East Bay Municipal Utility District by 18.1 percent, Santa Cruz by 20.9 percent, Alameda County Water District by 28.7 percent and Palo Alto by 17.9 percent.
The majority of our water -- 55 percent -- comes primarily from snow and rainfall in the Sierra Nevada. Another 40 percent is from natural groundwater and area reservoirs. The remaining 5 percent is recycled water -- purified waste water. With or without restrictions, we must continue to work on reducing water use, and capturing and reusing water for irrigation, industry and agriculture.
"Our main message to the public right now is 'Thank you' for the tremendous response to the drought and the savings that have been achieved over the last year," says Jerry De La Piedra, unit manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. "However, one average year doesn't erase four years of historic drought. We don't know what next year will bring, so we're asking everyone to continue to use water as efficiently as possible."
Fall is a great time to rethink and replant your lawn, renew your garden, or make major water-saving changes to your landscape. By planting new eco-friendly sod or native and Mediterranean plants, you will not only significantly cut back on your water use, you will be providing necessary food and shelter to help save our endangered birds, bugs and bees.
Try replacing your lawn with a gorgeous array of plants and shrubs that produce flowers and create interest all year long.
If you just can't bear to completely lose the lawn, try planting a smaller section of one of the many varieties of Delta Blue Grass California native sods. They roll out just like regular sod but require 50 percent less water. They also need to be mowed way less often, resulting in environmental savings well beyond water.
Look for city and county rebate programs that actually pay you to replace your water-guzzling lawns and replace older, inefficient irrigation controllers and sprinkler equipment.
You truly can go greener without the expansive, traditional lawn.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the August 21 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
Take a look at your landscape. It looks peaceful and serene, doesn't it? The truth is, it's a battlefield. Each plant is fighting its neighbor for food, water and sunlight. Weeds, in particular, are survivors. Unlike many garden and landscape plants, weeds often thrive in any soil, with minimal water and limited food. They grow fast, shading out desirable plants, stealing water and nutrients as they grow. They tend to go to seed faster than everything else. Generally, weeds take away from the overall appearance and performance of a landscape.
So, what are weeds? Very often, weeds are the plants that survive after we try to kill them. They seem to thrive everywhere and they provide no benefit in the form of food or beauty. They can also create fire hazards that threaten life and property.
Sustainable Weed Control
Many people use herbicides to rid their yard of weeds because it is fast and easy. This is a short term view. Regularly applying herbicides to the same area can develop resistant varieties. This means the next weed generation cannot be killed with the same herbicide. Sooner or later, you will run out of herbicides to choose from. Herbicides can also threaten your landscape and garden plants through run-off and wind distribution. If chemical herbicides are used to eliminate weeds, it is extremely important that the correct herbicide is used, and that package directions are followed exactly.
Most weeds can be controlled by hand weeding, good garden design, mulching, and keeping garden plants healthy enough to defend themselves. A 4” layer of mulch can significantly reduce the number of weeds. Mulch also stabilizes soil temperature and reduces evaporation of irrigation water.
Good garden design incorporates proper site preparation for each plant, choosing plants suited to the Morgan Hill climate, and installing "smart" irrigation. In areas without plantings, porous ground covers, such as permeable pavers, can allow the soil below to breath and receive rain water. These practices work together to reduce weeds and to conserve water.
Watering a garden or landscape is necessary to keep it healthy. Smart irrigation means improving watering efficiency and distribution to ensure the water goes where it is needed and not to the weeds. Drip irrigation, “smart” irrigation controllers and rotor heads, and soaker hoses can significantly reduce water waste. Plants that use a lot of water during the summer, such as roses, can be watered with plastic jugs buried in the ground. Simply cut the bottom off a 1-liter plastic bottle. Dig a hole a little deeper than the bottle and fill the bottom 1-2” of the hole with gravel or rocks. Place the bottle so that only the small opening on top is above the soil line. When it is time to water, use a hose to fill the bottle. This prevents watering weeds and it gets the water to the root system, where it will provide the most benefit.
If a system is already in place, be sure to check for leaks. A leaky sprinkler system can drown precious plants, help weeds to thrive, and can even kill sections of soil. Putting water where it will do the most good, in a way that reduces evaporation and run-off, will ensure that Morgan Hill gardens will have the water they need.
You can learn more about weed management from UC IPM. You can also contact your UCCE Master Gardener Hotline by calling 408-282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday or submit questions online.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
This article first appeared in the July 26 issue of the Morgan Hill Times.
Unless you've been living under a rock (or in a very tropical, rainy place) you recognize my nod to the Santa Clara Valley Water District's clever water-saving campaign in the title. And it's not marketing hype; it's real. In California most household water is used for landscaping and other outdoor purposes. We're in a drought, folks, and there is no time like the present to make a difference. Here is some encouragement for you, no matter where you are on your lawn-losing journey.
Stage 1: No way, no how. Not doing it. I would rather just stop bathing.
Interesting. But look around. Keeping up with the Joneses these days is as much about choosing just the right shade of mulch as it used to be about achieving golf-course perfection in your front yard. If the thought of converting your entire lawn all at once makes you nervous, consider sheet mulching (using cardboard and mulch) around the edges. If you can bear to wait, plant in the Fall once we begin to get rain again. Continue this process of nibbling away at your lawn year by year until you've shrunk it down to nothing. You'll forget you ever cared so much about it.
Stage 2: Still shedding some tears for my lawn that was.
Sure, it can be strangely satisfying to cut interesting patterns into your grass with the lawnmower. Hang in there, change is hard. Redirect that energy into artful pruning of your Western Redbud or admiring the bees buzzing around your Manzanita. Embrace your new look! Also be sure that you are checking in on these newly planted additions to your garden. Even drought-tolerant plants need a moderate amount of irrigation to get established.
Stage 3: I might be falling in love with my ceanothus.
If you are in Stages 1 or 2, this may sound like nonsense. But I promise that when March rolls around every year, the bees and I fall head over heels all over again for my beautiful Dark Star and Julia Phelps. Drought-tolerant plants that have been in the ground for at least a few years will need very little, if any, supplemental irrigation. These plants are well suited to our climate and may even resent summer watering. Spend time reading up about specific plant requirements.
Stage 4: Brown has been my Green for years.
Well, if you've read this far, thank you. Perhaps you're in line at the DMV? All kidding aside, your early investment is likely paying off both on your water bill and in your garden's resiliency. You may find that it is time to rejuvenate by replacing older plants at this point. Take a look around your garden and notice which plants have done well. Consider repeating those instead of immediately adding something different. Water in those newbies well!
Then give yourself a pat on the back for saving a few more precious drops for this beautiful place we call home.
By UC Master Gardener Cayce Hill
This article first appeared in the July 6 issue of the Morgan Hill Life.
Knowing soil types and water requirements may help us grow healthy vegetable gardens and flowers, but it is also vital when it comes to trees.
Igor Lacan, environmental horticulture adviser for UC Cooperative Extension, says as we move toward warmer temperatures with less predictable annual rainfall, we will need to make smart choices about our landscapes.
“Even in a drought, it is essential to prioritize your trees,” Lacan says. “Trees not only support our native birds, bees and wildlife, they provide major ecosystem services to us as well. Urban trees lower the ambient temperature, thereby reducing the need for air conditioning, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, provide stormwater capture, decrease pollution and enhance the property value and aesthetics of your home.”
Start with soil
In order to practice responsible irrigation — using enough water to keep a plant alive and no more — knowing your soil type really does matter.
Soil type, or texture, refers to the proportions of sand, silt and clay particles in its makeup. Sandy soils are coarse and drain quickly. Plants in sandy soil need frequent watering and may need fertilizer.
Clay particles are very fine and become glued together when wet, and although clay soil can be slow to drain, it retains moisture and minerals, requiring little to no fertilizers.
The roots of newly planted plants may have a harder time getting started if the soil is hard and dense, but once established, plants tend to thrive in clay soils.
Silty soil is found along our riverbeds, lakes and other riparian areas. Particles are smaller than sand but not as fine as clay. It drains well and has good nutrient retention.
Loam represents a combination of sand, silt and clay and most of the Bay Area has clay or loam soil.
To tell what kind of soil you have, moisten a handful of it and give it a firm squeeze. If it holds its shape but crumbles when you give it a poke, you have loam. If it holds its shape without crumbling, you have clay. If it falls apart as soon as you open your hand, you have sandy soil.
Knowing your soil type will guide you in how much water to apply and how often.
To gage soil moisture levels, you will need to dig down to the root level. For trees, use a shovel or an auger to get 12-18 inches below the surface. After watering to this depth, soil should be moist but not drenched.
For mature trees, deep water infrequently, about once a month. Imagine refilling a 12- to 18-inch deep water reservoir around the tree's roots.
It's important to water beneath the entire canopy. Installing a Tree Ring Irrigation Contraption (TRIC) is a great way to accomplish this.
Newly planted trees may need only 10-15 gallons per week, but they may need additional water in extremely hot weather.
In all cases, a good rule of thumb is to water deeply and observe your tree. If the tips of the leaves and branches start to droop, it's time to water again.
You will then be able to properly set up your automated irrigations systems. But remember, they need to be changed seasonally as the weather and temperature fluctuate. Online watering calculators can also be helpful.