Now is a great time of year to consider replacing your lawn with native or non-native ground covers
Lawns are a sign of wealth and prosperity. They come to us from English nobility. It ends up that lawns grow easily in England, and sheep like to keep them nicely trimmed (and well-fed). Gilroy summers are nothing like English summers and our lawns pay the price. What looks beautiful now is bound to end up brown, brittle, and prone to erosion. Otherwise, you will have to water it every few days and still, most of it ends up sunburned. There are other options that maintain property values and usefulness.
Gilroy ground covers: native and otherwise
Instead of ill-suited lawn grasses, you can install yarrow, mint, or oregano to make lovely edible ground covers that your children can still use to play ball. If you prefer the advantages of going native, you can grow Ceanothus thyrisiflorus, creeping buckwheat, or many species of salvia.
The California Native Plant Society can make dozens of other suggestions for ground covers and other lawn replacement options with plants that have evolved to thrive in the Gilroy area without a lot of effort or water on your part.
Lose the lawn to edibles
Instead of weeding, feeding, seeding, watering, and mowing a lawn, why not invest a fraction of the effort for some edibles? Many food plants, besides garlic, grow in Gilroy.
A single fruit or nut tree can provide the same shade as an ornamental tree, but they will also provide several pounds of food each year for a decade or more. You can also opt for traditional row gardening, artistic raised beds, or you can think up something really creative.
Of course, some communities frown on front yard gardens, so be sure to check on the rules in your city ahead of time.
Zero effort yards
If you are like many people today, time is at a premium. You simply do not have any to spare on gardening (and what a shame that is). If this sounds like you, you can eliminate yard work altogether with a stone garden or a xeriscape. Stone gardens are exactly how they sound, an artistic arrangement of stones of various sizes, shapes, colors, and textures. Xeriscapes use plants that generally do not need watering or other care. Succulents and cacti are common examples.
If you are ready to replace your lawn with something better, learn more about the Santa Clara County Lawn Replacement Rebate program or call (408) 630-2554. This program is a great way to recover the costs associated with replacing your lawn with something easier, more productive, and easier on the environment.
You can learn more about lawn care and replacement at the South County Teaching and Demo Garden, found at St. Louise Hospital, 9400 No Name Uno, in Gilroy. Classes are regularly offered to the public.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
Photo: Allen Buchinski
This article first appeared in the December 27 – January 9, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life
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.
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.