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.
Water-wise gardens offer plenty of color options, says gardening teacher
by Crystal Tai / Palo Alto Weekly
Water-wise gardens, popular during the drought, do not have to be a colorless compromise, according to Roberta Barnes, who teaches science-based gardening in Palo Alto. Planned right, they can be a great source of year-round blooms.
"Low-water plants from Australia usually bloom in winter," she said. "Then it's Mediterranean rosemary in late winter through early spring, naturalized tulips in spring, water-wise roses from late spring through summer, lavender in summer, California fuchsia in late summer through early fall, and correa from October all the way through next spring."
The seminar will cover how to design a water-saving garden with plants that bloom all year round and how to add low-water plants to a regular garden by hydro-zoning, the practice of clustering plants with similar water requirements in an effort to conserve water. The free presentation is part of a series sponsored by the Palo Alto Library and the nonprofit University of California Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County.
Water-smart gardening has already caught on in Palo Alto. Resident Jane Foglesong said she and her husband are adding native plants to their garden because they are attractive, require less water and chemical fertilizers, encourage beneficial insects and aid in the pollination of fruit trees.
"At present the native plants are integrated with other plants that need more regular watering, but over time we will add more natives, replacing those that need more water," Foglesong said.
To grow low-water plants, Barnes said it's best to start when the soil is damp, before the end of winter rains, which means there is still a little time left this year.
"One thing to keep in mind is that these plants still need a little water especially in their first year. 'Low water' doesn't mean no water," Barnes said.
As for how often one should water these natives, Barnes said, it varies from plant to plant.
Palo Alto resident Sue Luttner said her family changed their landscaping to eliminate the need for irrigation.
"When our first son was born in July of 1988 and I found myself with no time to shower, let alone water the yard, I let the lawn die," Luttner said. "We replaced it with native plants or plants native to similar climates."
Luttner called columbines and zauschneria "big winners" among the low-water plants at her house because they keep reseeding themselves. She also has plenty of herbs in her garden, including lavender and rosemary.
Palo Alto resident Pamela Chesavage said her family has a mix of natives and edibles in their front yard. The native plants needed very minimal hand watering after the initial installation and no additional water after the third year.
"I'd encourage folks to try to design their gardens themselves," Chesavage said. "Going to the class on the 18th would be a good start, but then I'd encourage folks to check out some books on California native plants, figure out which ones they like, measure their yards, and then start figuring out how to do the installation themselves."
Chesavage added that installation is by far the costliest part of changing a landscape, but it's not hard for amateurs to do.
Walking in the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden on Center Road in Palo Alto recently, Barnes passed by a variety of low-water plants: bell-shaped correa flowers in blush pink, periwinkle rosemary flowers, yellow coneflowers and coral-pink grevilleas. In the distance, a hardenbergia vine covered the fence with pinkish purple blooms.
"In my view, a water-wise garden is more interesting than a regular one," Barnes said. "It's amazing how low-water plants conserve water with either small or fuzzy leaves. It's also fascinating to observe the differences between regular and water-wise roses."
Gardeners who aim to save water don't have to replace their entire yards.
Callie Elliston, a master gardener who lives in Palo Alto, said her family replaced the lawns with native plants that only need water once a month. But they retained lemon, apple, persimmon and pineapple guava trees, along with blueberry bushes, for screening purposes and to save on re-landscaping costs.
"Now we have a glorious spring and enjoy a sustainable garden that provides shelter to native pollinators and small birds," she said.
Elliston added a plug for fellow master gardener Barnes' seminar: "Roberta is one of my favorite speakers -- an excellent teacher, knowledgeable, with a keen sense of design."
All seven photos by Veronica Weber can be seen here.
This article first appeared on the Palo Alto Online website, Friday, February 12, 2016. Reposted with permission./h4>/h3>
We all know we're in a state of drought. The trick is to remember that even if we get enough rain to ease water restrictions, California is a summer-dry state. That means that it's naturally dry for long periods of time. I'm a fan of Saxon Holt's blog summer-dry.com. It's a great garden photography resource for learning about plants that thrive in summer dry conditions with limited amounts of water.
What does limited amounts of water mean? Start with an understanding of where you live (Morgan Hill is mostly in Sunset zone 14), your soil type, and sun/shade aspect. If you read summer-dry.com, plant water needs are defined as moderate (every 7-10 days), occasional (deep soaking every 3-4 weeks), and infrequent (deep soaking 1-2 times during hottest months). If you read about UC Davis Arboretum Allstars, plant water needs (for watering deeply during the dry season) are defined as moderate (once a week), low (every 2 weeks), and very low (once a month). As we move forward with the likelihood of continuing restrictions on the use of water in our gardens, choosing plants that thrive in summer dry conditions with limited water is a good investment. There is a big difference between watering established plants once a week and 1-2 times during the summer.
My favorite resources for inspiration and information include "Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates" published by EBMUD, "Landscape Plants for California Gardens" by Bob Perry, "California Native Plants for the Garden" by Bornstein/Fross/O'Brien, UC Arboretum All-Stars, and the recent Sunset Western Garden Collection. WUCOLS IV (Water Use Classification of Landscape Species) is a good resource that lists water use requirements. As you read about plant choices, you'll learn there are a number of different terms used, from drought tolerant, to water wise, to summer dry. They don't all mean exactly the same thing. Do your homework and understand what your plants need to thrive.
Here are some of my favorite summer-dry, medium-large size shrubs that are mostly low water users. They are on my ‘go-to' list for evergreen plants that add structure to the garden, always look good, work well with different garden styles, and they aren't temperamental if you play by their rules.
Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn' This Manzanita (3'-5' x 6') is an elegant, native choice. A. ‘Sentinel' (6'-8' x5') can be pruned up as a small tree. For something smaller, consider A. ‘John Dourley' (3' x 6'), A. ‘Emerald Carpet' (12”-18” x 3'-6') or A. ‘Carmel Sur' (12” x 6').
Rhamnus californica ‘Leatherleaf' If you're interested in creating a feast for bees, plant this native Coffeeberry (typically 5-6 x 5'-6'').
Rhaphiolepis umbellata ‘Minor' This is one of my favorites on the smaller side (3'-4'x3'-4' and can get taller), but as I was driving down Santa Teresa Boulevard this week (past Christopher High School) I remembered how much I like Rhaphiolepis indica ‘Clara' (3'-5' x 3'-5') for it's small white flowers and lovely round shape. Pittosporum tobira variegata A long time favorite, with grey green variegated leaves (5'-10' x 5'-10') and I love the scent when it's small, creamy white flowers bloom. For a smaller version, check out P. ‘Wheelers Dwarf' (2'-3' x 4'-5').
Get smart about choosing plants that thrive where you live and garden. To learn more about the range of options available, check out the following online resources:
waterwonk.us (easily searchable WUCOLS list)
Janet Enright is a UC Master Gardener of Santa Clara County, Bay-Friendly Qualified Landscape Professional, and QWEL (Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper) certified professional.