This article was contributed by Shawn Novack, water conservation program manager with the Water Resources Association of San Benito County, San Benito County Water District.
In San Benito County and most of the West, water is as precious as gold. Most of our rainfall comes in winter, yet many garden plants need irrigation in summer, during our driest months. Seasonal droughts, groundwater pollution and population growth stress this valuable resource. If we are to have enough water in the future, we must avoid wasting water in our homes and gardens today.
About 50% of residential water use is for landscapes. This makes landscapes the most important place to focus your water conservation efforts. Fortunately, a water-wise garden doesn’t mean settling for a barren landscape or cactus garden; it means practicing good gardening. Choose plants well adapted to your climate, improve your soil, water efficiently, and take advantage of the latest irrigation technology. These actions will all help save water.
The Water Resources Association of San Benito County (WRASBC) has free water-wise landscape plans. Three different garden plans drawn by a local landscape architect.
If transitioning your landscape to a water-wise garden seems like a daunting task, don’t let it be. Have fun and start with one section of your landscape and build from there!
Here are some basic tips to remember for every garden:
- Consider the Soil: Most landscape plants establish faster when planted in native soils with minimal additions of amendments. Our local soils are heavy in clay, you may need to add compost to break-up those small soil particles. Annuals, perennials, lawns and vegetables benefit from the addition of compost. Recology and the county partner together to offer free compost giveaways each spring. Or better yet, make your own.
- Choose the Right Plants: Consider natives or introduce plants from Mediterranean climates that have similar rainfall and soil conditions as California. San Benito County receives, on average, about 13” of rain per year. Try to choose plants that thrive on this amount of water or need just a little additional water. The WRASBC has a list of native plants for our county.
- Group Plants: Situate plants with similar water, soil, and light needs together (in areas often referred to as zones). Place the most colorful (often the thirstiest) groupings near outdoor living areas. Use drip irrigation or low-flow spray heads to deliver water directly to the root zone without the overspray or runoff typical of conventional sprinklers.
- Irrigate Efficiently: Irrigate established plants thoroughly but infrequently to encourage roots to grow downward; they will be buffered from the wet-dry cycle typical of the upper soil area and may even tap into groundwater. The WRASBC can assist you with an irrigation check to make sure your system is working as efficiently as possible. We’ll even program your controller for the current season.
- Water deeply
- Mulch: Cover bare ground with a three-inch layer of mulch to help conserve soil moisture, suppress weeds and keep the soil cooler; renew annually. Organic types, such as bark mulch, improve soil structure and encourage beneficial microbes.
Contact the WRASBC at (831) 637-4378 or visit them at www.wrasbc.org for more water conserving ideas.