Overcoming Drought

Landscaping is an important part of any community, not only from the joy it brings, but the quality of life that it provides to humans and other species as well. Plants positively alter our environment, reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality, protect the land, provide us food, create oxygen and sustain life. As our climate changes we need to protect our plants, adapt to our changing environment and make choices that benefit us all and preserve our future.

The California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) is pleased to offer some recommendations to help you make smart choices and protect the environment using your area’s mandated water reductions. This advice can help your landscape survive this year’s drought and help you prepare for water shortages.

Protect Your Trees

  • Water trees first. If trees are lost, it increases the surrounding temperature making everything hotter. They are also expensive to replace. Many surrounding plants depend on them, because trees offer shade and protection for some lawns and other plants that may not survive the hot sun without them. In addition, they are often homes, shelter and/or food to birds and animals, which could possibly die if they perish.
  • Drill several 4″ wide holes about 24-30″ deep around the base of the tree being careful not to damage large roots. Fill the holes with compost, which will allow the water to reach the roots of the tree.
  • Another option is to put your garden hose on a timed, low drip and get the water down deep. You can also install a temporary drip system tied into a hose bib or use a soaker hose on the surface to slowly water the base of the tree.

Prepare Now

  • Mulch heavily all flower and soil beds. Mulch helps keep water in the soil. Do not use rocks/gravel because they add heat to the soil and moisture evaporates faster.
  • Mow grass (Fescue, Rye, Kentucky Blue Grass) higher: 3-3.5″ to promote deeper root growth and hold more moisture.
  • Aerate the lawn and fill the holes with compost so the water can infiltrate deeper.
  • If you intend to prune, do so before April or don’t prune. Pruning stimulates growth, which needs more water. Existing growth will also provide additional shade to the soil, helping to retain moisture.
  • Do not use high nitrogen fertilizers during a drought. They encourage growth but the plants will need more water.
  • Fix or replace any broken sprinklers and repair leaks.
  • Keep your lawn as healthy as possible. A healthy lawn will survive better. Many lawns can go very dry and still come back.
  • Attach a water efficient spray nozzle to your hose and use it to mist your lawn to build up humidity for a few minutes at the end of the day.
  • Check with your local water agency for possible rebates on low water usage irrigation products.

How To Maximize Landscape Watering During A Drought

  • Start watering earlier and finish before 9 a.m.
  • Set your spray irrigation timer to run half the normal time and run a second cycle at least half an hour later. This will dramatically reduce runoff. Clay and other soils will only absorb so much water and anything beyond that point is wasted water. Average time should be 5 minutes or less per cycle on a level site.
  • Consider a smart controller, which monitors the weather and adjusts watering accordingly.
  • Soil may look dry, but may still have plenty of moisture. If a 6″ screwdriver goes easily into the soil then wait to water.

What If I Can Only Water One Or Two Days Per Week?

  • Program your sprinkler time for multiple start times with run cycles about 5 minutes each. Repeat the cycles 3-4 times at least 30 minutes apart. If runoff occurs, reduce minutes per cycle.
  • Mow lawns higher and less frequently. Do not take off more than 25% when mowing.
  • Help your trees get more water as mentioned above.

How Can I Maximize My Landscape Water Savings?

  • Check regularly for leaks and then fix them immediately.
  • Incorporate existing water saving technology into your irrigation system. New sprinkler heads and smart controllers maximize water savings.
  • If you have a water meter, learn to read your meter. It will help you determine if you have a leak.
  • Turn on each sprinkler zone and see how much time it takes to start generating runoff for each zone. Round sprinkler time down to the nearest minute and set that time as your maximum run time for each station. Program your controller for multiple run cycles.
  • Runoff means wasted water. No runoff means the water is being absorbed by the soil.

How Can I Prepare For A Drier Future?

  • Make sure your irrigation system is efficient, pressure regulated and consistently up to date with the latest water saving technology.
  • Study your landscape and the local community. Examine the long-term survivability of your current landscape and consider incorporating climate appropriate plants.
  • If your area is at risk for fire, consider adding native fire retardant plants and learn how to protect your property.
  • Study your environment, the animals that exist within the landscape and your long term needs to help you make good ecological choices.