Like it or not, you are going to have to stop overlooking articles on the drought when they pop up.
The articles will be like weeds – popping up everywhere. Our area has had dry years before and survived. This year we are going to have to do it without water from the state. That’s more extreme than in the past, therefore gardeners will need to employ all their skills and knowledge about devastatingly dry conditions.
The “R” words are going to be a key and the time to act is now. Remove and replace your lawn. Yes, my husband thinks this is absurd. He likes to mow and fertilize and fix sprinklers. He’s in love with his green carpet. However we don’t live back east, where summer rain is a weekly thing. We live in a Mediterranean climate without summer water. When the original ’49ers came down from the gold mines what did they see but dry, brown hills and golden fields. As I read recently, California is not called the “Golden State” for nothing.
Right now is the time to remove your thirsty lawn or at least limit its size and get paid for it. Contact the Solano Water Agency about their program that pays you $1 per square foot up to $1,000 to remove your lawn and replace it with water-efficient landscaping.
I have more than 1,000-square-feet of lawn. That’s $1,000 to remove the lawn, re-sculpt the bare ground and re-plant with drought-tolerant plants.
While it won’t be emerald green, it will be native or at least Mediterranean in appearance. Add in the money I could save from reducing my water bill, not having to buy gas for the mower or pricey fertilizers and I think I could do a pretty nice re-landscaping project.
Don’t wait around, the water agency program will only last until June or once the money is gone. It could be sooner rather than later.
If you must have a lawn, raise the cutting blade on the mower to 2½ to 3½ inches and have the lawn aerated. The taller grass helps shade the roots and aeration allows for better penetration and less water run-off.
The “M” word is going to be important if you want to maintain your present landscape plants. The word is mulch. Two to three inches of organic mulch will be beneficial to keep water from evaporating and roots cool this summer. Limit your use of organic compost and organic fertilizers. Both increase plant growth, which will increase your plants’ water needs. Buy bagged mulch at the garden center or have it delivered by the cubic yard. Share a load with a neighbor and delivery might even be free.
The “C” word is convert – convert to drip irrigation. Get the water to the right plants in the right quantity. Install plants with similar water needs near each other. If you have replaced water-loving plants with those that are drought tolerant, you can easily put down drip irrigation before you mulch to save lots of water.
Check the trans-evaporation rate weekly and limit your watering to that which will replace it. Use a water timer set for the very early morning when evaporation rates are at their lowest. If you can’t convert to drip make sure you are not watering streets and sidewalks. Take the time to check your irrigation system and replace broken heads and those that water circles or semi-circles when all you need is a quarter circle. Prune back plants as less foliage means lower water needs. If a plant should die don’t replace it!
If you must have a vegetable garden look into square foot or intensive gardening. Google square foot gardening and you’ll find out how to plant a garden in a smaller space, which should take less water volume. Only water when plants look limp in the morning once they are established.
Dottie Deems is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.