Making the Most of Your Outdoor Spaces

Drought Tolerant Xeriscapes

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Drought Tolerant and Edible Lawn Alternatives

Drought Tolerant and Edible Lawn Alternatives

In our last article, we detailed a few basic strategies for conserving water in our historical California drought, namely:

  • Turning off you irrigation controller before and after rain events,
  • Installing an on-site weather station, which automatically adjusts your irrigation scheduling,
  • Changing sprinkler nozzles from fixed spray to rotor nozzles,
  • And replacing water thirsty lawns with alternate plant choices.

 In this article we explore lawn alternatives in greater depth, discussing several options of equal beauty, yet more environmentally responsible and with greater benefit to you and your community.

Lawn Alternative Landscaping

First, there are several ways to eliminate your lawn and ensure that it doesn’t grow back through your new landscaping.  The most ecological method is sheet mulching, though it can be an involved project.  Consult your landscape professional regarding all your options.   Did you know that many municipalities including the Cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara have water rebate programs, where they will refund up to $1,000 in material costs for replacing lawns and water thirsty landscaping with drought tolerant alternatives? It’s worth investigating before you begin a new project.  Last year Cornerstone Landscapes successfully helped two clients to receive their rebate from the city after reducing their water consumption with drought tolerant landscaping.

Dymondia and other Drought Resistant Plants

If you want a flat, usable space for play and recreation, here’s an idea:  Dymondia is a hardy, drought tolerant ground cover that once established, needs about a quarter of the water required by a typical lawn.  Check out the description of Dymondia and several other water wise grasses from the City of Santa Barbara.

For those of you who don’t need a flat space, or are ready for a whole new look in your front or back yard, there are endless options.  With some design innovation and creativity, your space can become a lush landscape with contour and color, or an outdoor room well suited for relaxation in the afternoon.  For starters it’s a myth that California Native plants are the best and only choice when it comes to water wise plants.  More important is that the plants chosen are native to a climate similar to ours, which is considered one of the seven major global Mediterranean regions.

Plants from other bio-regions similar to our California climate include:  South American, Northern and South African, Australian, Southern European and Middle Eastern native plants. Many of such plants provide exotic flowers and foliage that appear sub-tropical, when in fact most are sub-desert plants.  Each one of these options can be incorporated into a variety of landscape design styles, complementary to your home or business’s architectural style.   The desert garden, unlike the previous choices, offers a specific look.  Often mixed with boulders and gravel mulch, these landscapes are considered the lowest or even zero water gardens.

Food Forests and Edible Landscaping

And finally, we come to my favorite topic: food forests and edible landscaping.  With a water crisis looming over most Californians, you may be asking yourself “why water at all?” Well, plants and vegetation of all types sequester carbon, enhance soil health and add beauty to the home and neighborhood.  However, if you are going to water, why not produce something that will benefit your health, your household and your community?

The following plants can be incorporated into already existing landscaping in a tasteful way to get the most from your water:

  • Kitchen herbs can be easily incorporated into landscaping and provide fresh, delicious enhancements to a meal.
  • Perennial vegetables like kale or collard greens provide ornamental beauty and a great food source.
  • Annual vegetables like tomatoes and corn can be planted, harvested and removed each year.  And they can be incorporated into your beds, planted alongside your existing landscaping.
  • Raised beds provide a neat and tidy well-defined area to grow your favorite vegetables.
  • Fruit trees often provide more bounty than one house can use, not to mention shade and spring blossoms.

If however you are ready to completely re-design your yard and significantly reduce your trips to the store for produce, consider a food forest.  The Lifescape Garden at Santa Barbara City College is a great example of a beautiful ornamental garden that incorporates multiple layers of edible fruits, vegetables and herbs.   Food forests can be just as attractive as non-food producing landscapes, and think of the benefits:  Water, fertilizer, mulch and maintenance costs produce food in addition to beauty; food that is usually of much higher quality than anything you can buy.   Food forests require significant attention to design and implementation, but I believe they are the way of the future as we become more self-reliant and connected to our own slice of paradise right in our own yards.

Water Conservation Strategies in Santa Barbara Drought

Water Conservation Strategies in the Santa Barbara Drought

We Californians are in the midst of a historical drought, the worst in fact since weather data was first collected and compiled in the mid 1800s. You may be asking “Why are we still watering lawns?”  I ask myself the same question. Recently Mother Jones published this article about the California drought and what we can do about it.

Scottish Lawn Tradition No Longer Applies

Santa Barbara landscaping serves the architectural tradition of our famously beautiful city – gorgeous architecture calls for equally stunning gardens and landscapes.   The only problem is that we modeled our idea of beauty from the old Scottish lawn tradition where it rains all the time.   Here in paradise, our average annual rainfall is somewhere around 18 inches per year, just 8 inches higher than an official desert.  With a state of emergency declared by Governor Brown, and most of the state experiencing extreme drought, there must be something that we can do. There is, and the place of greatest impact is at your own home.

For starters, have you ever seen sprinklers going off in the middle of a rain storm,? Or just before? Or right after?

 1) Turn off your irrigation controller a few days before a rain event and leave it off until the soil begins to dry.  This is often a few days to a week+ after the rain event depending on the amount of rainfall.   This is one of the most basic and commonly overlooked ways to conserve our water, the majority of which comes from Lake Cachuma as collected rainfall, as opposed to water bought from the sate.  The only problem here is the possibility for human error.  Are you going to remember to turn your water off? This brings us to #2.

2) Install an on-site weather station. If your irrigation controller (clock) is not more than 5 years old, it most likely is compatible with an on-site weather station.  For a modest investment, these stations measure temperature and precipitation and adjust your irrigation scheduling automatically, including shutting it off during and after rain events.  Consult your landscape professional whether your controller is compatible.  If not, it is safe to say you will break even on your investment on a new controller with a weather station in one to two years with savings on your water bill. On-site weather stations allow you to program your controller for each area of your property depending on shade and sun, slope, soil type, irrigation type, etc.  This is one of the best ways to maintain the health of your plants, as the station calibrates for the ideal amount of water for your particular micro-climate.

3) Change your sprinkler nozzles. The nozzle is the emitter on top of the sprinkler that controls how much water is released.  The newer rotor nozzles deliver much less water over a longer period of time, eliminating over watering, flooding and run-off all too common with the fixed spray nozzles.  If you are committed to your lawn, this simple measure has been shown to save water usage by 30%.

4) Replace your lawn with drought tolerant plants or food producing plants, or both!  There are so many plant choices in our forgiving Santa Barbara climate with nearly 300 sunny days per year.  Choosing between California Native plants, drought tolerant Mediterranean plants from around the world or desert plants and succulents is a matter of taste, matching existing landscaping and the home’s architectural style.  And try this one on: if you are going to water, why not grow something you or someone in the community can use?  Have you ever thought of replacing a lawn with a kitchen herb garden, vegetable garden, fruit trees or combination of the 3 in a food forest?  Food producing plants can be installed with just as much attention to beauty as ornamental plants, though you get more than beauty in return.  Experience the joy and health benefits of growing some of your own food, or donate it.

There are programs like Backyard Harvest that will harvest and put your bounty to good use within the community.

Tune into my next blog where we’ll go further into lawn alternative plant choices to reduce water use and enhance the beauty of your property.