Green Practices for Your Home & Garden Part 1
By now everyone on the west coast of California is aware of our historical drought, especially those of us in sunny and dry Southern California. There are an abundance of simple ways to reduce our water use and help our drought situation, but also that enhance plant and soil health and reduce landfill waste. I believe the simplest steps, if taken in numbers by tenants and homeowners, make the greatest impact. I also believe we are being called into greater stewardship of the plot of land we inhabit, by becoming personally responsible for its well-being and our relationship with it.
Wendell Berry, in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, writes:
“The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”
So, roll up your sleeves, check your garden tool inventory, lace up them boots and lets get to work!
Reducing Water Use
If it seems I repeat myself on these points, know that they make such a huge impact on our water use. And I find so few households implement them.
You can see my previous two blogs on water saving strategies and lawn alternatives with native, Mediterranean and edible plants. Here I will cover the simplest, low or no cost strategies.
- Turn off your irrigation controller before and after a rain event.
- Install an on-site weather station which connects to your controller and automatically adjusts your irrigation programming depending on the weather.
- Have your city, municipality or a landscape professional perform an irrigation audit. Most tenants and homeowners would be surprised how much water is being wasted, and how much they are spending, on over watering. In fact, if your drip irrigation system is over 5 years old there are most certainly always leaks. Once plants establish they tend to prefer deep infrequent watering, though many irrigation controllers remain with their original programs of frequent, excessive watering. The City of Santa Barbara offers a free water check-up. Check with your city as many offer a free consultation.
Enhancing Soil and Plant Health with Mulch
Mulch is the Master. I can’t say it more plainly. Take a look at soil in the wild. You almost never see it without natural leaf litter, which is nature’s mulch. Technically speaking mulch is anything that covers your soil in your planting beds. Gravel, straw, woods chips and green-waste are all mulches. For our purposes, I will be implying organic (plant based) material that can break down into soil eventually.
So what does mulch do?
Mulch provides a protective layer for your soil, preventing desiccation and hardening from solar radiation. A 2-4 inch blanket of mulch keeps the soil surface moist, where feeder roots can access water and soluble nutrients. Also it is one of the simplest, indirect ways to conserve water and reduce water costs.
Mulch facilitates decomposition, which is the life-blood of healthy soil. Within the mulch and upper soil layers are hundreds of insects, and hundreds of thousands of soil microbes, mostly all participating in soil decomposition. The constant cycling of leaf litter into humus (fully decomposed organic material) reinvigorates soil with nutrients broken down into their most basic, absorbable components. Research of the past decade has revealed that microbial life within the soil is the cornerstone of its health and stability, much like the microbial life in our own intestines.
And hey, it looks good! Mulch puts that finishing touch to the landscape, tying it all together.
The county of Santa Barbara offers free greenwaste, which is recycled, ground yard waste collected across the county. And did you know residents of the city of Goleta and Santa Barbara are entitled to two free mulch deliveries per year? Check out the free mulch delivery program. And if you’re not a resident of Santa Barbara County, check with your local county waste disposal program for what is offered.
Click here for our for our next article: “Green Practices for your Home, Landscape and Garden part 2” where we explore the practice of composting.