Imagine a garden that is thriving during the drought, bursting with colorful blooms, delicious fruit, the melodies of song birds, and healthy bees. The following landscape elements will help ensure that your garden is slowing, spreading, and sinking as much water as possible rather than wasting it and causing runoff. The result? Lush gardens that use less to do more.
THE RIGHT PLANTS
Every water-wise garden needs the right plants grown in theright places. Native plants are always a good choice, as theyare adapted to California’s seasonally dry climate. Many non-native plants from locations with similar Mediterranean climates will also do well. Arranging plants so they have appropriate shelter from drying winds and hot afternoon sun can also help reduce water requirements. Hardy perennial food plants provide multiple benefits, and even annual fruit and vegetable plantscan be grown with water efficiency in mind. See our ‘Water-wise Plants we Love’ resource for more details on good selections for your water-wise garden.
Increase the living sponge of your site with a thick layer of mulch. Mulch reduces erosion, slows evaporation and builds better soil over time. Better soil (ie. soil with more organic matter) in turn absorbs and holds more water. A nice layer of mulch also creates a prime canvas to display your gorgeous plants. Cover any bare soil with fallen leaves, wood chips made from tree trimmings, or rice straw. Just be sure that mulch isn’t piled up around the stems or trunks of plants.
Swales are essentially thoughtfully designed ditches that enable rainwater to slow, spread and sink into the soil. Capturing water in the soil is the cheapest and easiest way to harvest large amounts of rain, hydrating your landscape and recharging groundwater. Rain gardens are one form of swale. Berm and basin swales, built along the contour of a hill, help infiltrate water flowing down a slope and create a lens of water underground available to plants downhill. Infiltration basins can be either deep narrow ditches or simply holes, which are then filled with mulch to help hold water on flatter surfaces. Much more detail about swales can be found in out rainwater harvesting resources.
Remove hardscape to maximize rain absorbing garden space. Permeable pathways of gravel, mulch, and even brick allow more water to soak into the ground. Consider installing permeable pavers or vegetative planting strips in place of concrete in driveways or plant rain gardens in parkway strips along sidewalks to increase permeability and reduce runoff at your site.
Forget sprinklers. A simple system of tubing and emitters delivers the right amount of water right where it’s needed. You can also easily convert a sprinkler head to feed your drip system, which makes setting up irrigation for your lawn-to-garden transformations very simple. An automatic timer can be added to ensure consistent watering. If you don’t have an irrigation system, get in the habit of hand watering. Either way, you’ll use less water and get better results because you’ll be giving each plant just what it needs.
RAIN TANKS AND BARRELS
Did you know that over 600 gallons of water can be captured for every 1” of rain falling on a 1000 ft2 roof? That’s a lot of water, even in a dry year! Rain tanks and barrels use your gutter system to harvest the precious gift of rain, preventing waste, erosion,and flooding. With tanks and/or barrels, you can hold on to the ample water that lands on your roof and then release it slowly into your landscape through irrigation, keeping your landscape looking lush well into the dry season
A great way to supplement landscape irrigation is by reusing the gently used water from your laundry machine, shower, and/or bathroom sink. Greywater is perfect for watering trees, shrubs, and even smaller annuals and perennials, and is easy to set up. Laundry systems do not even require a permit in most CA cities. Appropriate soaps are easy to come by, and the system is very easy to turn off if you ever wanted to. Greywater helps you get double duty out of the water you’ve already paid for, and reduces the need for fresh drinking water for irrigation. Lots more info is available in our greywater resources.