The Low Water Diet – Less is More When It’s Time to Go Green


From Sitio Baya – La Costa, Carlsbad

Residents of Southern California face increasing environmental concerns including a continuous plague of droughts, and water restrictions from the northern part of the state. If you make your home here, you’ve probably been made aware that “green” isn’t so green when it comes to your landscaping. Grass-covered soil is thirsty soil, consuming about 1 gallon of water per square foot per week.

By decreasing the size of our lawns, we can save nearly $140 -$280 per year on our water bill. The Yard Fairy specializes in low-water, low-application irrigation systems. Here are some tips for creating an attractive outdoor environment while greatly reducing your water use. Reduce the amount of grass.

Walkways and patios constructed of interlocking pavers, decomposed granite, and gravel are all wonderful additions that can make for creative landscaping without the use of grass. You might also consider grass-alternatives, such as thyme, which create a lovely effect in some areas but require much less water than grass does. Talk with your landscape artist to decide which types of plants will work best with your aesthetic preference and the intended function of your yard. Choose your plants wisely.

Water wise plant choices don’t have to be just cactus. A surprising array of colorful and interesting plant material is available that will reduce your water bill. Select from:

California natives such as Flannel bush (Fremontodendron) with its fury leaves and bright yellow blooms or Ceanothus with its evergreen glossy leaves and its beautiful blue blooms

Mediterranean plants such as Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa) with its wooly gray green leaves and deep golden yellow flowers or Blue Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii) with its deep green leaves and prolific lilac blue flowers

Succulents such as rosettes of Hen and Chicks (Echeveria x imbricata) with their bell-shaped, orange-red flowers, or Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ with its nearly black rosettes held on its stalk.

The low water diet

Replace traditional spray heads with MP rotators.

Traditional spray heads deliver a high volume of water that evaporates into the air quickly. Water sprays in a fine mist that is not easily absorbed by the dry, clay soil of Southern California. The result is excessive runoff, wasted water, and plants that don’t receive the moisture they need to thrive and grow.

MP rotators send fingers or streams of water in a circular pattern. The droplets of water are heavier, denser, and less likely to blow off course. Water absorbs into the ground more readily, which makes for a more economical method of watering your plants.

Switch to an efficient drip irrigation system.

A traditional irrigation system uses spay nozzles on fixed risers that deliver a large volume of water in a sort space of time. As the plans grow, the sprays are blocked and the plants which are further away don’t get their quota of water.A more efficient method is to deliver the water slowly directly to the top of the soil in the root zone via half inch drip line. The water has less chance of evaporating off, especially if it’s covered with wood chip mulch, and the plants’ water needs are met as they grow.

Use a Smart Irrigation Controller.

Typically as homeowners we adjust our irrigation controller twice per year – once in the fall, and once in the spring. Often, we forget to turn our irrigation off when there is rain. All these factors cause us to waste quite a lot of water. A ‘smart’ irrigation controller is hooked up to a weather station in your yard, so it knows the temperature and the relative humidity. Once it’s programmed with your soil type, plant types and any slope information, it can automatically adjust the irrigation schedule on a day by day basis. This provides us with a huge water saving and it removes one more thing to worry about as homeowners.

Improve the quality of your soil.

Southern California soil is either heavy clay or very sandy. Both soil types have their pros and cons. Clay contains lots of nutrients, but is prone to becoming water logged. Sandy soil is nice and airy, but water and nutrients just wash right though.

Fortunately, the answer is to add organic compost to both types of soil. For clay soil it breaks it up and creates a texture that allows for drainage. For sandy soil it provides nutrients and water holding capacity.

Without the proper conditioning, it’s nearly impossible for anything other than native plants to grow here. The Yard Fairy takes steps to improve the soil for those areas where clients would like to add a bit more color to their yards. We add compost to the soil to improve the pH levels. Then we cover the area with mulch, which helps to retain moisture. Harvest rainwater for later use.

While our rainfall is on average pretty low, it makes sense to capture as much of it as we can and store it in our soil. We can achieve this by raising walkways so that rainwater drains off them into planter beds, we use permeable walkways and patio materials to deliver the water back into the soil, and we encourage water catchment using dry stream beds and rain barrels where possible.

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