Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
October, 2008
Regional Report

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Color, texture, and very little water make this kind of planting preferable to a lawn.

Drought Precautions

The State of California Department of Water Resources has announced that the outlook for the drought in 2009 is the worst in history. The Department has also announced the development of a "water bank," where the State will act as a broker between agencies that have a water surplus and those that need it. If this sounds alarming, rightly so. Water will be less available to homeowners and certainly more expensive than in years past.

With fall planting season upon us, there are steps you can take to minimize your water usage. First, get rid of your lawn. Lawns use more water, fertilizers, and chemicals than anything else in your garden.

No More Lawn
My friend Jean replaced her tired lawn years ago with perennials, and her garden has won a beautification award from the City of South San Francisco. The existing lawn was tilled under, the soil amended with ample amounts of organic compost, then covered with landscape fabric and an 8-inch layer of free mulch from the South City Park Department, which she replenishes twice a year.

After the arduous soil prep, she selected and planted perennials, which established themselves in the rich soil over the winter months. By the time spring rolled around, her garden was not only beautiful, it required little or no water through the summer months. Salvia leucantha, gaura, ornamental grasses, dietes, lavender, daylilies, artemisia, leonotis, and a beautiful ground cover called dymondia.

Trees and Shrubs
I recommend that you water trees and shrubs deeply during the winter months to encourage deep root growth. During fall and winter, roots normally grow and expand because the soil is moist. Deep watering is especially important for trees growing in turf grass. Once water rationing starts next summer, you will lose not only your lawn, but also the trees that have been surviving on the shallow watering used for lawn irrigation.

To encourage roots to grow deep you need to force the water into the soil by using soaker hoses. I like the black soaker hoses made from recycled tires. Lay them around the circumference of the drip line of the tree. Turn on the water before you go to bed and allow it to run all night long. Watering in this way once a week during the winter months should be enough to encourage deep root growth. By the time spring rolls around, the trees will be well established and ready to survive a drought.

Next season's vegetable gardens will need to be amply mulched to survive the drought. Squash, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers are all thirsty plants. Corn is also notorious for using lots of water. Try growing less thirsty crops, such as onions and grapes. Use floating row covers to reduce evaporation and transpiration and prevent insect pests from invading your crops.

I love colorful annuals and will continue to grow them even through a drought. My solution is to not plant quite so many and to keep those that I do plant in sight. Large containers near the front door or small beds on a back patio add a splash of color. Water these small areas with water that would have otherwise been wasted. Keep containers near the kitchen sink and bathtub to collect water that would otherwise run down the drain while you are waiting for the hot water to reach the tap.

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