Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2009
Regional Report

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This garden replaced an existing lawn several years ago. It uses no water during the dry season now that it is established.

Water Conservation

Oh my, everything is so dry. The native grasses are crackly from lack of moisture. The foliage on trees is muted with dust and creek beds are bone dry. Animals are coming out of rural woodlands in search of water. I saw a flock of thirsty Canada geese sipping from the sprinkler runoff at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. This time of year the entire west coast is holding it's breath until the rainy season begins, but we still have another month or so, if we are lucky enough to get any measurable rainfall at all.

Garden Oasis
Of course landscape gardens are luckier than their wild relatives. We provide the water necessary to keep our cultivated plants healthy. Supposing however, that we were cut off from our water supply? Surely you have heard of the water wars that are raging between Southern and Northern California. The population in California is still booming and every new home and business will require a source of water. Fresh water is a finite resource. It's not like we can make more. Currently Marin County is in the process of trying to build a desalinization plant on the coast. They are being thwarted by exorbitant costs and various political factions. The only water currently available to Marin County is from the winter run off from Mt. Tamalpias which is stored in several reservoirs around the county.

Learn to Live with Less
Water conservation is something we are all going to have to live with in the future. The best place to start is in the garden. Lawns, the major cause of water usage, can be made smaller by expanding planting beds around the perimeter, or eliminated entirely. My friend Jean has a beautiful garden in South City that requires no water at all during the dry season. Granted, South City is cooler in the summer than Sacramento, but the same type of planting could be used in warm climates with a significant reduction of water usage.

Change is Good
With the fall planting season upon us, it's time to step back and evaluate our expenditure of water and take steps to conserve and rectify old gardening habits. For example, use containers made of plastic or glazed pottery to reduce evaporation. Cover the surface of container plantings with a layer of mulch. Containers made of porous materials such as wood or terra cotta should be placed in groups to create shade and increase humidity to prevent unnecessary evaporation.

Endeavor to drive the roots of shrubs and trees deeper into the soil by infrequent, deep watering. A soaker hose is ideal for this purpose. Mulch garden beds with a 4- to 6-inch layer of organic material. Not only will it prevent weeds that rob vital moisture from your good landscape plants, but it will also prevent moisture loss. Mulching is probably the most important water preservation technique that gardeners have at their disposal.

When re-landscaping, select plants that are drought tolerant. Kangaroo's paw, blue globe thistle, monkey flower and artemesia are all plants that actually prefer dry soil. If you are considering replacing or remodeling a section of your landscape, please, select plants that are suited to the new century.

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