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Future Prognosis: Landscaping Demands Too Much Water

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By Joan Bergsund

You know we harp on water conservation. It´s a familiar theme, and keeps reappearing in these weekly columns. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle told of the increasing burden the home gardener and his landscaping places on the available water supply. Quoting a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California, increasing numbers of people moving into our state will most likely have to locate in the hotter, inland areas, where water use for landscaping can be expected to soar. The single-family home on a generous sized lot is the popular choice. We see these developments mushrooming today as we travel the San Joaquin Valley, the Sacramento region and Southern California; many more can be anticipated in the future. By 2030 the state is expected to absorb 11 million new residents.

According to this report we learn that today landscaping accounts for approximately one-half of all residential water demand. California cities, towns and suburbs currently use about 9 million acre-feet of water each year. It is predicted that without serious conservation efforts the increase in water demand could rise l.2 million acre feet each year.

Suggested conservation efforts run the gamut from education campaigns to actually paying homeowners to remove turf. Metering water use on large properties is another idea. Conservation efforts, if successful, could reduce the water demand for landscaping by 25 to 35 percent. To encourage using less water, residents can consider using drought tolerant and native species when planting. The traditional lawn can be replaced using water-wise species.

Legislators are introducing bills which could implement the recommendations made by a state-sponsored landscape task force. If the 43 water saving techniques they developed were used, enough water could be saved to serve 2 million households.

We learn that the companies that grow sod and supply the housing industry are alive and doing very well. We can observe several lush growing fields along route 99 between here and Sacramento. The high-end homes seem to come supplied with lawns, front and back. No one is suggesting that lawns be totally abandoned, only that they be retained where really useful. I suppose they are implying that a children´s play area is useful, where a spacious front lawn is not.

This is a tough sell. Americans have enjoyed a love affair with their lawns for many years. But the handwriting seems to be on the wall. The excessive heat we experienced this summer calls for heavy water use to protect our investment including lawns, shrubbery, perennial beds and trees. When those water bills come in we may be ready to revise our thinking.

This gives me the opportunity to suggest once again that we lower our expectations. Have less cultivated garden and enjoy it more. Retain a modest lawn for aesthetic reasons; but slowly convert the rest to native or drought tolerant plants. Use mulch to cover bare ground to retain moisture and suppress weeds while the newly-planted species “catch up.”

A garden is a beautiful thing, but is always a work in progress. What can you do, in your garden, to control water use today, and reduce the amount you use tomorrow?

California Native Plant Society (CNPS): One was to find out more about the use of drought-tolerant California native plants is to attend a CNPS meeting. The program for the October 5th CNPS meeting at 7:00 p.m. at the Tuolumne County Main Library on Greenley Road will be a panel discussion exploring ´Problems and Solutions in Landscaping with Native Plants in the Foothills.”

The panel will consist of: Joan Bergsund, who has been working on a native and drought tolerant home garden in Tuolumne County for 13 years; Judy Dean, a Master Gardener, who with her husband Bob has been establishing a large and varied garden near Mountain Ranch in Calaveras County; Darlene Donlen, who operates, with her husband, a commercial landscaping business and retail nursery near Angels Camp; and Mary Anderson, of Lost Hills Nursery, specializing in foothill grown and adapted native, drought tolerant and deer resistant plants.

The panel members should have the experience to address about any situation the audience members can come up with, and will share stories of their own challenges and successes working with native plants in the foothills.

California Native Plant Society Sale: The Native Plant Sale will be Saturday, October 14th from 9:00am to 2:00pm at the WestAmerica Bank Parking lot on Highway 108.

Native Plant Seminar: Master Gardener Val Myrick and Columbia Nursery will offer a native plant seminar at 11:00 am on Saturday, September 30 at the nursery. Val will discuss the topics of “Why use natives?” and “Landscaping with natives.”

Reminder – Master Gardener Demonstrations: Cassina High Dome, 251 S. Barretta Street, Sonora. All demonstrations are held on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. 9/30—Bamboo Arts and Crafts for the Garden, 10/7—Composting, 10/14—Arbors & Trellises, 10/21—Composting.

See you in the garden.

Joan Bergsund, a master gardener since l994, confesses that during our 100 degree heat wave she took pity on her natives and drought tolerant plants…and watered.