Smart Gardening Information Sheet, Water Wise Gardening - Los Angeles, California

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Smart Gardening Information Sheet, Water Wise Gardening - Los Angeles, California

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Smart Gardening Information Sheet, Water Wise Gardening - Los Angeles, California

  1. 1. County of Los Angeles Countywide Smart Gardening Program Department of Public Works Publication No. SG-6, January 2003 Environmental Programs Division Copyright© 2003, All Rights Reserved Author: Keith D. Thomsen, PE, DEE BioContractors, Inc. Smart Gardening Information Sheet WATER-WISE GARDENING I always thought a yard was three feet . . . then I started mowing the lawn. C.E. Cowman As you can see from the map of California Water Projects,INTRODUCTION Los Angeles County relies heavily on water from other parts of the state. In an average year, we import millions of gallonsWith all the trees, shrubs and grass we have growing in of water from northern and central California, the OwensSouthern California, its easy to forget we live in a desert. On Valley and the Colorado River, and pump millions more fromaverage, most families use about 500 gallons of water per groundwater wells that draw water out of our regionalday, and over 30% is used to water their yards and gardens. aquifers. Increasingly, water is in short supply and isBy implementing some, or all, of the water-wise gardening becoming more expensive. Additionally, California facesideas presented here, you can save 50% or more of the repeating cycles of heavy rains (El Niño) followed by droughtwater you use while keeping your yards and gardens green (La Niña). In fact, historically, our state has faced prolongedand healthy. droughts that have lasted over 50 years. It is critical, then, that everyone work to conserve as much water as possible. Water-wise gardening involves using various landscaping techniques that help conserve water while maintaining a beautiful and efficient yard. The 10 principles of water-wise gardening are: 1. Follow the Land - by watching where rain runs after it falls onto your yard. The contours of your yard can be changed to catch the rainwater, and speed or slow its flow, holding it in the ground for use by plants. 2. Water Wisely - give plants only as much water as they need. Use efficient watering methods such as drip systems and soaker hose that deliver the water closer to the plants roots. Many plants adapted to dry summers do not need much water a few years after planting. 3. Care for the Soil - by adding compost or mulch. Compost helps the soil hold water and adds nutrients needed for plant growth. Mulches prevent the soil from overheating and drying out. Mulch also helps reduce weeds and slow erosion. Use 2" - 4" underneath plants and shrubs. Figure 1 4. Tend Patiently - with a sparing hand and keeping in mind Map of California Water Projects that plants will grow larger. Plants use nutrients foundCounty of Los Angeles -1-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program
  2. 2. naturally in the soil and in the added compost. They do called "hardiness zones," are represented by bands across not usually need man-made chemicals to make them the continent. grow better.5. Gather the Rain - by catching it in rain barrels when it falls and holding it for later use. The rainwater costs nothing and it can be used in your garden during the summer when the ground is dry.6. Prune Naturally - try not to force plants to grow into unnatural shapes, its hard on the plant and it generates more green waste that you will need to compost or shred for mulch. Learn to work with your plants and prune to achieve a more natural form.7. Plant Naturally - by layering plants to make shade and using species that are native to Southern California or other dry, Mediterranean-type climates. These plants are naturally rain-watered and are adapted to the wet winter and dry summer conditions typical of Southern California.8. Plan Your Garden - a garden can be a natural oasis in an otherwise barren urban desert. Use your garden to expand your living area into the great outdoors. Understand the natural shade and sun of your yard and Figure 2 plan your garden accordingly. Remember: plan the work, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones Map then work the plan.9. Plant Wisely - only use plants that have been grown in a nursery or that come from collected seeds or cuttings. Never dig up and take wild plants, its illegal and damages the ecosystem. Leave them in their natural habitat for everyone to enjoy. You should also group your plants together, placing water loving plants together and drought-tolerant plants elsewhere (hydrozoning). This allows you to give your plants just the right amount of water, avoiding over-watering and waste.10. Share Your Wisdom - talk to neighbors and other people in your local community. Help people to develop a knowledge and wisdom of the land so that Los Angeles County will continue to be a healthy place to live and work.GARDENING CLIMATE ZONESTwo methods have been developed for evaluating climateimpacts and are commonly used throughout the western US.The first was developed by the US Department of Agriculturein cooperation with the National Weather Service (NWS) hasidentified various regions within North America by their 60-year average minimum winter temperature. These regions, Figure 3 California USDA Plant Hardiness Zones MapCounty of Los Angeles -2-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program
  3. 3. In Southern California, we are generally in one of three gardeners know which plants will grow where, so theyzones: 10a, 10b or 11 (some mountainous areas are in wouldnt plant things that would just die because they werentzones 9a or 9b). This means that in most areas, the average well suited to the regions temperatures. So whats wrongminimum temperature never gets below freezing, except on with these zones? Well, while theyre useful forrare occasions. understanding temperature variation, this is not the only factor you need to know to determine whether a plant willThe second is a 24-zone climate system developed based survive in your garden. Soil types, rainfall, daytimeon research conducted by the University of California temperatures, day length, wind, humidity and heat also playBerkeley and popularized by Sunset Magazine over the last their roles. You need to know what will work in your own yard40 years. or garden. Microclimates In every yard or garden, there are areas where plants will grow and others where they will die. This is because of small differences in the temperature, wind, sun, water, protective surroundings and even other plants. Most gardens have two or more microclimates and its critical that plants be selected to suit the local microclimate. Houses, walls, fences and other plants can all affect the amount of sun or shade in a garden. Sunny areas tend to heat up and dry out faster than shaded areas. Shaded areas, on the other hand, receive less sunlight and tend to be cooler and stay wetter than sunny areas. Figure 4 Sunset Climate Zone Map Figure 5 Using Trees and Shrubs toThe Sunset zone maps, which cover the entire United States, Create a Microclimate for Your Homeare generally considered to be more precise than theUSDAs, since they factor in not only winter minimum The amount and extent of both sunlight and shade istemperatures, but also summer highs, lengths of growing seasonal. Shadows are longer in winter (with the noon sunseasons, humidity, and rainfall patterns to provide a more at about 30 degrees up) and shorter in summer (with theaccurate picture of growing conditions in a particular area. In noon sun at about 75 degrees up). In addition, winter daysSouthern California, many nurseries and garden centers refer are also shorter, as short as about 10 hours in many areas ofto the Sunset climate zones rather than the USDA plant Los Angeles County.hardiness zones. During the summer, on the other hand, days are longer,So, what are plant hardiness zones and climate zones? lasting up to 14 hours. Even under full direct sunlight, someSimply, these zones were developed to help farmers and variation in sunlight intensity and heat gain will occur due toCounty of Los Angeles -3-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program
  4. 4. angle-of-attack, heat absorption and reflection effects. South buildings which retain heat may also have similar moderatingand southwest facing structures receive more intense influences.sunlight than north or northeast facing structures. East-westrunning walls, fences and buildings reflect more sunlight Windtowards their south sides while creating shadier regions ontheir north sides. In general, Southern California experiences westerly air currents during the day and easterly air currents at night.In addition, these structures may act as heat sinks, actively The wind tends to be greater near the coast and at the basestoring and releasing heat for many hours after sunset. of canyons. However, the local terrain topology can produceSimilarly, but to a lesser extent, north-south running walls and all sorts of unusual, and sometimes severe, wind patterns. Infences create warmer regions on their west sides and cooler some cases, structures and plantings such as tress andregions to their east. The material the wall is made of (and shrubs can be used to control undesirable winds, or even topainted with) can also moderate or enhance the amount of direct cooling winds into certain areas.sunlight and heat that is reflected back into the garden.Night ExposureAt night, yards and gardens typically lose heat. Much of thisloss is radiated upward into the atmosphere, or moreaccurately, out into space (ultimately). Clouds and humiditytend to insulate the ground from this type of heat loss,absorbing and reflecting the heat back toward the ground.This is the reason why desert nights are often extremely cold,whereas coastal regions may cool only slightly. In a yard orgarden, any overhead structures, such as shade arbors andtrellises will insulate the area directly underneath. Thats whyits warmer at night under a tree than out in the open. Its thistype of heat loss and heat gain that usually determines whichareas in the garden are most susceptible to dehydration inthe summer or frost in the fall, winter and spring.Cold-Air BasinsCold air can be collected and trapped by depressions orbasins in a yard or garden, including man-made barriers likehouses, walls, or fences. Sloped gardens tend to be warmer,and less susceptible to frost, than their immediatesurroundings since cold air is easily drained off and replaced Figure 6by warmer air from above. Satellite Photograph Dust from Santa Ana WindsHeat SinksAs everyone in Southern California knows, the ocean is a HYDROZONESpowerful climate modifier. Along the coast, the summertemperatures average 5 - 25 degrees cooler than inland. Hydrozones are an ancient technique that really meansDepending on the weather conditions, there are even days nothing more than grouping plants together according to theirwhen it can be cloudy and foggy at the coast, while inland the water (as well as soil, nutrient, pH, etc.) needs. By carefullytemperatures soar to over 100 degrees. Even relatively small picking your plants, grouping them together according to theirwater bodies like backyard pools and ponds can create a water and other needs and using modern low-flow irrigationgarden microclimate that is cooler during the day and warmer techniques, you can drastically reduce the amount of waterat night. To a lesser extent, areas like driveways, walls andCounty of Los Angeles -4-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program
  5. 5. you use, lower your water bill, save time, and generate less drains into the soil and subsoil and begins to move down-yard waste. gradient (downhill). If you put the highest water demand plants at the high point of your yard, then any water thatReducing water waste also helps you get stronger, healthier drains into the soil and subsoil will move down through yourplants by directly applying water to the root zones of plants, yard, helping water other plants and encouraging deepwhere its needed and used more efficiently. A key to this rooting.technique is establishing a watering schedule. This allowsyou to precisely control the quantity, timing and placement ofwater, so you will use it more effectively. Figure 8 Placing High Water-Use Plants at the Top of a Slope Figure 7 Drip Irrigation Set-up Soil TypeLow flow watering systems apply water at or near grade, Knowing what kind of soil you have is critical to successfulvirtually eliminating runoff and over-spray, and minimizing hydrozoning. If your soil is sandy, water will percolateevaporation. Because you can also adjust these systems to downward very quickly but will not move out laterally. If yourallow deep watering, you can also encourage plants to soil is a heavier, denser clay, the particles are frequently sodevelop deep root systems, improving drought resistance. compact that water spreads quite far horizontally before itsLow-volume systems can be as much as 95% efficient, able to penetrate down into the soil column. This type of soilcompared with 60-70% for conventional systems. frequently experiences substantial runoff problems when watered. In Southern California, we have both types of soil,To use the hydrozone approach, just follow these six simple and most sites are actually a combination of both types. Onesteps: nearly universal problem, though, is that most soils in Southern California lack organic material (for more details,STEP 1: ANALYZE YOUR SITE please refer to the section on Soils).The first step to successfully using the hydrozone concept is Climate and Microclimateto look over your yard or garden carefully. Pay particularattention to the natural slope of the area, the soil type(s) First, check the climate zone map to see what kind of areapresent, your general climate zone as well as any you live in. Think about how hot your area gets in themicroclimate issues in the area, and your existing and summer, and how cool in the winter. Also, if youre near theplanned plant species. coastal areas, youll need to consider that humidity may limit your plant choices. Microclimates are smaller areas of yourIn general, you should try to group plants that have the yard or garden where the normal temperature, amount of sunhighest water demand (use) together at the highest point in or shade, and reflected light and heat create special needs.your yard. When you water your yard and garden, the water For example, plants in sheltered areas with more direct sunCounty of Los Angeles -5-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program
  6. 6. surrounded buildings or other structures that may absorb STEP 3: IRRIGATE THE BASE PLANTheat will need more water than plants in shady areassurrounded by lawn or other plants. In each planting area or hydrozone, you will generally select a main, or "base plant." The base plant is the plant in theSTEP 2: PLAN YOUR SITE hydrozone that requires the smallest amount of water each day. When you plan your irrigation schedule, you will designIt is critical to make an accurate, complete plan of your yard each hydrozones general watering system to irrigate theor garden. The effort you make during this step will save you base plant, and then select individual emission devices toconsiderable time and effort later. If you are planning a new meet the water requirements of the remaining plants in theyard or garden, you can control more easily how plants are hydrozone that require more water than the base plants. Forgrouped and arranging so that plants with similar water "worst case" irrigation you should establish water needsrequirements are grouped together. This will mean that the based on the hottest, driest day in the summer.hydrozone groupings will naturally follow the physical layoutof the yard or garden. Adjusting for Climate and Microclimate When developing your irrigation schedule, you should consider that most manufacturers establish their recommendation based on national averages. To adjust these recommendations for your specific climate and microclimates, you need to consider if the normal summer high temperatures in your yard or garden is substantially above 90°F (32°C), and/or the normal relative humidity is below 50%. If it is, then you should increase the daily run time of the base plant watering schedule by approximately 50%. However, you should always use caution when adjusting the irrigation schedule and observe your plants to be sure they are getting the proper amount of water. Check for water and heat stress regularly. STEP 4: IRRIGATE NON-BASE PLANTS Figure 9 Landscape Plan for Residential Area Each hydrozone will have only one base plant. Because the base plant requires the smallest amount of water each day,Revising or remodeling an existing yard or garden can be the irrigation system should be designed to service the basemore challenging to design than new sites. In many cases, plant. The remaining plants in each hydrozone are "non-you may find that plants with very different water base" plants. For each non-base plant in each hydrozonerequirements are located next to each other. If this is true in you should carefully determine each plants wateryour case, you will need to be careful not to mix plants with requirements. As in Step 3, the normal water demand ofwidely varying water requirements in the same hydrozone. each plant should be adjusted as shown below:For example, if you have an area that contains plants with • If the normal summer high temperatures in your yard ordiffering water needs, you may want to group them into garden is substantially above 90°F (32°C), and/or theseparate hydrozones according to low, medium, and high normal relative humidity is below 50%, increase thewater requirements. You may also need to install separate water requirement for each non-base plant by 50irrigation line controllers so that plants with varying water percent.demands can be watered individually according to theirneeds. If you really want precision in your watering, many • If your yard or garden is located in a cool climate,manufacturers supply a variety of devices that actually decrease the water requirement for each non-base plantmeasure soil moisture content and automatically water only by 50 percent.when the plants really need it. These systems are slightlymore expensive, but keep water use to a minimum. • If your yard or garden is in full sun throughout the day or it is surrounded by reflective structures or paving,County of Los Angeles -6-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program
  7. 7. increase the water requirement for each non-base plant STEP 6: ADJUST AND MAINTAIN THE IRRIGATION by 25 percent. (Caution: you should calculate this SYSTEM adjustment before any adjustments are made for climate). During the first one or two months, carefully watch both the base and non-base plants for signs of heat or water stress. It • If your yard or garden is in full shade throughout the day, is generally advisable to over-water initially, and then decrease the water requirement for each non-base plant gradually reduce the watering schedule. Adjust the amount by 25 percent. (Caution: you should also calculate this of water being given to each plant as necessary to avoid adjustment before any adjustments are made for over- or under-watering. Check the wetting patterns around climate.) every plant to be sure that theyre receiving water. Check every emitter head to make sure theyre working and inspectSTEP 5: LAYOUT THE IRRIGATION SYSTEM all filters weekly. Low-flow emitters have very small openings that can become clogged with pipe scale or other debris. IfMost yard and garden irrigation systems consist of two an emitter is clogged, use the manufacturers recommendedrelated subsystems: sprinklers and low-flow emitters. tool or method to clear the emitter. After the first month, youDesigning and laying out a low-flow hydrozone irrigation should inspect and clean all filters and emitters on a monthlysystem is very similar to a conventional sprinkler system. basis. Also check the individual timers and valves to makeMost low-flow systems rely on 1/2-inch rigid or flexible tubing sure theyre working. If plants show signs of heat or waterconnected to sprinkler heads that water the base plants and stress, adjust the system as necessary. A good preventativelow-flow emitter heads and distribution tubing that bring maintenance practice is to flush the entire irrigation systemadditional water directly to plants in each hydrozone that each spring and fall to flush debris that may accumulate inrequire more water than the base plants. the piping and valves. DROUGHT TOLERANT PLANTS Drought-tolerant plants, shrubs and trees are specially adapted to grow well in regions that get little, or infrequent, amounts of normal rain. These plants require less water to live in Southern Californias natural climate and soil and tend to be more pest and disease resistant. Some of these plants are native species, while others are imported, typically from other areas of the world with a similar Mediterranean climate, such as Southern Europe, North Africa, South Africa, Australia, Brazil and some coastal areas of Mexico. Figure 10 Pick the Right Plants In-Ground Installation of a Battery Operated Control Valve and Backflow Check Valve Choosing the appropriate drought-tolerant plants for your landscape is important. There are many sources ofThe key to these systems is the use of control valves and information about drought tolerant plants, including thetimers that allow you to adjust the watering schedule with Western Garden Guide© by Sunset Books, Inc. andgreat precision. When laying out the location of sprinkler Xeriscape Gardening© written by Ellefson, Stephens andheads, care should be taken to ensure even, complete Welsh. Another excellent resource is to ask someone at acoverage with individual spray heads selected to cover only local gardening center or native plant specialty nursery tothe areas needing water. This will prevent waste and show you plants that are native to Southern California or thatoverspray from the sprinklers. Individual drip or low-flow are well adapted to our climate. Always group plantsemitters should be evenly spaced around each plant. according to soil, water and sunlight needs, making sure thatGenerally, it is good practice to place each emitters placed they are compatible with your overall landscape design ashalf way between the trunk of the plant and its drip line (the well. The more time you spend thinking about youredge of the foliage of the plant.) landscape before you start, the less time youll need to spend changing things after you plant. A well-designed area notCounty of Los Angeles -7-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program
  8. 8. only is more enjoyable to look at, but it’s better for your plants Many of the Water-wise Demonstration Gardens haveand can reduce your overall cost of maintenance. spectacular examples of these plants. In addition, many non- native species of drought tolerant annuals can also be used,Pick the Right Time including pansies (purple, blue, yellow, white and fuchsia), petunias (white, pink, red, purple, blues and candy-stripped)There is a myth among people who like to use native plants and zinnia (every color of rainbow).that fall is the only time to plant. This couldn’t be farther fromthe truth. In general, the best time to plant in Southern Save Water & Money - Part of the fun of landscaping isCalifornia is in the winter or spring, and if care is taken, you enjoying it. Drought-tolerant plants give you more time to docan plant successfully in the summer and fall, as well. just that. By including water-smart plants in your landscape, the time spent maintaining your property can be significantlyThe key to success with native plants is to treat them just like reduced. Not only can you reduce your water bill, but you cana normal plant (e.g. provide them with infrequent, deep reduce maintenance costs. By focusing on plants that preferwatering when ever they show signs of stress) the first year. Southern Californias weather and soils, you reduce theOnce established, virtually all native plants are highly drought expense of replacing less-hearty plants.tolerant and can survive on just the water they receive fromnormal rainfall. It is important to remember, though, that evendrought-tolerant plants, shrubs and trees may occasionally NATIVE PLANTSneed some additional water, so it is important to learn torecognize signs of heat and water stress. Besides obvious After several centuries of carelessly importing plants from allsigns of wilting, plants give off other distress signals like dull over the globe, people in Southern California areor droopy foliage, premature dropping of leaves and poor rediscovering the many attractive and naturally droughtflower production. tolerant native plant species available for them to use as an integral part of their outdoor living areas. Even more excitingDrought Tolerant Doesnt Mean Dull and Ugly is that many nurseries and garden stores are actively cultivating and selling native plant species, so the availability and selection is constantly improving. Much of this successMany species of drought-tolerant plants live and thrive in our is due to the many individuals and organizations who havearea. By choosing carefully, you can find drought tolerant dedicated themselves to the preservation and cultivation ofspecies that flower with spectacular purples, blues, yellows, native plants.reds, pinks and bright whites. There are many companiesthat sell native wild flower mixes that contain drought tolerantannuals that will add spectacular color. Figure 12 Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve Native plants are those that evolved naturally in any given Figure 11 area, in our case Southern California. More specifically, Drought Tolerant Plants native plants have been defined to include only those species that were growing naturally in the area before humans introduced plants from distant places. Contrary to popularCounty of Los Angeles -8-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program
  9. 9. belief, non-native plant species were not originally introduced conditions, thriving without artificial fertilizers. Additionally,by European colonists. Virtually all Native Americans who native plant species are generally more resistant to localpracticed any type of agriculture introduced non-native pests and diseases, although invader pests and diseasesspecies, such as corn and squash, into other areas as they may prove problematic. It is easy to see that native plantmoved around. Europeans, however, substantially increased species are very well adapted for inclusion in "low-the invasion of new plant species by importing them from maintenance" gardens and landscapes.literally all parts of the globe. Each native plant species is a member of a community that includes other plants, animals and microorganisms. The natural balance keeps each species in check, allowing it to thrive in conditions to which it has adapted, but preventing it from spreading uncontrolled. Thus, native species rarely become invasive, unlike plants imported from other areas. Native plants provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies Figure 13 and other desirable wildlife. Many help to stabilize and hold California Fresh Water Marsh the soil. Their root systems help rainfall percolate into the Native Plant Community soil, reducing erosion and runoff and improving downstream water quality. Many of the hillsides in Southern CaliforniaPrior to humans, native plants typically grew in communities suffer from periodic landslides and severe erosion during thewith species that were well-adapted to similar soil, moisture, winter because imported trees and shrubs have shallowand weather conditions. Some of the widespread roots which do not anchor the soil on slopes particularly well.communities locally included scrub and valley oak, tallgrass Native plant species often have much deeper penetratingand shortgrass prairies, as well as freshwater and saltwater root systems which are more effective at holding soil onmarshes. Additional plant communities occupied specialized slopes, often decreasing the possibility of landslides andniches, including savannahs, fens, bogs, flood plains and erosional losses.alpine areas. Native Plants Are InterestingWhy Landscape with Native Plants The diversity of native Southern California plants includes • Landscaping with native plants has many advantages, interesting flowers and foliage. Native shrubs and trees such including: as Manzanita and Valley Oak, provide a variety of heights, shapes and textures in the landscape. Ground covers and • lower water use (native species, once established, are low growing shrubs such as Island Bush Poppy, Wild Lilac naturally drought resistant), and California Dutchmans Pipe offer a diversity of color and texture which grow well in planting beds and as borders of • better adapted to natural soil conditions, landscaped areas. In addition, Southern California has many annual and perennial flowers such as Matalija Poppy, Coral • better suited to provide natural forage, cover and habitat Bells, and Western Columbine offer opportunities for vibrant for native wildlife, and color while remaining drought tolerant. Another benefit of native plants is their historical and cultural importance. Many • more resistant to natural pests and diseases. native plant species have played a significant role in Native American culture, or in European exploration and settlement.Native plant species have evolved and adapted to local A number of species have been reported to have value asconditions over thousands of years and are usually much food or medicine, while others have been used as fiber formore tolerant to the prevailing weather extremes at a given textiles and rope or coloring and dye for various domesticlocation. They have adapted to survive winter cold and purposes. Native plants offer a tangible link to our commonsummer heat, periodic drought, wild fires and high winds. heritage, and provide a bridge to our collective futures.Once established, most species require little or no additionalirrigation beyond normal rainfall and because they typicallygrow more slowly, they generate much less yard waste.Native plant species are also well adapted to local soilCounty of Los Angeles -9-Department of Public WorksSmart Gardening Program

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