The record precipitation we received in the winter of 2022-2023 and its resulting incredible ski season has made it all too easy to forget the bad times that directly preceded it. California and the rest of the southwest have been experiencing more frequent and intense droughts since the turn of the century, leading many scientists to refer to the past two decades as a ‘megadrought.’
While the past winter provided a brief period of reprieve, all indications point to drought returning in the years ahead, which means the focus on preserving one of the state’s most precious resources – its water supply – remains a top priority for both the government and its natives. While the government works on shoring up our system of reservoirs and other means of preserving water on a wider scale, we, as California natives, can do our own part by adopting a more water-wise way of living.
Adopting a water-wise lifestyle doesn’t mean sacrificing everyday comforts – by simply adapting your home with appliances that conserve water, you can drastically reduce your wastage. This applies to everything from your bathroom to your landscaping.
A water-wise landscape can be just as beautiful and memorable as any you’d see in a wetter part of the world – you just need to follow the right steps. Here are some easy ways you can transform your landscape into a water-conserving paradise:
Judicious Application Of Native Flora
Every year during the winter months, the typically golden-brown hills surrounding southern California’s coastal valleys turn a verdant green with vast fields of orange, yellow, and purple wildflowers. The flora of southern California has attuned to this cycle of aridity and fecundity, surviving and even thriving despite long stretches of intense dry heat. The key to a sustainable, water-efficient garden is to lean into nature’s own adaptations to the local climate.
Natural turf lawns may represent an ideal aesthetic for suburban sensibilities, but the vast tracts of imported grasses represent a significant source of lost water and unhealthy chemicals. Keeping Kentucky bluegrass alive in an area with a fraction of the precipitation and none of the soil properties of its natural biome is a Sisyphean task that is not good for the local environment.
One of the simplest and most effective means of creating a water-wise landscape is removing the turf lawn and replacing it with planters populated with native grasses, shrubbery, and trees. Native plants have evolved to prefer this environment and times of drought. Watering native plants is important in the establishment period, however once established, they will be drought tolerant and require less fertilization. This serves a double function, as you can create a lush and aesthetic landscape that showcases the beauty of southern California’s natural environment and drastically reduces the water wastage of your household.
Embracing Efficiency With Modern Irrigation Systems
Thanks to modern technological solutions, you may not need to sacrifice your favorite plants when creating a water-wise landscape. What you do need is a revamped irrigation system that puts the water exactly where it’s needed rather than ineffectually spraying a generalized area.
Sprinkler systems replicate the natural effects of rainfall by providing water to the topsoil, draining down to reach the roots of the plants. While this can be effective, and still recommended for certain applications, it can be a significant source of water wastage since only a fraction of the used water actually reaches the root system. The rest is lost either immediately or soon after reaching the ground through evaporation from the intense southern California sun.
Modernized irrigation means utilizing a drip system that transports water directly to where the water is needed. Drip systems run at a slower rate to allow the water to slowly percolate the soil structure and reach the roots at a speed that the roots can uptake the water efficiently. Drip irrigation tubing is installed on the soil surface hidden under mulch or rock to remove the unaesthetic piping out of sight. Installing drip irrigation under mulch reduces the possibility of evaporation. Installing drip irrigation under pebbles or crushed rock doesn’t necessarily help with water loss due to evaporation, however it does keep it out of the sun which helps prolong the life of the tubing. Drip tubing has a shelf life of about 5-7 years, maintenance is required to keep the system going. The tubing may get damaged due to pests or maintenance tools, and it can get clogged when water contains high iron content. This is also true with spray irrigation, however it is a relatively easy task to replace the tubing when it starts to fail. In this case, the pros outweigh the cons although it is important to rely on expert opinions when it comes to assessing your unique site conditions.
Safeguarding the Soil
Soil structure makes a difference in water conservation, as organic material retains moisture and reduces the need for frequent watering. One of the primary steps we take during our landscape maintenance routines is mulching planting areas to help fertilize the soil as it breaks down and retain moisture in the upper sections of the soil structure. This practice is especially helpful for sandy soil types as sand particles allow water to flow through it easily. If your property does contain a sandy soil type, it is paramount to plant appropriately. Plants that have more succulent leaves or tolerate times of drought will perform better in sandy environments.
The choice of hardscaping materials can also significantly influence how water interacts with the landscape. Permeable materials like crushed stone, as opposed to impermeable ones like concrete, allow water to seep through, replenishing the ground and preventing wasteful runoff.
The climate of California is fickle and highly dynamic, and one of the responsibilities of the residents of this beautiful state is preventing the wastage of our most precious resource: water. It’s not just about having a beautiful landscape but one that respects and understands the environment it inhabits.
At Torrey Pines Landscape Company, we believe in crafting landscapes that echo your dreams while upholding conservation and sustainability values. Our commitment goes beyond aesthetics; we’re dedicated to preserving California’s invaluable resources, one droplet at a time. Let’s make your water-wise landscaping vision a reality. Call us today!