During the last stretch of drought, you heard us advocating consistently for a radical restructuring of our relationship with water here in San Diego. In a drought-prone region like ours – and with climate change leading to increasing uncertainty when it comes to accessing reliable water supplies – using water wisely is only growing in importance. The low-hanging fruit? Outdoor, ornamental landscaping, which sucks up about half the (costly imported, or even costlier desalinated) freshwater in San Diego County. That’s right – we use about half our drinking water keeping our (often non-native) landscape green even though we live in a semi-arid region. We think it’s time to change that. Here are some ways you can help protect and conserve our water while giving your plants the juice they need.
1. Water your plants properly.
Overwatering is almost as common as under watering plants. Too much water robs your plants of the oxygen they need to keep their roots happy, leading to symptoms that look like under watering and starting a vicious cycle.
2. Turn off your sprinklers when it rains.
This should be obvious. Rain is falling from the sky. For free. Don’t use our expensive-pumped-over-a-mountain water to irrigate when you don’t need to.
3. Get a smart controller.
If you don’t have the wherewithal to change your irrigation rates with the season and weather conditions, they now make smart irrigation controllers that do it automatically. These smart controllers will look at current weather conditions to adjust the irrigation to meet your landscape needs. It’s like a robot that saves you water and money.
4. Mulch your landscape.
Mulch, such as straw or bark, helps retain water by keeping the sun off the bare soil. You’ll use less water, and it looks nice.
5. Rip out your front lawn.
Honestly, when is the last time you lounged on your expansive front lawn? Your backyard is where all the BBQing and kids running around happens. Set yourself apart from your neighbors by planting native plants in your front yard. Your house can look like Torrey Pines State Park, saving you a $15 parking fee every day.
6. Rain barrels.
Capture irrigation water for free using rain barrels. You’ll be amazed at how much water runs off your roof. Use this water to irrigate your landscape. Almost every area in San Diego County has rain barrel rebates. You should use them.
7. Use drip irrigation for your veggie garden.
Drip irrigation gets water to the plant roots, where they need them. It uses less water to irrigate the garden, and you don’t have the stand there all day with a hose watering the whole area.
8. Manage pests properly.
Learn about integrated pest management to discover ways of managing your garden pests in environmentally sound ways that don’t result in tons of horrible toxins leaching into the environment in service to your delicate tropically-intended foliage or hobby tomatoes. UC Davis has a great resource here: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/
9. Reduce your yard waste.
Unless you live in an area that has green trash cans, all the yard waste you throw into the garbage makes its way to the landfill. In addition to clogging the landfill, it decomposes releasing methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Compost your yard waste, or use a mulching mower that returns nutrients back into your lawn.
10. Rip out your lawn.
I know we mentioned this already with number 5, but seriously. Get rid of that lawn. Grassy lawns were invented in the 1500s in England as a symbol of affluence. It rains every month there. Grass just grows. Here? Not so much. But apparently we still desperately want Southern California to look like upper crust England, and we happily use staggering amounts of water and fertilizer and pesticides to help our lawns look green. It doesn’t make sense to pump water up and over a mountain to give it to grass that doesn’t even like it here. San Diego County has some of the highest levels of biodiversity in North America. There are many beautiful, lush, flowering native plants that can replace your lawn – it’s an absolute myth that the only alternative is gravel and cactus (no offense cactus, we love you too.)
That’s all folks – now go forth and conserve!