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Monday, March 12, 2012

Water-wise Gardening: Do I have to plant cactus? install artificial turf?

Many people are interested in decreasing their water use.  Since about 60% of home water is actually used outside the home (mostly to water plants), the garden is a logical place to save water.  Our main purpose – in our garden and on this blog – is to share ideas about making your garden more water-wise and life-friendly.  And we plan to do this over the coming years.  But first, let’s consider some common misconceptions about water-wise gardening.

1.    Do I have to plant cactus?   Unless you really love cacti, the answer is no.    Contrary to what some people say, we don’t really live in a desert in western L.A. County.  Desert areas get extremely low rainfall – often less than 5-6 inches per year –  while we get an average of 10-15 inches.  Our climate is dry, but it’s still  moist compared to true deserts.  In fact, you’ll need some garden tricks grow cacti in your garden – we just get too much rain!    People who live in Barstow, Phoenix or Las Vegas do live in the desert, so cacti and other desert plants are appropriate for their yards. 

2.    Should I consider installing artificial turf?  At first glance this seems like a good way to save water.  But you might like other options even better.   Artificial turf can get hot and you’ll have to wash it down when it gets dusty and dirty.  In addition, artificial turf will not attract birds and butterflies;  and it can’t compete with real grass for kids to play on.   Water-wise native grasses, groundcovers and other plants are usually more attractive and ‘life-friendly’ than artificial turf.

3.    Should I just pave over my yard?   While pavement is a good choice for some uses – like driveways – there are more attractive options for your yard as a whole. Most people are happiest with a combination of plants and hardscape (the non-planted areas of a garden like patios, walkways, etc.).  Come to Mother Nature’s Backyard to see some attractive gardening ideas that combine plants and hardscape..  We’ll even show you how to make your hardscape water-wise (by allowing rainwater to percolate into the soil instead of running off into the street). 

4.    Do I have to get rid of my lawn?  This is not an easy question to answer.  Lawns do need water.  But they also are wonderful places for children to play and pets to romp.   So you need to consider how you actually use your lawn areas.  If the kids need a place to play, keep the lawn and save water in other areas of the yard.  If you don’t really use your lawn, consider making it smaller or replacing it with water-wise alternatives.

5.    Do I have to get rid of all the plants I love and replace them with water-wise plants?   The short answer is ‘no’.   Think of your home’s water in terms of a ‘water budget’.  You have just so much water to spend, but you can spend it however you choose.   If you choose to spend more water on a vegetable garden, then you’ll need to spend less on other parts of the yard.   If you love roses or want to keep a lawn in your front yard, then you’ll want to balance these with a combination of water-wise plants and hardscape in your backyard, etc.

6.    Do water-wise gardens have to be ugly?  Once again, the answer is no.  Water-wise gardens do look different from many of today’s gardens, but they can be even more interesting and beautiful  once you get used to them.  Traditionally, we’ve borrowed plants from the tropics and other rainy places for our gardens.   These borrowed plants require plenty of water and fertilizer -  they do hail from rainy places, after all.   Water-wise native plants come from our own mediterranean climate, so they need less water and fertilizer.  Some are dormant in the summer, but a number are evergreen.  And many are beautiful, interesting and more life-friendly than the plants in traditional California gardens. 

We hope these answers will get you thinking about your garden in new and exciting ways.  In our next post we’ll consider the topic of Water Zone Gardening, a great way to make the most of your water.

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