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Reduce Water Use: Plant a Drought-Tolerant Landscape

With mandatory water reductions taking effect in cities across Southern California, it is time for homeowners to look at ways to reduce water consumption. One of the quickest and easiest means of cutting back on water use is planting a low water use landscape, say experts at Agromin, an Oxnard-based manufacturer of earth-friendly compost products made from organic material collected from more than 50 California cities including those in Santa Barbara County.

Numbers vary, but the average Southern California family uses about 500 gallons of water every day, with 70 percent of that water going to outdoor uses, according to the Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts.

“Replacing high water use plants with drought tolerant plants can quickly meet the state’s 20 percent voluntary water reduction level and any mandatory reductions a city might impose,” says Bill Camarillo, CEO of Agromin.

Tropical and exotic plant species including hibiscus love water. Ferns and some types of groundcovers such as lily of the valley also soak up water.

“Typically, the larger the leaves, the greater the need for water,” said Howard Schau, director of TLM Services Inc., a landscape management company serving Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. “Other big water users are annuals. While they are beautiful in summer, they need lots of water to keep them that way, and then they’re gone. Outdoor container plants also are water wasters. They dry out quickly because they don’t have the ability to store water.”

Schau suggests a landscape with a variety of native plants: “Contrary to what many people believe, many of these plants create beautiful flowers that enhance the garden.”

Flowering shrubs and plants include Russian sage, lantana, azalea, Bougainvillea, bluebeard, hydrangea, lavender, daylilies and snapdragon. Groundcover that does well in drought conditions are festuca, ice plant and Mexican daisies.

“Check with your local nursery. Just about all nurseries now carry a large assortment of low water usage plants,” Schau said. “My clients who have switched to a drought tolerant landscape tell me that they’ve saved on their monthly water bill. With water costs going up, the savings will be even more significant.”

The biggest users of outdoor water are lawns.

“A lot of us water incorrectly so we use more water than we should,” Camarillo said.

He suggests watering no more than two times a week (three times during hot months) for approximately 15 minutes in the evening or in the early morning hours so evaporation is minimal.

“You want the water to penetrate deeply into the soil to force roots to grow downward. Roots will stay cool and moist the farther down they grow. Watering for five minutes a day does nothing. The roots remain near the surface, which means they will easily dry out and your lawn will wither,” he explains.

Better yet, says Camarillo, reduce or remove your lawn altogether. A number of cities are offering lawn removal rebates of $2 a square foot or more.

“Reduce or replace your lawn with drought-friendly plants and with mulch,” he suggests. “Barks and mulches are a beautiful addition to a landscape as well as water savers. A three-inch layer keeps the ground cool and holds in moisture. When it does rain, it prevents soil erosion. It also stymies weed growth.”

Both Camarillo and Schau believe homeowners do not have to give up on their landscape because of drought conditions.

“I’ve seen many homeowners just letting their lawns and gardens die as their answer to high water prices,” Schau said. “You can still maintain a beautiful landscape with minimal cost and maintenance. We’ve experienced drought conditions off and on for a number of years. It’s the new normal. It’s time our landscaping reflect this reality.”

Check with your city for its lawn removal rebate program. For water-saving tips, go to Save Our Water by clicking here. For mulch and bark options, go to Agromin by clicking here.

Diane Zakian Rumbaugh is a publicist representing Agromin.

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