Marin Master Gardeners
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Marin Master Gardeners

Marin IJ Articles

Using less water in the garden

April 30, 2012
Marie Narlock

This year’s dry winter is a good reminder of how important it is to use water sparingly. In the coming months our reservoirs will be taxed just for our indoor needs, let alone for our lawns and perennial borders.
The good news is that cutting down on landscape water use is pretty easy, and once you start including water efficiency as a natural component of your gardening habits you will be hooked.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to schedule a Bay Friendly Garden Walk, a free service provided by the Marin Master Gardeners and the Marin Municipal Water District. This is a free service in which two Master Gardeners visit your home and provide personalized advice on how to reduce water use in your garden.  Call 473-4204 to schedule.
In the meantime, here are the key ways to start saving water right now.

  1. Choose the right plants. When it comes to watering, not all plants are created equal. Some like to stay damp while others like it bone dry. . Many plants native to California require no irrigation once they're established. The Marin Master Gardeners have created a Water Wise Plant Guide that makes it easy to choose low-water-use plants. Visit http://ucanr.org/sites/MarinMG/Plant_Guide/Water_Wise_Plant_Guide/.
  2. Mulch. One of the healthiest things you can do for your soil—and your water use—is to keep a two- to three-inch layer of mulch on exposed soil. Use whatever appeals to you (and your budget): shredded bark, rice straw, cocoa hulls, chopped up tree trimmings. Buying from a landscape supply company (American Soil, Colored Gravel, Shamrock, Martin Brothers, Sonoma Compost, etc.) is typically more economical than buying bags at the local nursery. Shop around for prices.
  3. Drip. Drip irrigation systems are wildly more efficient than overhead sprayers, such as those found on lawns. These systems allow gardeners to fine tune each plant’s water needs, with the goal of minimizing water use as plants mature. Although many gardeners are a little intimidated by things like pressure reducers and manifolds, it’s really not so complicated to install a system yourself. There are even battery-operated systems available at home improvement centers that you can attach right on a hose. However, if installing a drip system is something you’d like to hand off to a professional, the Marin Municipal Water District has a list of qualified professionals. 
  4. Keep your soil in tip top shape. Healthy soil allows plants to take in the water they need. In addition to mulching, the easiest way to keep your soil healthy is to feed it with compost annually, typically in the fall before the rains come. A couple of handfuls scratched in around each plant will keep your soil (and your plants) happy.
  5. Kill your lawn. No plant is less appropriate for our dry-summer climate than grass. It takes thousands of gallons of water to keep even a modest-sized lawn green and thriving for a season. If your lawn is there just for looks, consider all the fantastic alternatives available to you. For a grassy look, consider the alternatives available through Delta Bluegrass or Pacific Sod’s No Mow. Or perhaps it’s time to turn that lawn into a patio. Whatever you choose, it will likely use significantly less water than lawn. And won’t it be nice to see your water bill shrink?

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