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Marin IJ Articles

Save money, resources with landscaping advice

  • Marie Narlock
  • If I told you that I could walk on water and save you money and natural resources, would you invite me into your garden? If you did, you just might join the ranks of the hundreds of Marin residents who have invited a Master Gardener to walk through their garden.

    These water walks are no miracle, however.
    They are the Bay-Friendly Garden Walks, sponsored by the Marin Municipal Water District and conducted by specially trained Master Gardeners who provide customized water-wise landscaping advice to Marin homeowners. MMWD customers are invited - and encouraged - to call 499-4204 to set up a free visit.
    Tiburon resident Bob McHugh did, and he ended up slashing his water bill by two-thirds. "It was so easy," he said.
    Two Master Gardeners spent about an hour strolling through McHugh's garden. They suggested modest changes such as reducing or eliminating watering times and covering bare soil with mulch. They checked his meter for leaks, measured water pressure, and examined sprinkler heads and drip lines for problems.
    "They even made plant suggestions for tough areas and showed me how to get up to a $400 rebate from the water district," he said.
    McHugh is one of almost 300 Marin County homeowners who have benefited from this personalized service. Wildly successful yet only a year old, this program has already received accolades, including the Marin Conservation League's 2009 Ted Wellman Water Award.
    All MMWD customers are eligible for a free Bay-Friendly Water Walk. There are many reasons to invite a Master Gardener to walk on water in your garden. Here are the top 10:
    - Save water, energy, and money. Like a giant cardiovascular system, Marin's water is pumped from seven reservoirs through a heartbeat of 95 pumping stations and 925 miles of arteries until it is deposited into the capillaries of our drinking glasses, pools and sprinklers. Behind every kilowatt of electricity expended to constantly move this water around are unwelcome greenhouse gas emissions and, of course, our utility bills. The equation is simple: reducing water consumption results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere, more water in our reservoirs and more money in your pocket.
    - Get a $400 rebate. MMWD is offering up to $350 to homeowners who upgrade their irrigation equipment or invest in mulch or compost to build healthy, water-conserving soil. For those who purchase a "smart controller" to add to their irrigation system, the rebate is increased to $400. (This offer expires at the end of the year; any prior rebates would be deducted from this new rebate.)
    - Be a true environmentalist. Living "green" doesn't have to mean buying Sigg bottles and carbon credits. Being green is living lean, whether it's biking instead of driving or letting the lawn brown out for the summer. Reducing water consumption reduces the strain on our challenged reservoirs and preserves resources, which in turn provides a healthier habitat for plant and animal life. Heeding the advice of a water walker is definitely walking the talk.
    - Uncover issues with your irrigation system and learn how to fix them. Like cars, irrigation systems require maintenance. Emitters spray off, pop-ups poop out, timers go haywire. Water walkers are adept at identifying these glitches and can make recommendations on repairs.
    - Learn how to get rid of your green monster. If your lawn could talk it would be screaming, "I don't belong here!" Hands down, lawns are the most inappropriate plant material for our Mediterranean climate, slurping half of all the irrigation water used in Marin. Look at the hills around you: they are gold, not green. But what do you do if you still want a swath of green in the summertime? There are many new lawn alternatives available, including native and low-water sods and drought-tolerant groundcovers. And do you know the easiest lawn removal method that simultaneously improves your soil?
    - Determine which plants are appropriate for your plant community. Whether you live in the fog of Sausalito or the sun of San Rafael, there are plants that are perfectly suitable to your climate, soil and taste. Wouldn't it be satisfying to plant a hedge this fall, let the winter rains get it established, and then never have to water it again? Which plants could meet that challenge?
    - Find out if your pool is cool. Conserving swimming pool water by inhibiting evaporation requires one item. Does your pool have one?
    - Get free stuff. Water walkers bring a hefty packet of leave-behinds, including the "Bay-Friendly Gardening Book," rebate forms, a stack of pamphlets and even a rain sensor that automatically shuts off your system if it rains. This is an especially handy device for homeowners who travel and don't want to worry about accidentally watering during a surprise rain shower. Water walkers also leave behind a kit that includes everything homeowners need to assess their indoor water use.
    - Learn how to build healthy, water-conserving soil. Even if you're starting with neglected, weedy, compacted hardpan, a Master Gardener can tell you the best way to bring it back to life without buying pricey bags of soil or renting a rototiller.
    - It's a fun way to spend an hour. Master Gardeners are eager to point out their observations and make recommendations, and homeowners are enlightened and grateful.