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Tough landscaping choices in drought

Valley Forum

By

By Pierre R. Marizco

As the owner of a commercial landscape company, I see a real problem ahead that will require some tough choices. Gov. Jerry Brown has asked us to conserve water by 20 percent. But we are not conserving that much now, and we are actually consuming more this year than previous years, thereby worsening the crisis.

In a typical year, irrigation systems are shut off in October and turned back on in April. In fact, in 2013 here in the North Bay, irrigation systems were not activated until May and into June.

But this is not a typical year; plants and lawns are thirsty now, and are showing stress.

Property owners and managers have responded by turning on their irrigation four months earlier than normal.

This means that if you consumed 10,000 gallons of water to irrigate your landscape in 2013, and the irrigation season was six months (May-to-October), then on average you irrigated 1,667 gallons a month.

But, assuming the drought persists, and with recent unseasonably warm temperatures, the irrigation season this year may be nine months or even more (February-to-October). With a 20 percent reduction, 10,000 gallons of water drops to 8,000 gallons, or an average of 888 gallons per month.

So, if you decide to irrigate your landscape now, be prepared for a nearly 50 percent reduction of water on average per month during the high water use months, in order to meet the 20 percent conservation target for the year.

Difficult choices will need to be made as the summer approaches. Reducing landscaping water by 50 percent will likely cause plant decline and death.

To plan ahead, start by analyzing which areas of your landscape require the most water, or which plants are the highest water use. In most cases, lawn areas are the most demanding of water. You may decide to starve and potentially lose your lawn now, in order to save your shrubs and trees later.

Large shade trees are the largest asset of any landscape and should be protected as such. Lawn and shrubs are often replaced several times throughout the life of a landscape, but stately trees are not easily replaced. To protect your trees, install bubblers on a separate system.

Removing lawns and installing low-water-use plants on drip is the easiest way to reduce your water and maintenance needs. Savings realized by lower water bills and reduced maintenance could be invested into future water saving measures.

Adding mulch to beds greatly reduces water evaporation, and this year it will be imperative to make sure your irrigation system is functioning at its maximum efficiency.

Smart controllers will help do that, by combining a site’s landscape characteristics with local weather data to calculate and implement daily watering schedules that will keep plants healthy and eliminate run-off, while simultaneously reducing water usage by 20 to 50 percent.

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Pierre Marizco is president and CEO of Marizco Landscape Management, a qualified water efficient landscaper.

  • Phineas Worthington

    I worked for a client in Atherton whose property caretaker said the landscaping there used tens of thousands of gallons of water a day. They had four full time gardeners and as many greenhouses. And that was a private residence. There needs to be a higher cost attached to high volume well consumption like that. There needs to be some kind of better standardized economic template that is more consistently and equally applied to everyone who consumes this most precious of resources, water.