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Bee's Bliss Sage (Salvia leucophylla) attracts pollinators including bees and butterflies to your landscaping. Photo: Wikipedia groundcovers to use

12 Grand Groundcovers to Use as Lawn Substitutes

You’ve decided to eliminate the thirsty turf areas in your current landscaping when planning your new sustainable landscape. It’s tempting to install hardscape. It needs no water at all. It might seem like a smart idea, but it creates a new problem: stormwater runoff. It can also increase temperatures and add in its own small way to global warming.

Finding alternatives to cover the area with plants instead of hardscaping will help prevent too much stormwater runoff and capture rainfall.

Consider replacing your lawn with groundcovers. There are many good choices of groundcover plants that make good lawn substitutes. Many species grow well in San Diego County’s six climate zones and the Mediterranean climate natives fall into the very low or low Plant Factor categories. They won’t use as much water than the same amount of grass.

Very Low Plant Factor groundcover choices include:

California lilac (Ceanothus) is a native plant to San Diego County and produces spectacular blooms in early spring. Photo: Wikimedia

California lilac (Ceanothus) is a native plant to San Diego County and produces spectacular blooms in early spring. Photo: Wikimedia

Silver Carpet (Dymondia margaretae)

Bluff California Lilac (Ceanothus maritimus)

Low Plant Factor groundcover choices include:

Bee's Bliss Sage (Salvia leucophylla) attracts pollinators including bees and butterflies to your landscaping. Photo: Wikipedia groundcovers to use

Bee’s Bliss Sage (Salvia leucophylla) attracts pollinators including bees and butterflies to your landscaping. Photo: Wikipedia

Pink Yarrow (Achillea millefolium rosea)

Gold Coin Plant (Asteriscus maritumus)

Sundrops (Calylophus hartwegii)
Carmel Mountain ceanothus

Dwarf Mat Rush (Lomandra longfolia)

Bee’s Bliss Sage (Salvia)

Wooly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanguinosus)

Blue Chalksticks (Senecio serpens)

Moderate Plant Factor groundcover choices include:

The Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) provides a display of white flowers. Photo: Wikimedia groundcovers to use

The Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) provides a display of white flowers. Photo: Wikimedia

Creeping Manzanita ‘Carmel Sur’ (Arctostaphylos edmunsii)

Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)

Pink yarrow, sages, and lilacs also support the lifecycle of butterflies, which are important pollinators.

 

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

City of Calistoga Issues Mandate for Water Customers to Conserve

The City of Calistoga has declared a Stage II Water emergency and starting May 1, residents and businesses will be required to conserve water. The move is a response to a recent reduction in the State’s water allocation. Citing back-to back dry years and limited precipitation in the northern part of the State, on March 23, the California Department of Water Resources reduced the State Water Project allocations for Napa County from 15% to 5%. The reduction represents a loss of approximately 25% of Calistoga’s annual demand.

Love Your Lawn-Conservation Corner-Love your lawn organically

Love Your Lawn Organically

In a waterwise landscape, there’s still a place for turf. You may not need as much, and you need to create the most efficient and organic maintenance plan possible to work turf into your design. The good news: lawns maintained organically and with efficient irrigation can offer a cool, practical surface for active recreation, or just a nice place to relax with your family.

Most lawns require too much water and energy. They become pollution sources from excess fertilizers and pesticide runoff. When lawns are limited to accessible, usable, high-functioning spaces like children’s play yards, sports fields, and picnicking areas, you can prevent this.

Love your lawn organically

Reconsider the concept of lawns. They should not be passive, wall-to-wall groundcover. You don’t need to maintain so much lawn if you won’t enjoy it for the above purposes.

As you decide how much grass to keep in your plan, follow these guidelines to maintain it organically.

  • Top dress your lawn annually with one-eighth to one-quarter of compost.
  • Aerate and de-thatch your lawn annually.
  • Check and control irrigation overspray. Fix problems promptly.
  • Maintain three to four inches of height on cool season grass, and 1.5 to two inches of height on warm season grass.
  • Grass-cycle every time you mow.
  • Don’t allow seed heads to form on the grass. Remove seeds that do form.
  • Consider over-seeding with clover to help make the grass more interesting looking and more drought tolerant.
  • Eliminate the use of chemicals such as pesticides on your grass.
If you decide to keep your grass areas, follow these guidelines to maintain it organically. Photo: Alicja/Creative Commons

If you decide to keep your grass areas, follow these guidelines to maintain it organically. Photo: Alicja/Creative Commons

What’s the difference between Cool Season Grass and Warm Season Grass?

Cool Season Grass:

  • Needs more water than warm season grass and is considered a high use plant.
  • Requires watering in hot summers to prevent it from going dormant and turning brown.
  • Grows typically as bunch grasses and propagates by seed or weak stolons.
  • Cool season grass is easily smothered by sheet mulching.
  • Varieties include: Bent Grass (Agrostis), Fescue varieties (Festuca), Kentucky Bluegress (Poa pratensis), and Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne).

Warm Season Grass:

  • Uses a moderate amount of water.
  • Thrives in daytime temperatures over 80 degrees. It will go dormant (brown) in winter months when it is cooler.
  • Grows from sturdy rhizomes extending deep underground.
  • Warm season grasses require physical removal and/or extensive sheet mulching (up to 12 inches).
  • Varieties inclue: Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylan), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Buffalo Grass (Buchloe actyloides), St. Augustine Grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), Zoysia, and Seashore Paspalum.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

An example of drought tolerant landscaping with low water use plants. Photo: Kelly M. Grow, California Department of Water Resources landscape conserve

How Much Water Can Your New Landscape Conserve?

Landscape designs using the least amount of potable water necessary are greatly encouraged in arid or Mediterranean climates like in San Diego County. It’s an important motivation for homeowners to consider efficiency and sustainability to lower water use, saving a precious resource.

Maximizing your landscaping’s ability to capture and use natural rainfall can also help reduce or even completely eliminate your reliance on potable water for irrigation.  Compare how much water your new landscape design will need against your existing landscaping’s water use. You’ll be able to estimate your future water savings.

Start by calculating the water use requirements of landscaping filled with plants that require high amounts of water, or moderate amounts, low or very low water requirements.

In these examples, evapotranspiration (ET), irrigation efficiency, and landscape area are exactly the same. The only difference: our examples are home to plants with different water requirements.

How to calculate your landscape’s water use

To calculate water use, you can refer to the San Diego Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance for guidance. Go to www.sdcounty.gov and search “Landscape Ordinance.” The four key variables are:

  1. Landscape Area (LA) – the square feet of area being landscaped with plants that require irrigation
  2. Evapotranspiration (ET) – this is the number in inches based on your San Diego Climate Zone
  3. Plant Factor (PF) – This is moderate, low, or very low depending on the plant selection
  4. Irrigation Efficiency (IE) – There is no such thing as a perfect irrigation system. Many factors can limit efficiency and impact your water use and the health of your plants.

Use a landscaped area of 1,000 square feet, with an ET of 51 inches annually, and IE of 0.7. Look at the big difference your plant selection can make in your water use.

Example 1: High Water Use plants (PF = 0.8) – 36,137 gallons of water per year

Example 2: Moderate Water Use plants (PF = 0.5) – 22, 586 gallons of water per year

Example 3: Low Water Use plants (PF = 0.2) – 9.034 gallons of water per year

Example 4: Very Low Water Use plants (PF = 0.1) – 4,517 gallons of water per year

From the highest estimate to the lowest estimate, you could potentially save 17,103 gallons of water every single year.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Knowing how to classify your plants by water use characteristics will help you plan your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Water Authority plant factor

Know Your Plant Factor Water Requirements

Landscaping plants have different water needs. The water requirement of each plant in your landscaping can be determined by gathering information about the plant and then comparing it to the amount of water needed by the cool-season grass growing in your climate zone.

Take a tip from landscaping professionals. They use a resource called the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species to classify plants according to their water requirements, called Plant Factors.

These water requirements divide plant species into four categories: Very Low, Low, Moderate, and High.

When you are selecting plants for your landscaping, use the classification to choose low water use plants for your landscaping. You can also use it to group a handful of higher water use plants together if you want to indulge in a few favorites.

When you have decided on your plant palette and placement, you can now figure out the water use of your entire landscape area. This will help you plan out your artificial irrigation.

Factor in watering requirements

Determine water use before choosing plants for your new sustainable landscaping. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Watering needs for landscape plants use a measuring stick based on cool-season turf. It’s because cool-season turf is extremely thirsty.

When you replace turf areas with climate-appropriate plants that use less water and irrigate them with more efficient systems, you can conserve a tremendous amount of water. You don’t need to turn your landscaping into a dry and dusty area to do it.

High Plant Factor: Plants needing 60 to 100 percent of the water needed for a grass lawn (PF of 0.6 – 1.)

Moderate Plant Factor: Plants needing 30 to 60 percent of the water needed for a grass lawn (PF of 0.3 – 0.6)

Low Plant Factor: Plants needing 10 to 30 percent of the water needed for a grass lawn (PF of 0.1 – 0.3)

Very Low Plant Factor: Plants needing 10 percent or less of the water needed for a grass lawn (PF of less than 0.1)

Irrigate More Efficiently By Grouping Plants

According to the San Diego County Water Authority’s Sustainable Landscaping guidebook, plant selections are colored-coded to identify their water needs under this system. It gives you an easy way to group plants by their water requirements in your new landscaping, so you can irrigate them more efficiently.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Lake Mendocino Hits Record Low for March; Water Managers Plead for Inland Residents to Conserve

Lake Mendocino and Lake Pillsbury are the lowest they have been for this time of year since they were constructed, rainfall is between six and seven inches behind this time in 1977, and the forecast for the next two weeks has little to offer in terms of precipitation. To summarize, things are looking grim. In light of low water supplies and a dismal rain forecast, the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District declared a reduced water supply alert earlier this month, calling for Water District customers “to follow their water conservation plans and begin water shortage contingency planning.”

Choose your landscape plants carefully to reduce your water use. watering your plants

One Simple Key to Watering Your Plants

When you’re replacing your landscaping with an eye to conserving water, it’s important to understand how much water plants really need. A quick, simple way landscape experts do this is a method the home landscaper can use, too.

Evapotranspiration (ET) is the process of assessing various factors to determine how much water plants use, and when they need it. ET explains and incorporates important environmental conditions such as solar radiation (sunshine) or cloud cover. The stronger the sun’s rays, the higher the ET.

Plant leaves work a lot like mini solar panels. Leaves gather energy plants use to transform water and carbon dioxide from the air into oxygen and sugars for growing.

Transpiration of moisture through leaves is similar to perspiration. It cools down the leaves. Water also evaporates from the soil itself around plants. The combined water loss from the plants and the soil together makes up evapotranspiration.

Understanding water loss in terms of ET helps you select the right plants for your sustainable landscaping by assessing your overall landscape water requirements, planning irrigation, and managing the Soil Moisture Account.

Drought Tolerant Plants Share Four Common Qualities

Plants with silver, leather-like leaves like this Agave are extremely water efficient. Photo: Charlie Neuman watering your plants

Plants with silver, leather-like leaves like this Agave are extremely water efficient. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Do you need help identifying climate-appropriate plant choices for your new sustainable landscaping? Look for these four characteristics shared by drought-tolerant plants.

Stiff, Leathery Leaves: These leaves hold and store water, and stay evergreen most of the year.

Silver or Hairy Leaves: Light-colored leaves reflect sunlight to cool the plant. Hairy leaves hold moisture longer, and also protect the plant from hot direct sun.

Tiny Leaves: Tiny leaves are tiny solar panels. Lots of tiny leaves are easier to keep cool than a single larger leaf because there is more surface area to receive energy and use evaporation to cool down.

Solar Tracking Leaves: Some plant leaves are sun worshipers. They will turn toward the sun’s path throughout the day. As the day progresses, you will see the leaves more horizontally oriented. The plant is shifting its solar panel leaves to minimize sun exposure. Many California native plants like manzanitas have this ingenious adaptation.

The Water Authority’s Sustainable Landscaping guidebook contains a Plant List with climate-appropriate plants. They are also highlighted throughout the guidebook.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

County’s Updated Conservation Plan Aims to Save More San Diego Farmland

More San Diego farmland will be eligible for an agricultural conservation program under new rules the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has approved. San Diego has lost much of its farmland over the past decade. Since 2009, about 60,000 acres — 20 percent of San Diego County’s agricultural land — has been converted to other uses. The county has tried to stem that decline through the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement, which is called the PACE program.

 

Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the "soil lasagna" method. Graphic: Water Authority

Soil Lasagna Cooks Up A Tasty Landscape

Healthy, living soil is full of oxygen, water, and life to support your plants. This is the food your plants need to consume for good health. Creating healthy soil in layers is referred to as soil sheet mulching, or “soil lasagna.” It isn’t too much different than cooking a pan of lasagna in your kitchen.

Soil lasagna increases healthy microbes so much, they actually cook down the organic matter and start eating up old grass in your landscape as food.

All you need to do to encourage the active benefits of soil lasagna is keep it moist. The length of time for soil lasagna to provide the maximum benefits start to finish depends on the kind of grass you have.

Supply list to create your soil lasagna

With just a little investment of time and effort, you can create the healthiest foundation for your new landscaping. Photo: Goumbik / Pixabay

  • Shovels and rakes
  • Wheelbarrow(s)
  • Bins to hold removed grass and soil
  • Mulch
  • Landscape flags
  • Painters’ paper or large cardboard sheets
  • Compost, worm castings, or compost tea
  • Hose with a shutoff nozzle

NOTE: Consider first whether you need any digging permits. If yes or you aren’t sure, call DIG ALERT (8-1-1 or  800-422-4133) two days in advance. Check with your local water agency for any local water use restrictions.

Once you have checked for permits and any water use restrictions and remove your lawn, you’re ready to get started. Remember, use healthy removal methods to set your landscaping up for success. Expect to remove and haul away about six inches deep of grass and soil. Rent and fill a dumpster which can be picked up and disposed of responsibly later.

Dig a trench eight to 12 inches deep, about one shovel depth, and at least 12 to 24 inches wide around any hard surfaces and building foundations. You need to complete contouring for rainwater absorption and retention and any other work to hardscaping such as moving or installing patios, paths, and other features.

Use the landscape flags to mark sprinkler heads so you can find and adjust them later.

Layers supply the magic

Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the "soil lasagna" method. Graphic: Water Authority

Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the “soil lasagna” method. Graphic: San Diego County Water Authority

Add an inch deep layer of compost on top of the graded soil. You can also use humates, a freeze-dried compost available at specialty landscaping stores, or spray with compost or worm tea. You are adding an instant food sources and additional microbes to the soil.

Water thoroughly. Roll out your painters’ paper or cardboard. Overlap at the seams about six inches and be sure all of the soil is covered. At the hardscape borders, make a burrito of rolled paper and mulch to prevent grass from resprouting.

Water the paper, and then add another layer of compost if you wish. Rake a thick, six-inch larger of mulch over the paper and compost. Now it should seem obvious why this is called a Soil Lasagna.

Water again thoroughly. The mulch will absorb a lot of water before it becomes thoroughly soaked through.

When you are ready to plant, you can dig a hole right into it, cutting through any paper or cardboard that might still be there, planting into the delicious and healthy soil below. Allow as much time as you can so your soil develops more healthy microbes for your new plants. But you can plant right away if all grass has been removed and you’re short on time.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Soil Microbes-your lawn-healthy soil-Conservation Corner

Remove Your Lawn the Healthy Way

The day has come to replace your thirsty, water guzzling grass. Before you remove it, plan your process carefully to leave only healthy living soil as the foundation for a beautiful, thriving new landscape.

Don’t just turn off your irrigation and let your grass turn brown as it dies off. Healthy microbes in your soil will die off along with the lawn. You want to work with those microbes to help create healthy soil for your new plants.

Instead, keep your grass moist until you remove it. It’s also a lot easier to remove fresh, moist grass than to try and pry out dead dry grass and weeds in rock hard, dry soil.

Stay cool and save healthy microbes

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: Water Authority

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

It’s tempting to remove your lawn through solarizing. Solarizing is sometimes used as a way to remove grass without chemical treatment. Instead, a covering such as a heavy black plastic tarp is placed over the grass. Sunlight heats the covering, which broils and kills the lawn through high temperatures. This heat also kills existing healthy microbes you need for healthy soil. It’s possible to artificially replace them with compost, but you need to invest in a lot of compost to restore the good microbes when grass is killed off and removed with this method.

When soil is solarized, it’s sterilized. It remains like this for weeks. Worse, it really doesn’t do much good. Opportunistic weeds move in quickly to try and take over the ground. These weeds don’t grow from existing seeds in the soil. These have usually been killed off. But without any competition, new weeds can arrive in a flash, and nothing prevents them from taking over.

Stay loose

If you use heavy equipment to remove your old turf, the equipment’s weight will compact your soil underneath. You need to avoid this. Minimize the use of heavy equipment and use walk-behind equipment with hand tools where possible. Use a tractor or scraper only where necessary.

Avoid tilling your soil. Tilling soil breaks up and kills your soil microbes. Without the microbes, you’re guaranteed to have those weeds pop up for a long time until new soil microbes develop.

Protect your trees planted in areas where the grass is removed. The key is not to damage their roots. Heavy equipment can destroy roots established by a healthy shade tree. Steer clear of the canopy area under the tree’s branches. Its root structure extends all the way out to the drip line at the edge of the leaves. Irrigate your trees generously during the removal process to help minimize root shock.

Save landscape trees from shock

Creating a DIY self-watering bucket will help prevent landscape trees from going into shock after surrounding turf is removed. remove your lawn

Creating a DIY self-watering bucket will help prevent landscape trees from going into shock after surrounding turf is removed.

When your new sustainable landscaping is installed, your previously existing trees may go into shock when irrigation is reduced overall in your garden. While it’s one of your watersmart landscaping goals, keep the trees watered during the first year after your grass is removed.

A good way to hand water your trees: Punch holes in a five-gallon plastic bucket. Fill the bucket, and set it down at the edge of the tree canopy, and let the water slowly seep into the ground. Repeat the process three to four times to water your beautiful mature trees. This mimics the natural rainfall Mother Nature provides.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.