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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.

Some Irrigators on West Side of Stanislaus County can Expect Only 5% of Federal Water

West Side farmers using the federal Central Valley Project can expect 5% to 75% of their contracted supply this year.

Two straight dry winters brought that announcement Tuesday from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It involves water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to as far south as Kern County.

Conservation Corner-mulch-landcape-WaterSmartill you need? It depends on how you'll be using it in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr-Creative Commons License mulch master plan

Develop a Mulch Master Plan

How much mulch does your landscaping plan need? To develop your mulch master plan and answer this question, you first need to understand the job it will perform in different areas of your watersmart landscaping plan.

  • If you want to hold in moisture and keep down weeds: Use three to six inches of mulch on top of the soil
  • If you want to maintain your planting beds: Maintain two to four inches of mulch on beds at all times

Master Tip: Keep mulch one to six inches away from plant stems. When mulch crowds them, it can cause plants to rot due to moisture.

How much mulch do you need?

How much mulch do you need? First, decide how it will be used in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Water Authority Different types of mulch

How much mulch do you need? First, decide how it will be used in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

For accurate results, check these numbers:

  • Square footage of your landscaping
  • Thickness of your mulch cover in inches

Take your square footage, multiplied by mulch thickness, and divide this number by 12. The result is the amount of mulch you need in cubic feet.

Example: 891 square feet of land, multiplied by one inch of mulch, divided by 12 = 74.25 cubic feet of mulch.

Avoid these mulch types around plants

Inorganic mulches don’t decompose to feed your soil microbes and keep your plants and garden healthy and thriving. There are also some organic mulches containing dyes or other chemicals. Others such as shredded redwood take a very long time to break down.

Master Tip – These are the types of mulches you should use only in areas without plants:

  • Shredded redwood
  • Dyed wood mulch
  • Decomposed granite
  • Gravel
  • Rubber pellets

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.

“Water Wars” – Fights Over a Precious Resource

Picture the desert landscape of a Mad Max movie populated with vigilantes devoted to acquiring not gasoline — but water. This scenario isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. “Water wars” describes conflicts between countries, states, or groups over the right to access water resources, usually freshwater. Freshwater is necessary for drinking, irrigation, and electricity generation, and conflicts occur when the demand for potable water exceeds the supply, or when allocation or control of water is disputed.

Irrigation-Soil-roots-Conservation Corner your plants, use a soil probe. Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels soil probe tips

Soil Probe Tips for Success

Knowing how to use a soil probe as an important soil management tool will support your effort to create a healthy, thriving landscape full of beautiful plants.

You need to first know as much as possible about your soil to understand your irrigation needs. Irrigation is critical to keep your landscaping green and growing. But more isn’t better. One way to easily gauge your landscape’s needs is to use the Jar Test.

Another helpful tool is a soil probe. A soil probe lets you determine a lot more information about the soils in your landscaping. It will give you information about whether your irrigation is successfully reaching the roots of your plants, or even if it soaks in too deep past the reach of plant roots.

If you don’t understand your individual soil profile, you can’t plan effective irrigation. When there is variability in the conditions across your landscape, you may have different types of soils from one area to another or from a surface layer of soil to a deeper layer.

A good soil probe will help you figure out when your irrigation water has reached the right depth for the plants in your landscaping. It is a simple process with the right tools.

How to use your soil probe

Use a soil probe to test how well irrigation dispenses into your landscape. Photo: Courtesy University of Florida/Creative Commons soil probe tips

Use a soil probe to test how well irrigation dispenses into your landscape. Photo: University of Florida/Creative Commons

When your soil is moist, a soil probe should go into the ground easily, without a lot of effort. Your soil probe will stop when it hits hard, dry dirt, and won’t go further. But your soil probe could also be hitting rock, so you may want to reposition it just a few inches away and try again.

If you are confident you’ve hit only dry soil, put your fingers around the probe at the soil surface, and pull it out. Measure the depth in inches to learn how deep your irrigation will penetrate into the soil.

To properly irrigate your plants, understand the depth of their roots. Trees send their roots much deeper into the soil than shrubs, and shrubs have deeper roots than bedding plants like annual and perennial flowers or vegetables.

Most plants will do fine as long as the top foot of soil (12 inches) is filled with water when you irrigate. Shrubs should be irrigated to a depth of two feet (24 inches), and trees irrigated to a depth of three feet (36 inches).

You can purchase a soil probe at any general hardware store or gardening center. A basic soil probe costs between $30 and $80, but there are high-tech probes costing up to $300.

To learn more about your soil, sign up for Soil & Site Assessments virtual workshop.

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.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo landscape design workshops

OMWD Begins the New Year by Connecting a Local Neighborhood to Recycled Water

Encinitas, Calif. — Olivenhain Municipal Water District has connected the newly developing Santa Fe Heights neighborhood to
its recycled water system, supplying the community with locally produced recycled water.
“We are excited to see another neighborhood begin using recycled water for irrigation,” said OMWD Board Secretary Ed
Sprague. “Using recycled water is key for long-term sustainability of our water supply.”

Set yourself up for landscaping success by building the best foundation in your soil structure. Photo: walkersalmanac/Pixabay

Oxygen, Water, and Life Create Healthy Landscape Soil

Your landscaping soil needs three things to feed the billions of microbes within it to transform brick-hard, lifeless dirt into healthy, living soil sponges: oxygen, water, and life. Think OWL to remember these important, interconnected factors.

Oxygen lets microbes breathe free

Oxygen is needed by healthy plant roots and soil organisms. Healthy soil has lots of tiny little pockets of air. When soils are eroded, graded, or disturbed, their structure becomes compacted and hard. Compaction takes place when tiny air and water bubbles are squeezed out of the soil. This kills the healthy microbes working to keep your soil replenished. Microbes can be killed by fertilizers, pesticides, or even heavy traffic from people or vehicles. 

Water for your microbes and plants

Microbes and plans both need water to live. But too much water in your soil will displace oxygen, saturating the soil. This creates an anaerobic condition. It is the unhealthy microbes like bacteria, viruses, or parasites that prefer anaerobic soil. If this condition persists, diseases may develop. They will endanger the health of your garden.

Water is constantly moving through the soil. Water in the soil needs to be replenished as plants use it, as it evaporates from the soil surface, and as gravity pulls it down past the root zone of your plants.

Bring your soil to life

The microbes consume organic matter, and then they are consumed by bigger creatures (worms, ants, slugs, centipedes, larvae, etc.). They are consumed in turn by creatures further up nature’s food chain. Photo: Malcolm Fowles, Wikipedia

The microbes consume organic matter, and then they are consumed by bigger creatures (worms, ants, slugs, centipedes, larvae, etc.). They are consumed in turn by creatures further up nature’s food chain. Photo: Malcolm Fowles, Wikipedia

Life in the soil includes all the bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, and fungi, the food they eat, the excretions they make, and the root systems they sustain. Living microbes are most quickly incorporated into your soil by adding high-quality compost.

Plants attract microbes to their roots by feeding them carbon. Bacteria and fungi hold the soil together with microscopic glues and binders. The microbes consume organic matter, and then they are consumed by bigger creatures (worms, ants, slugs, centipedes, larvae, etc.). They are consumed in turn by creatures further up nature’s food chain.

Carbon and other nutrients cycle through these many life forms, creating healthy living soil, no matter what the soil type.

Without any of these elements, your landscaping will not thrive. Organic matter, planning and some labor may be involved, but creating healthy soil using the OWL method –  Oxygen, Water and Life – will pay off in reduced maintenance, reduced inputs, reduced pollution on land and in our waterways, and the beauty of your thriving, healthy landscape.

 

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.

Homeowner Jeff Moore's back yard zen garden featuring his landscape work fit beautifully into his area's climate zone. Photo: Water Authority climate zone

Match Your Climate Zone to Your Landscaping Plan

Making smart decisions about your landscape design and your plant choices relies in large part on your climate zone. San Diego County’s six different climate zones vary in their average conditions. By choosing wisely, you can minimize the need for artificial irrigation and still create a beautiful, sustainable landscape.

The California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) divides San Diego County into these six climate zones: Coastal, Coastal Inland, Upland Central, Transition, Mountain, and Desert.

This climate system provides you factors to help you understand which plants will thrive in your landscaping under its native conditions. Gardening in harmony with your local climate zone and your microclimate helps you use resources, including water, most efficiently.

Descriptions of San Diego’s six climate zones

Which CIMIS climate zone are you in?

San Diego County's geography falls within six of the 24 CIMIS climate zones. Photo: CIMIS match your climate zone

San Diego County’s geography falls within six of the 24 CIMIS climate zones. Photo: CIMIS

Zone 1: Coastal Prairie

The Coastal Prairie zone hugs our county’s coastline. It is the zone most strongly influenced by the ocean, with a mild marine climate resulting from the warm Pacific Ocean. Winters are mild, summers are cool, and there is almost always moisture in the air.

Zone 4: South Coast Inland

South Coastal Inland areas are just inland from the beach, or on high bluffs above the coastline. You can feel the ocean breeze, but you can’t taste the salt in the air. There is less fog and humidity than the immediate coastal area, and higher temperatures.

Zone 6: Upland Central

The higher elevation Upland Central areas are influenced both by moist coastal air and dry interior air. Humidity, morning fog, and wind are moderate, with low annual rainfall.

Zone 9: Transition

This marine-to-desert transition climate is farther inland. It features a combination of warmer thermal belts and cold-air basins and hilltops, with an occasional marine influence. The climate can vary from heavy fog to dry Santa Ana winds.

Zone 16: Mountain

Steep slopes, variation in sun and wind exposure, shallow soils and heavier rainfall affect plants in the Mountain regions. Average annual rainfall is 30 inches, and wet years can bring 45 inches or more.

Zone 18: Desert

Dry and hot daytime conditions combine with cold nighttime temperatures in the Desert zone. Humidity is very low, and water is scarce. Average annual rainfall can be as low as 2.5 inches, with an average of just 6 inches.

Learn more about the specifics of your climate and microclimate on the California Irrigation Management Information System website.

 

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.

Opinion: Water Partnerships Between Cities and Farms Would Help Prepare for a Changing Climate

San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California cities are facing different but equally daunting water challenges. For Valley farmers, the requirement to achieve groundwater sustainability in coming years has heightened interest in expanding water supplies to reduce the need to fallow irrigated farmland. For Southern California, falling demands since the early 2000s have reduced water stress during normal and wet years, but a warming climate makes future droughts a major concern.

Farmers Swap Out Irrigation Methods To Keep The Colorado River From Growing Saltier

AJ Carrillo farms 18 acres outside of Hotchkiss, Colo., in the high desert of the Western Slope about an hour southeast of Grand Junction.  When he irrigates his peach orchard, water gushes from big white plastic pipes at the top of the plot and takes half a day to trickle down to the other end of his five-acre orchard. Carrillo is planning to convert his Deer Tree Farm from flood irrigation, which is commonly used in Western Colorado, to a new and much more efficient style of irrigation – microsprinklers.