Marin IJ Articles
Water Districts are Overflowing with Gardening Advice
One cannot garden without thinking about water. Water is everywhere in the garden, contained in the plants themselves, in the soil, in the air, and more obviously in features such as fountains, ponds and streams. Gardeners rely heavily on water for garden success—with the all-American image of a lush green lawn surrounded by annual flowers bursting with color the goal. Landscape irrigation accounts for about 33% of Marin’s water use during the peak summer months, and therefore is a target for conservation efforts. An additional concern is the run-off of pesticides that eventually end up in the watershed. The Bay Area municipal water districts have recognized these concerns and developed programs that help gardeners both design and maintain gardens to keep the water supply bountiful and healthy.
Rethinking Garden Design
Water conservation in the garden starts with a design that is both practical and comfortable for the homeowner, but incorporates low-water use (xeric) plants with minimal or no lawn. Installing plants that thrive in our wet winters and dry summers (referred to as a “Mediterranean” climate) will minimize the amount of water needed during the summer months while still providing a beautiful garden. Maintenance will be lessened, since a plant put in the correct place will not need special care, i.e. fertilizers or pesticides. The Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD covers south and central Marin) has a “water-wise” plant list that can be downloaded from their website, and helpfully denotes those plants that are also deer resistant. These plants hail from all over the world, places like Australia, South America, South Africa, and of course the Mediterranean, in addition to our own California. Using California natives in particular will help in building a healthy garden, as they shelter and attract natural predators for the “bad bugs” and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
The North Marin Water District (NMWD covers Novato and parts of west Marin) offers customers a free Water Wise Gardening—Marin and Sonoma Counties CDrom, which includes garden tours, interactive photo galleries, and tips on how to use and conserve water in the garden, as well as a database of over 1,000 water-efficient plants that thrive in Marin’s climate. NMWD puts these principles into practice at their Novato offices where an example of a water-wise garden can be seen. The new “bible” that every gardener in the Bay Area should have is authored by the East Bay Municipal Water District (EBMUD), Plants and Landscapes for Dry Summer Climates. This award-winning book has over 500 spectacular photos of water-wise plants and their use in Bay Area gardens. It can be ordered on their website or found at bookstores such as the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Habitat Books and Book Passage. The California Urban Water Conservation Council sponsors a website, www.H2Ouse.org, that not only has a garden guide of water-wise plants, but also hardscape, sample gardens, and interactive plant lists.
Get some “green” for less green
There has long been a push from environmentalists and the water districts alike to have urban gardeners reduce ultra-thirsty lawn area. Lured by promises of lush carpets of green, gardeners often succumb to the temptation of commercial fertilizers and pesticides, which not only end up in the watershed and bay but can harm animals. Rebate programs are available at many of the water districts to encourage customers to convert turf, replacing it with xeric plants watered by drip systems. Some programs offer “cash for grass,” providing a cash rebate per square foot of grass converted, while others offer rebates on drip equipment. Programs vary and projects must be pre-approved, so it is important to contact the local water district to see what each offers before converting.
Changing from sprinklers or hand watering to drip irrigation is the final step in converting to a truly water-saving garden. Drip emitters are overall healthier for plants since they only water the root zone. Emitters should be placed over the plant’s root zone away from the crown. Tailoring the amount of water for each plant is managed through careful selection of the volume rating of the emitters and the number of emitters used for each plant. The result is less disease, no water lost to evaporation, and each plant gets a customized amount of water suited to its needs. Customers of MMWD can sign up for weekly emails and to receive recommended watering runtimes, so that they can program their timers and not over or under water. NMWD customers can get the same information from their website. In addition, both MMWD and NMWD will come out to customer’s homes and analyze the system for leaks and possible areas of waste. If the homeowner is not up to the task of putting in their own drip system, they can obtain a list on MMWD’s website of water efficient landscapers (WEL) who have been specially trained and tested by MMWD.
Other Counties Offer Perks
Marin water districts are not alone in offering gardening programs to customers. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission offers a free 2006 gardening calendar with monthly garden tips, schedule of garden events and photos of San Francisco gardens. It will be available to all of the Bay Area after the 2nd week of December can be obtained by sending name, address, phone no. and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org. San Francisco, the East Bay and Santa Clara water districts are all involved in garden tours throughout the year where Bay Area gardeners can see low-water use and California native gardens. Visit www.goingnativegardentour.com and www.bringingbackthenatives.com to get on the mailing list for next year’s tours.
Designing a low-water use garden is easy in the Bay Area—a perfect climate and overflowing educational opportunities offered by local water districts, public gardens and Master Gardeners make it a breeze. It really is a watershed for everyone, for Marin gardeners get a beautiful garden with a lower water bill and the water supply is both more plentiful and cleaner.
Helpful Websites and Resources
Marin Municipal Water District www.marinwater.org
North Marin Water District www.nmwd.com, (415) 897-4133, Ext. 8421 for CDrom
East Bay Municipal Utilities District www.ebmud.com
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission www.sfwater.org
Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency www.bawua.org