Water – The No.1 Landscaping Concern For San Diego Homeowners
The greatest landscaping concern for homeowners in San Diego is water. We pay the highest prices in the county for water, and those prices are expected to go up another 10% next year. Summertime watering restrictions have also gone into effect, which means you can’t water overhead – with a hose or irrigation sprinklers – between 10 am and 6 pm. Fortunately, we are not in a drought, or additional restrictions would kick in – you can only water 3 days a week depending on whether your house number is odd or even. Keep in mind though – the drought will be back, and San Diego’s water restrictions were made permanent last year.
At Eco Minded Solutions, we promote water-wise landscapes that use drought-tolerant plants and drip irrigation. But, today, I want to focus on what any homeowner can do to make the best use of expensive water regardless of how thirsty your landscape may be.
Whether you have an irrigation system that runs automatically on a programmable timer clock, or you water by hand, many of the same strategies apply. First, watering infrequently and deeply is much more efficient than frequent and shallow watering.
Plants will grow their roots depending on where the water is. Shallow watering means shallow roots, which means plants that are dependent on their next dose of water. Shallow watering also results in losing a lot of water by evaporation from the soil surface, especially if there is no mulch layer to slow that loss. (Hint: if you don’t have mulch, don’t rake the leaf litter out of your planter beds! It is even better than purchased mulch, and will provide nutrients for you plants as it decomposes as well).
Let’s assume that you have been watering shallowly, running your irrigation daily or every other day, or standing outside with the garden hose giving the plants and turf a short drink. You will have to adjust your watering schedule with some care, giving your plants the time to send their roots down to where they will start getting most of their water.
An effective way to get the water down deep while still getting water to your spoiled plants is to water daily for a week, so the water will soak down at least a foot in the soil profile, and hopefully more. (Hint: this is also an effective way to get new plants established quickly.) Check with a narrow shovel or hand spade to see how deep the water is percolating into your soil. If you have typical San Diego clay, it can take several days for the water to get through, but because clay retains water so well, it will stay put. If you have sand (very near the coast) or decomposed granite-based soils, the water fill filter through quickly, and will not be retained as in clay-based soils.
After that treatment, you can start to decrease the frequency of watering gradually – to every other day, every 3 days, and longer intervals. Drought-tolerant plants will not only survive but thrive with infrequent watering. Plants that require regular moisture will also do better, as they will have a good reservoir of water available, and will not suffer as badly when your irrigation system goes haywire or you are out of town and can’t water by hand.
In the end, you will be able to use less water by watering deeply and cut your water bill. You will also have healthier and more drought-resilient plants. This strategy will work whether you have a typical San Diego landscape with fescue grass and tropical palms, or if you have caught the move to landscaping with water-wise plants that will reduce your water bill even more. If your water bill is still high, consider reducing your lawn to only what you use, and saving your thirsty plants in an oasis near entryways and places in your landscape where spend time. But, I’ve talked about this before….