By Staff Writer Susie Kopecky.
While we enjoy the gorgeous summer season, it is important to keep in mind the responsibility we all have as environmental stewards, in weather fair and not-so-fair. And there are many easy, interesting and enjoyable ways to conserve water at home.
Specifically, let us focus on ways by which the average homeowner may save water through creative landscaping and incorporating more drought-tolerant plants into their landscape.
According to the California Department of Water Resources, “California faces a real challenge to meet the water needs of a growing population with a limited supply of water. To meet this challenge, water use in landscapes must become more efficient…and even modest improvements can have a cumulative effect in saving a great deal of water.”
Regions of Southern California, such as Los Angeles, are deserts, albeit deserts that clever men and women have made bloom. To sustain these and other communities with a relatively modest amount of water, various creative solutions must be embraced. Some of these solutions are rather common-sense, such as the turn toward native plants, which are used to receiving less water in familiar, drier conditions.
Every region of California, dry and moist, has a specific set of native plants which are known to thrive in these particular conditions. Many organizations, such as the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), can help you to get your drought-tolerant landscaping started by identifying appropriate native plant species. The CNPS lists some of the benefits of planting native plants, including “low maintenance,” significant water savings (“Once established, many native plants need minimal irrigation beyond normal rainfall”) and “wildlife viewing,” as “research shows that native wildlife prefers native plants.”
CalFlora is one great resource which can assist interested individuals in determining precisely which plants are native to their towns and are expected to grow with minimal water use.
Another way to creatively address the statewide water challenge is through the fine art of xeriscaping. Xeriscaping goes hand in hand with the use of native plants, as this is another practice which is quite water-conscious.
What is xeriscaping, you might ask? According to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), “Literally, the word xeriscaping comes from a combination of two other words: ‘xeri’ derived from the Greek word ‘xeros’ for dry; and ‘scape’, meaning a kind of view or scene. While xeriscape translates to mean ‘dry scene,’ in practice xeriscaping means simply landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants to conserve water and reduce yard trimmings.”
The good news is that there are many lovely and readily accessible plants that are xeriscape-friendly, and are even known to be fire-retardents, which is even more good news for residents of California, a state which sees its share of wildfires each summer. And as CalRecycle points out, xeriscape-friendly plants are not necessarily native plants: “While indigenous plants are naturally accustomed to local climates and therefore good choices for water and waste efficient landscapes, xeriscaping doesn’t mean planting California native plants only.”
Xeriscape plants are also known for needing “low pruning and maintenance,” for “thriv[ing] with little fertilization,” for “conserve[ing] water” and “providing] lots of attractive planting options.” Some attractive and fascinating species of these include the juniper, the lavender, the blue mist, the American Holly and the succulent ice plant. Numerous websites provide extensive lists of plants suitable for xeriscaping, including the Wheat Ridge Water District, Washington State University’s Horticulture and Landscape Architecture site and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.