Last week we talked about water running off our landscapes, down the street, and into the ocean; carrying with it a bit of our garden fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants. From the Newport Coast development alone, 24 million gallons of contaminated runoff are ending up in our protected marine habitats each month. We are responsible gardeners. We need to change our practices.
Below are some easy things that you can do to reduce your impact on our coastal environment. Use this as a checklist. The more checks the better.
□ Install a Smart Irrigation Controller. It is amazing how many homeowners still don’t know about these. “Smart” controllers are a new breed of irrigation timer that tells your sprinklers when to turn on and when not to. They do this by adjusting automatically to daily changes in temperatures, wind, humidity and other conditions, while taking into account the unique needs of the plants being watered as well the soil type, slope, flow rate and more. On average, a Smart controller cuts water usage by 30%, reduces runoff even more and produces healthier plants. Better yet, most communities in Orange County will rebate most or all of the cost of a Smart controller. It’s a no-brainer.
□ Adjust Irrigation Timing. If you don’t have a Smart controller yet, you should regularly adjust the programming of your current timer. With changing weather, this may mean weekly or more often. Better yet, get a Smart controller.
□ Cycle Irrigations. If water begins running off before your plants are thoroughly watered, your irrigations should be “cycled”. Assume one of your irrigation zones needs to be on for twelve minutes in order to get the water to the roots of the plants. Program the controller to deliver three four-minute cycles, with perhaps an hour between each cycle. This is much better than a twelve minute blast that just fills the gutters.
□ Switch to Super-Efficient Sprinkler Heads. The little inserts that screw into the tops of your sprinklers are not all the same – far from it. It’s easy, unscrew the old inserts from your sprinkler heads and replace them with super-efficient precision heads, like the MP Rotator. MP Rotators distribute water much more uniformly and at a far slower rate, avoiding runoff. Another bonus – you may qualify for a $4 rebate on every insert you buy.
□ Check for Leaky, Broken or Misdirected Sprinklers. No irrigation controller or sprinkler head can fix a leaky system, or sprinklers aimed onto the sidewalk.
□ Use Ocean-friendly Products. Stop using synthetic fertilizers. If you’re addicted to the weekly dose of the stuff in the green-and-yellow box you can join with others at the local chapter of Fertilizers Anonymous. Use only organic pesticides and snail baits, as well as biological controls and other less-toxic solutions.
□ Use Fertilizers and Pesticides Properly. When you do need to fertilize or apply a chemical, do it with caution and keep these products off paved surfaces. Use the least toxic product, with a narrow spectrum of control. Practice integrated-pest-management in your garden. If uncertain, before making a purchase, get advice from an expert trained in earth friendly gardening, not a garden department “salesperson”.
□ Talk to your Gardeners. If your gardeners are in charge of your irrigation decisions, fertilizing and pest control, stop them. Purchase your own fertilizers and products, organic of course, for them to use on your garden. Better yet, tell them you’ll take care of the irrigation controller, fertilizing, pest and weed control – then ask for a reduced monthly charge.
□ Switch to Low Water Plants. When adding plants to a landscape look for California Friendly® selections that conserve water and resources. You’ll be surprised that hundreds of the plants you already know and love are California Friendly.
□ Group Plants with Similar Water Needs. An olive tree, planted with lavenders and rosemary share a low-water requirement. Drop in a border of petunias and you’ll be overwatering everything else by 200 to 300%. It’s called hydrozoning. A water-wise garden can certainly have flowers; just plant them near other plants with the same water requirements.
□ Mulch Under and Between Plants. Covering the soil surface with two to three inches or organic mulch is one of the best things you can do, for many reasons – and will reduce your water use by as much as 20 percent.
□ Reduce Lawn Area. Do you really use your lawn or is it just a family tradition? Turfgrass is the thirstiest, most fertilizer and chemical dependent part of your landscape. Use turfgrass only where you really need it.
□ Border Lawns with Planted Areas. Turf areas that butt up against concrete are a runoff dilemma. A border of shrubs or groundcover between the turf and the concrete will catch the fertilizer and water before it gets to the gutter.
How did you do? Don’t be ashamed if only a few boxes are checked, you’re not alone. Check this column again next Friday when I’ll announce some exciting information about California Friendly gardening here in Orange County.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar