With drought becoming a way of life, residents thinking of the summer ahead and possibly replacing their landscaping now with vegetation more tolerant of semi-arid conditions should wait. The window for such planting has just closed and won't open again until the fall, said landscaping consultant and Portola Valley resident Danna Breen. But all is not lost, she said.
Young plants need nutrients and plenty of water, Ms. Breen said. "You'd need to pour water on that plant to keep it alive until October," she said. Established plants are not as vulnerable.
Irrigation in general will be problematic now that the state Water Resources Control Board has identified outdoor irrigation by residents in urban areas as a key target for reducing water consumption around the state. Regulations that require water cutbacks that work out to 25 percent across the state are expected by June 1. Some areas will be cutting deeper than others.
If you're determined to replace your current landscaping, you might try succulents or plants with grayish foliage such a sage or lamb's foot, Ms. Breen said, adding that residents could supplement their irrigation with water collected in a bath or shower.
To keep your current landscaping alive over the summer, the most important factor is moist soil, Ms. Breen said. The key to moist soil is a blanket of detritus, particularly dead leaves. And the key to maintaining that blanket? Keep the leaf blowers away.
"Gardens are simply being destroyed by these blowers," Ms. Breen said. "Gardeners are starting to get this. The aesthetic needs to change."
A second priority would be retrofitting your irrigation system to drip or micro spray, but the blanket of leaves is very important, Ms. Breen said. "You can retrofit until the cows come home, but if your gardener is blowing the soil, you'll be watering concrete," she said. "The top of the soil has no way of replenishing the nutrients. If you disturb the upper layer, you disturb the system. You're cutting up the web of life just beneath the soil."
Terry Lyngso of Lyngso Garden Materials in Redwood City agrees. "Blowers create soil compaction due to blowing away the protective mulch over the top of the soil," she said in an email. "In addition to blowing away mulch, the blower also removes the fine humus and organic matter. Bare soil has no protection and becomes compacted."
Whether you have a smart irrigation system or water by hand, another priority is teaching your plants to get by with less, Ms. Breen said. Verdant, supple, full foliage on a plant is a sign of over-watering, she said. Plants can be trained by incrementally reducing their water supply.
Once you've committed to this regimen, you should walk your garden once a day, she said. Check on the plants to see what they're telling you. If they're not drooping or turning their leaves over, they're not in need of water, Ms. Breen said. Water when those behaviors are present, she said. You want the plants to be sending roots further down in the soil in a search for moisture.
"You're creating a healthier garden by stressing your plants," she said. "You'll have better success by training your plants to go deeper."
If you're not watering by hand something she recommends as a way to become familiar with the plants you should reset your irrigation system. If you're irrigating for 20 minutes, cut back to 15 for a few weeks and see how they do. Then cut back to 10 minutes.
"The whole point is about being observant," she said. When you see evidence that your garden is staying alive on less water, you know you've been using too much. "Everybody tells you that roses need water," she said. "They don't."
As for lawns, they're nice for children, but 1,000 square feet is enough and 3,000 square feet is not responsible, she said.
The town has demonstration plots of four native grasses at the south end of the soccer field at Town Center. "You can't putt on them, but you can chip on them. It's rough," Ms. Breen said in a golfing reference. "It's not lawn, but I find them a lot more romantic and interesting."
Lyngso is hosting a free clinic, "Living Soil and a Waterwise Garden," from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 9, at 19 Seaport Blvd. in Redwood City.