Making Our Yard More Drought-Friendly

Over the past few weeks we’ve been posting articles about how to keep your landscaping looking great during the drought. Today, we thought we would put that information into action in our own yard.

Old Lawn

Here is what our landscape looked like before the drought.

The first thing we needed to do was some math to decide how much water our current landscape was using to find out how we could reduce that number. Here are the calculations Jeff came up with:

“As a Landscape Irrigation Auditor and Architect, part of my job is to estimate landscape water use when I design a project.   This approach can also be used when evaluating an existing landscape.

“For our project I wanted to look at how much water the old lawn needed to remain healthy and to estimate the water need for a new landscape based on the anticipated plant selection.  Below are those calculations to give you some idea on how much water can be saved.

“There are many variables when it comes to water use: local evapotranspiration, or the water which is evaporated and transpired through the leaves of the plants; plant factors, or the amount of water a plant needs to be healthy; hydrozoning, or grouping plants with like water needs together; and irrigation efficiency, or how effective our system is.

“So with our plan to remove the old lawn and plant with a combination of low water need plants and edibles, the calculations below give us an idea of how much water can be saved with proper preparation and water management.

ETWU (Estimated Water Use)

(This is based on removal of our old lawn 14’ x 34’ or 476 sf)

ETWU = (Eto) x (0.62) [PF x HA + SLA]


Eto = evaptranspiration rate (45.3 annual)

0.62 = conversion factor

PF = plant factor

HA = hydrozone area (high, medium, low water needs by square foot)

SLA = special landscape area (edibles in square feet)

IE = irrigation efficiency (.85 for proposed drip application. 75 for lawn heads)

Hydrozone  – as a lawn – high water need

(45.3)(0.62)[.7 x 476] + 0 = 28.08 x 444.26 = 12,475 gallons per year


Hydrozone – if modified to low water need plants only

(45.3)(0.62)[.3 x 476] + 0 = 28.08 x 167.64 = 4,708 gallons per year


Hydrozone – if modified to combination of low water need plants and edibles

(45.3)(0.62)[.3 x 412] + 64 = 28.08 x 145.41 + 64 = 4,083 + 64 = 4,147 gallons per year


“From these calculations, as the new plants mature, we can conserve almost two thirds the amount of water (or 8,000 gallons of water per year) as required by the lawn.   Now I love a lawn as much as the next person.  It provides an area for play, gathering, etc., but this is the step we decided to take to help lower our water use and to do our part as we work through the drought.  If we all could do something similar, even on a small level such as this, in the City of San Jose alone, with 1 million of us, we could conserve hundreds of millions of gallons of water per year. ”

After crunching these numbers it was a pretty easy decision to let the lawn go. But what to put in its place? We currently have two twenty-eight year old redwood trees, two California heritage prune trees, an orange and a lemon tree, plus a side yard filled with an olalleiberry bush. We want to protect all of these things despite letting the lawn go and find a more water-friendly way to sustain our existing landscape.


This is what our landscape currently looks like now that we have let the lawn die out. (And trees have matured)

To replace the lawn, we decided we would built two raised beds and plant edibles like herbs and vegetables. This way not only are we saving water, but we also get to save a little money at the grocery store! With the changes we are making, we will also continue to provide habitat for birds, butterflies and bees while also adding to our food harvest.  Through these kinds of changes to our garden, and more importantly to our way of thinking, we can conserve enough water to continue to have a vibrant, attractive garden.   One that is manageable and one that continues to provide an important environment for us all.

Look for what you can do as we share our process and next steps.

Taking Care of Trees During the Drought

294927196_d501c5cf97_zWhile “Brown is the New Green” becomes our state motto and more people opt to stop watering their lawns, how are we supposed to continue caring for our trees? Lawns are easily replaceable but trees are an important part of our ecosystem providing wildlife habitats, clean air, shade, food for us and for critters, and therefore need to be protected. So how do we do that without breaking the bank and keeping under water restrictions? Patrice Hanlon of the Mercury News has some great tips:

“Watering efficiently could mean changing overhead irrigation to drip, installing a soaker hose that can be circled around the drip line of the tree or manually watering using a hose at a low trickle, allowing the water to percolate into the soil. When watering, think deep and infrequent. If you aren’t sure, get a soil probe and pull out a soil core. If it’s dry and crumbly, then your tree needs water. Our clay soils, which everyone loves to hate, actually are very good at holding water. According to UC Davis’ California Center for Urban Horticulture, trees need to be irrigated to a depth of 3 feet. Go to for additional information about managing landscapes during drought times.

“Healthy roots are the foundation of healthy trees. Look up at the canopy of the tree. That will give you an idea of how far the lateral feeder roots are traveling beyond the trunk. This helps in determining where to water and mulch. Lateral roots extending from the trunk are the most active and essential for bringing water and nutrients to the tree. In addition to feeder roots, a soil fungus called mycorrhiza attaches to the roots and helps to increase nutrient and water absorption.

“Urban and suburban environments cause added stress from soil compaction, root damage from digging or mowing, and nutrient deficiencies. Mulching improves the soil’s retention of water, reduces evaporation from the soil surface, and introduces a cadre of beneficial organisms that improve the overall health of your soil. Add 3 to 4 inches of mulch to the drip line of your tree, but be sure to leave an area about 2 inches from the trunk free of mulch. This will keep the area dry and allow you to notice if there are any problems at the base of the tree.

“Pruning and fertilizing during drought should be limited or eliminated. Do not fertilize your tree if it is already stressed unless you are using organic amendments. High-nitrogen or chemical fertilizers have salts in them that causes the roots to burn if there is not enough moisture in the soil. Pruning can encourage dormant buds to emerge and stimulate new growth. If you need to prune, do it conservatively by only removing what you need to, such as dead, crossing over and competing branches.”

Please also keep in mind that even if you are letting your lawn die, if you have trees nearby they most likely get a lot of their water from the grass. So pay attention to the soil near the tree to know when it’s thirsty!

Here is a link to the original article:

Mandatory Water Rationing

droughtIt’s happened: Residents of San Jose, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Campbell, and others are going under mandatory water rationing. Paul Rogers stated in the Mercury News on Tuesday that,

“All single-family residences — defined as any home that has its own water meter — will be given monthly water allocations. Apartments and most businesses, however, will not. The allocations will require homeowners to cut water use 30 percent from 2013 levels. The 30 percent isn’t based on a home’s individual use, however. Instead, it’s calculated on the month-by-month average of all residential users in San Jose Water’s service area, minus 30 percent.

“San Jose Water will mail a notice to all of its customers explaining the rules on May 19, and plans to hold a public hearing to explain them at 7 p.m. on May 28 at the Rotary Summit Center, 88 South 4th Street in San Jose.”

While this may sound scary, there are things we can do.  We don’t need to let our landscape die, matter of fact  it is important that it continues to thrive! Although the Valley may start to look significantly browner in the months to come, it is important to continue to take care of our plants and trees. We just need to make conscious decisions about when and how we water them. In the weeks to come, I will be discussing ways to do this and posting lots of helpful hints on other ways to conserve water in your landscape. So stay tuned, and we will figure out the drought together!

Here is a link to the original article: