Help Your Trees Survive The Drought

Here is an infographic that was sent to me today by the California Urban Forest Council. It has a lot of great information about how to care for you trees during this season of drought. Even as we choose to change our landscape to be more water efficient, it is imperative that we not neglect our trees!

Drought-infographic (1)

Here is a link to the California Urban Forest council for more information:

Bee and Butterfly Friendly Plants

Bumble bee on pink flower

Bumble bee on pink flower

When choosing new plants to go into your landscape it is important that they not only be drought friendly, but bee friendly as well! Bees are at the cornerstone of our ecosystem as their pollination helps our crops thrive. Unfortunately with so many plants dying, the drought is hitting them the hardest. So we need to do our part to help them out, and there are some really easy and attractive ways to do it.

One website called Buzz About Bees says:

Believe it or not, there are many excellent drought plants out there, that are highly attractive to pollinators. Initially, many people who find themselves with a dry or drought garden, may believe their options will be limited and their gardens will be dull. However, drought landscapes and gardens do not have to be boring – they can be truly inspiring and striking. By combining different textures, forms and colours, the effect created can be visually stunning. Herbs, wildflowers and succulents especially, provide great options for gardeners wanting to attract bees to dry areas.

Succulents, such as sedums are great drought resistant plants. They are able to store water in their fleshy leaves and stems. Their compact heads ooze nectar during the late summer, and are loved by bees and other pollinating insects.

Many herbs can tolerate dry conditions. Try:

Lavender – lavender thrives in gritty, dry soils, and will buzz with bees in the summer.
Origanum, (Marjoram) – the culinary oregano can be enjoyed by both you and the bees!
Sage – both culinary and wild sages are not only good drought plants, they are also good bee plants too.
Thyme – low-growing thyme can also be grown on a green roof – although it may then be difficult for you to harvest some of it!
Rosemary – will provide valuable food for bees early in the year when other foraging opportunities are scarce.



Many wildflowers are well adapted to tolerate dry conditions, and most prefer nutrient-low soils. Excellent drought plants that attract bees and other pollinators include:

Bird’s foot trefoil
Candy tuft
Bugle (Ajuga)

Here is a website that features more drought-smartplants for bees,  and here is a link to the original article.  So remember our bees as you plan your garden and while you’re at it, butterflies and birds as well.

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:

The Coming Drought

You may have noticed the “D” word in the news these days, especially here in California. Governor Brown has declared a Drought Emergency. Strange, considering that the majority of the US is blanketed in a second Ice Age. Periods of drought are not uncommon in California.  They are cyclical patterns in our ecosystem, and we will have them again.  Should we be concerned? Drought or no, we all need to be good stewards of our water use, and our common sense will go a long way.  But our water consumption continues to rise and for those who haven’t thought this through, now is the time.

Many areas of California have already begun voluntary water conservation. However, we may very well be heading toward mandatory conservation as soon as this summer.

old-tap-243046_1280What does this mean, and what can we do? While many have already made some changes, but as far as your landscape is concerned, some simple, initial steps can be taken to help conserve our water supplies. This can include a survey of your irrigation system.  You can do this yourself, or you can solicit the help of a professional irrigation auditor.  This survey will look for missing sprinkler heads, broken nozzles, valves stuck open, breaks in the piping, etc. and make those repairs.

Next is to look at how often your system activates and begin to slowly back off on the run time.  We tend to overwater our plants, especially our lawns, and they can survive quite nicely with less.  During this process you will need to keep an eye on your landscape, but an initial reduction of 20% can be achieved with relative ease.  A more gradual reduction toward 30% – 40% can also be accomplished and still maintain a healthy landscape.

Updating equipment, including new valves and even a new controller can also help. The weather-based controllers can be very effective by using historical weather data, or weather station information, to automatically update your program every day. However, these controllers are not a solution by themselves. It will take a combination of efforts for the most success. This can include removing the old pop up spray heads and retrofitting to either more efficient rotors or to a drip application. Using rain sensors when the rain does return is also a simple and effective method for saving water when we have it.

Finally, more aggressive steps can include reducing or eliminating lawn areas, especially lawns on slopes, in narrow areas (under 8’) and shady zones.  Replacing these areas with water conserving plants, dry creeks and mulch is a very effective solution.  A landscape architect or designer can help work through various ideas with you to create an attractive landscape that meets your needs and goals.

Good sources for information include your local water supplier.  They have references and photos for water conserving plants, retrofitting your irrigation system, and free water audit programs, as well as rebate programs for changing out your lawn or irrigation equipment.

With just a little effort we can all do our part in saving this precious resource.