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How to Completely Change a Weedy Lawn

This weedy lawn had been bothering the homeowners for a long time.  It was a nice lawn when it was first put in, but needed to be maintained often.   As busy professionals, they really did not have the time.  On the other hand, they wanted to be friendly for the environment and have a small footprint.  The lawn, they felt, used too much water.  When they heard of Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Program, that after a turf was converted to water efficient landscaping a rebate would be given to them, they felt the program was just for them.  They could ditch the lawn that took too much work  and used too much water, have brand new landscaping that would use much less, and receive money for doing all this.  They happily got on board. weedy lawn

Outdoor Lawn Watering: Heavy Water Use

Lawns use a lot of water. According to Ben Erickson,  “While the amount of water needed will vary depending on your climate, the weather, and the time of year; the general rule of thumb is to make sure your lawn receives 1″ of water to your lawn per week during dry conditions.”  So, for a 1000 square feet of lawn, in every week of dry conditions it needs 623 gallons of water, or, 89 gallons a day! water use for lawn Imagine 89 gallon water jugs, that is how much water the lawns needs to drink every day.  According to USGS, “Each Californian uses an average of 181 GALLONS of water each day. ”  If we use the number (89 gallons) from the example above, outdoor water use accounts for almost 50% of the overall use.  That is very close to the actual case.  Per “STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032″, “In many areas, 50 percent or more of daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping.”  In other words, half or more of our water (in the city) is used on outdoor landscaping.  That is a lot of water when you think about it.

Two California Water Bills – SB 606, AB 1668

On May 31,2018, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into effect two water use efficiency bills, SB 606 and AB 1668.   “In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely. We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water”.

Historical California drought from 2012-2016
Historical California drought from 2012-2016

In the bill, a goal is set for indoor use   “Establishing an indoor, per person water use goal of 55 gallons per day until 2025, 52.5 gallons from 2025 to 2030 and 50 gallons beginning in 2030.”  If we use 90 gallons as the baseline for today, by 2030, we need to use 44.4% less water than today to meet the goal. A goal for outdoor will be announced in the near future.  Though we don’t know the actual number yet, we can guess it won’t be  just 1% or 2%.  To achieve that kind of water saving, one of the most effective ways is to replace the lawn with landscaping of drought tolerant plants, which usually can save water by 30-60%. In addition to the big water saving benefit, there are two advantages that come with it.  After the lawn is gone, the need for mowing is gone too.  While the water wise landscaping still needs to be maintained, the effort required is generally much less than that for lawns.  For busy professionals like the homeowners of this house, it definitely is a great plus. Another big benefit is the choice of the plants.  Instead of the mono color of green, the drought tolerant plants come in many shapes, colors and textures.  You can choose the ones that sport blossom of red, pink, yellow, purple, white or others of your favorite colors.  That is exactly what the homeowners did for this garden.  They loved flowers and wanted to fill the garden with many of them.

Apply for the Landscape Conversion Rebate

Before the project started, an application was submitted to Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Program.  After they received the application, the water district did an on-site inspection and measured the sizes of the lawns that qualify for conversion and the rebate.  After the visit, they sent out the “Notice to Proceed”, which indicated that project could kick off.

Install the Water Efficient Garden

The project started!  First, all the grasses were removed. Lawn transformation Then, a small rain garden was built.

Take full use of rain

Rain water is a valuable source of water.  When it rains, water that falls on the roof and flows from downspouts onto impermeable surfaces like driveways will just run off.  This is a waste of water. A better use is to let it soak into the ground and recharge the ground water.  In the process,  harmful particles can be filtered out before the water go back to the ground water, versus being discharged directly into waterways, harming birds and other aquatic animals there. This downspout comes directly into the garden, which provides a good opportunity to catch the rain and let it soak down in the garden. Lawn transformation A small ditch and depression was dug.   When it rains, rain water from the downspout  will flow to this small depression, and soak into the soil.  The plants in the depresson were picked to stand both wet and dry conditions. Rain garden One key component for drought tolerant garden is the drip irrigation.  Compared with overhead spray, it can save water by 15 gallon each time you water.  Since water slowly drips down, there will be much less runoff, and thus, much less water waste. Rain garden drip irrigation To save water, another important equipment to install is the rain sensor.  When it rains, it can detect and send the signal to a smart controller, which will delay the scheduled watering.  In many cities, it is now the law that “no watering 48 hours after measurable rainfall (1/8”)” .  With the rain sensor, this can be done automatically, saving so much time and effort. Rain sensor

Keep the “good old” plants

When an old garden was to be cleared up, not all the old plants need to go.  The ones that still look good, especially if they are drought tolerant, can possibly be keepers. This flower bed was full of lavender.  The lavenders were lovely bushes, just that they  were obstructed by the weeds.  Lavender are wonderful low water use plants, bloom for a long time, and attract pollinators like bees.  It was decided to be kept as part of the new garden. Once the weeds were removed, the flower bed looked beautiful: Bees love to visit and feed on the blossom:

Receive Landscape Conversion Rebate

The garden is done!  This was before Weedy lawn The new garden Garden Water Efficient Garden The water district conducted a post inspection.  The lawn was converted successfully, and qualified for the rebate.  A couple weeks later, the rebate check was received. With the transformation of the lawn, a significant amount of water will be saved.  Instead of a weedy pad that would need so much care, the owner got this beautiful front yard with her favorite flowers, greeting her every day when she leaves for and comes back from work.  When it rains, the rain water from the roof will flow out to feed the plants and go back to nature.  On top of all these, she received a check.  Why wait?  Start today and plan for a water efficient garden.              

Water Saving, and More: the Benefits of Drip Irrigation

When we think about installing a garden, often what come to our mind first are the design and plants – which plants to select, where to plant them, and how they will look?  While these are all very important, there is another equally critical aspect – how to keep the plants alive after they are planted?  That points us to – the irrigation system, mainly, the sprinkler and drip. drip

The 2 systems

For irrigation of a garden, water is piped in.  From the pipe, how to deliver the water to the plants?  these 2 systems are the most common: sprinkler and drip. Sprinkler is used for most of the lawns. When the sprinkler system is used, not all the water go to the plants.  Water might evaporate away, especially in hot and windy weather; another scene we might see often is runoff.  The watering time might be too long; or the soil could only absorb so much water .  Runoff is a waste of water that should be avoided. Sprinkler Another irrigation system is drip.  It points to the root system of a plant, and distributes water by “dripping” it slowly into the soil. Drip

The Innovation of Drip Irrigation

Modern drip irrigation was invented in Israel in the 1950s.   According to wikipedia, “a plastic emitter in drip irrigation was developed in Israel by Polish-born Simcha Blass and his son Yeshayahu.  Instead of releasing water through tiny holes easily blocked by tiny particles, water was released through larger and longer passageways by using velocity to slow water inside a plastic emitter. The first experimental system of this type was established in 1959 by Blass who partnered later (1964) with Kibbutz Hatzerim to create an irrigation company called Netafim. Together they developed and patented the first practical surface drip irrigation emitter.” More than half of Israel’s total land area is a desert, where water is scarce.  Despite of this, Israel has a highly developed agriculture business.  It not only produces enough food for itself, but also is a major exporter for fresh produce.  How did they do it with so little water?   Drip irrigation has been credited as the one innovation that contributed most significantly to this extraordinary achievement.  The method allows water to be used so efficiently that large amount of corp can be grown and harvested with just the level of water in a desert.

Drip used in Israel
By Borisshin [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons]

Benefits of Drip Irrigation

As the example of Israel agriculture indicates, drip irrigation is a water efficient way for farming.  It is also a water efficient way for gardening.    There are some significant benefits of using drip irrigation.

Saves water

According to Save Our Water, compared with  sprinkler,  “drip saves 15 gallons each time you water”. Water is delivered by “drips” right into the plant’s root area,  with little runoff or evaporation.  Almost all the water delivered is absorbed by the plants, translating to very high watering efficiency.

Runoff from sprinkler
Runoff from a sprinkler irrigation
drip
No runoff from drip

In California, outdoor landscape watering accounts for half of urban water usage.  To save water, it is essential that we use water for outdoor wisely.  Drip is the efficient way for outdoor watering. On May 31,2018, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into effect SB 606 and AB 1668.   “In preparation for the next drought and our changing environment, we must use our precious resources wisely. We have efficiency goals for energy and cars – and now we have them for water”. In the bill, a water use goal for indoor use is set.  “Establishing an indoor, per person water use goal of 55 gallons per day until 2025, 52.5 gallons from 2025 to 2030 and 50 gallons beginning in 2030.” A goal for outdoor will be announced in the near future. 2 years ago, when California was hit by the historical drought, Gov. Brown announced a mandatory 25% cut for the urban water use.  The mandate was lifted when the drought ended.  However, from that drought people come to realize how unpredictable the water situation can be, and how precious the water resource is.  With the 2 bills signed, water conservation becomes permanent in California, not just an one-off effort. In many cities, runoff from irrigation is prohibited legally.  See the regulation in Santa Barbara: “Irrigation with potable water that causes runoff onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots, or parking structures is prohibited. Any excessive, unnecessary or unwarranted use of water is prohibited. All leaks must be repaired as soon as reasonably possible.” It is very clear that we must use water wisely and efficiently in our daily lives.  For outdoor use, switching from lawn and sprinkler to drip irrigation is one of important steps we can take, among all other measures.

Part of the Rebate program

Many water districts and companies offer turf conversion rebate programs.  For a post-conversion landscape to qualify for the rebate, drip irrigation must be installed.  Drip equipment may also qualify for rebates.  This is what was specified in the Program Requirements for one such rebate program , Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Rebate Program: “Irrigation systems, if used within the converted area, must be low volume drip, micro-spray, or bubbler. The system must be in good working order, free of leaks and malfunctions. Once installed, the irrigation system must not create run-off, overspray, or misting.” See more details of the program here.

Works great with mulch

Chips in the mulch can be carried away by the spraying water from a sprinkler, which can expose the soil beneath and accelerate evaporation.  With drip irrigation, as water will drip down slowly into the soil, it will not move the chips and mulch can stay for a long time. In addition, when drip is used, much less water will be distributed on weeds compared with sprinkler.  The precise positioning of drips means water is provided only to the plants, not to any others like weeds.  This will prevent or slow the growth of weeds.

Saves time and effort

An automatic controller can be installed along with drip irrigation, so all the watering can be done automatically.  With at least one emitter for one plant, all the plants will receive the water they need.  Very little manual work will be required if all are set up correctly.

Installing Drip Irrigation

While drip irrigation can conserve water really well and saves time and effort, it requires advanced planning.  Here are the major steps of installing drip irrigation for a new garden.

  • Have a garden design and positions for each of the plants.
  •  After the yard is prepared, lay out the plants at where they are supposed to be according to the plan.

garden

  • Lay the pipes, install drip emitter for every plant.

garden 2

  • Cover the pipes and the surface of the garden with soil and mulch.  None of the pipes are visible now, only the beautiful plants!

garden 3

Weather-Based Irrigation Controller and Rain Sensor

An automatic controller can be installed to automate the drip watering. The length and frequency of each watering can easily be entered from the touch pad of the controller. To further conserve water, a rain sensor can be connected to a smart  irrigation controller.  When it rains, the information will be transmitted to the controller, which will then delay the next watering scheduled, avoiding the waste of the water. rain sensor Some controllers have mobile phone apps that work with them.  After you download the app, you can view information or operate the controller from your phone, anywhere you go. watering app

Gardens grew well with drip irrigation

Now we know drip irrigation can save water, how do they work for the plants?  Do they grow well with such drip method? The answer is positive.  For the garden illustrated above, this was how it looked after the installation was done: garden After just half year, plants grew big, a lot of them bloomed: Water Efficient Garden This was how a plant was like when it was first planted, a drip was installed for it: plant 1 After half year: plant 2 After a year and half: plant 3 This is another garden that was irrigated with just drip irrigation.  This was when it was installed: garden After just a year: water efficient garden This Lion’s Tail grew from a small plant to a big bush in less than a year with the drip irrigation.  Hummingbirds love its flowers! plant hummingbird In summary, drip irrigation can allow us to use water wisely for outdoor landscaping.  Not only can we save water, plants can also grow well.  If installed together with a smart controller and rain sensor, it can save even more water.  Plant some drought tolerant plants, and install drip irrigation.  We can have a beautiful garden with just a little water!                  

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