By Nzong Xiong
RISMEDIA, June 3, 2008-(MCT)-For nine years, Louis Almaraz and his wife, Debra, watered their front lawn in Fresno, Calif., like any other homeowners. For most of those years, the couple often talked about changing their landscape-to something along the lines of a desert theme.
Having previously lived in Flagstaff, Ariz., where water shortage problems have plagued the city, they brought their water worries with them to Fresno.
“I’m really concerned about the water shortage,” says Louis Almaraz, a 54-year-old retired truck driver. “Our kids and grandkids, they may have to pay (high prices for water) like we do now for gas. People don’t take it seriously.”
They finally decided to do their part and landscaped their front yard for low-water use. They took out the lawn, planted several types of succulents, including some cactuses and other drought-tolerant plants, and put down lava rocks. It took about two years and about $4,000, but they recently completed their project.
“People who pass by, they’ll just stand there” looking at the front yard, Almaraz says. “We’ve gotten a lot of compliments.”
It can take some time and money, but not all water-conserving ideas need to make a dent in your wallet. In fact, there are a number of things you can do to your landscape that can help cut down on your water use and still leave you with a great-looking yard.
Whether you’re watering your lawn or garden, check to make sure your irrigation system is in good working order. Replace any leaking heads, sprays, pipes or hoses.
“If you have a pin-size leak in your irrigation line, over the course of a month, you’re going to lose 100 gallons,” says Leslie Feathers, a landscape water conservation specialist with Fresno’s Water Conservation Program and the former Fresno County Master Gardener program coordinator. “That’s a lot. People don’t think about that.”
Adjust the controllers and your watering habits according to the seasons, she says. For example, turn off your irrigation December through February.
“Typically, we get enough water from the rain and fog, which also adds moisture into the air,” she says.
Avoid watering during the hot periods of the day, when the water can quickly evaporate. Instead, “the middle of the night is a great time,” says Andrea MacDonald, a Fresno County Master Gardener who co-hosts a monthly morning segment on water conservation on KSEE, Channel 24. Also, don’t overwater.
“There shouldn’t be any runoff,” she says.
Instead of a spray irrigation system, consider converting to one that uses drips or soaker hoses.
“It’s very easy to do,” says Chuck Sanders, a retired irrigation engineer and a sales associate in plumbing at The Home Depot near River Park in Fresno.
“We have tools to assist them and design manuals. There’s a lot of help out there if the homeowner desires to pursue it.”
You can have a beautiful flower bed with plants that don’t require a lot of water. For example, many California natives and succulents are drought-tolerant, which means they still need some water but not as much as other plants. Here are some drought-tolerant plants MacDonald and Feathers suggest:
Annuals: Portulaca, California poppy, cosmos and zinnias.
Perennials: Yarrow, daylilies, lavender, lamb’s ears and African daisies.
Shrubs: Butterfly bush, heavenly bamboo, oleanders, coyote bush and cotoneaster.
Trees: Oaks, crape myrtle, olive, hackberry and jujube.
Vines: Cat’s claw, potato vine, trumpet vine, honeysuckle and wisteria.
You also can do what the Almarazes did: Reduce your lawn area. (They plan to turn their attention next to their backyard, which has 600-800 square feet of grass.) Or you can remove your entire lawn.
“Only have lawn where you absolutely need it,” Feathers says. “Otherwise, use pavers or other ground-decorating options, such as dry creeks.”
If you can’t do without a lawn, plant warm-season grasses, such as bermuda. “They use 50 percent less (water) than a cool-season one, such as tall fescue,” she says.
Plant shade trees. “Normally, you want it to be on the west or south side of the house because those are the two hottest areas,” Feathers says. “You might consider a deciduous tree because you’ll get heat from the sun during the wintertime and shade during the summertime.”
Don’t overfertilize. Instead, use slow release or low-concentration formulas. When you use too much, “that increases the growth rate and then (the plants and lawns) want more water,” she says.
Use 2-4 inches of mulch in your flower beds. The mulch will help reduce evaporation, moderate soil temperatures, improve water penetration and control weeds, she says.
Fresno residents who enjoy unmetered watering might want to start practicing some of these water-saving tips. Your unmetered days are numbered. Meters will start being installed this year, she says. In 2010, the city will start reading meters. By 2013, all Fresno homes will have meters that are read.
If you want some help on ways you can conserve water around your yard, contact the Master Gardener program in your area. City of Fresno water customers also can call the Water Conservation Program at (559) 621-5480.
Even though the Almarazes aren’t sure exactly how much they’re saving, they estimate they’re using 5 to 8 gallons a month to hand water their front-yard plants.
Knowing how little water they use, “It makes us feel good,” Louis Almaraz says.
© 2008, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.