Southern California homeowners who have turned their yards into lush green oases filled with grass, trees and vegetable gardens could face a tough summer as temperatures are rising and drought water restrictions go into effect in some parts of the region.
The instinct may be to scramble to save everything, but agricultural experts say you may need to prioritize certain plants and yard features over others. It may also be time to start considering long-term changes to combat increasingly dry and hot conditions in the state.
“We’re going to have to choose very, very wisely which plants stay and which plants don’t,” said Carrie-Anne Parker, owner of Rolling Hills Herbs and Annuals in Redlands. “There is no way to maintain a lawn, a vegetable garden and an ornamental garden at the same time.”
Parker said that rather than “trying to hold on to all things,” gardeners should give themselves permission to let their lawns go and focus their efforts on protecting the plants that are most important to them, whether that’s either their vegetable garden, their trees or the garden. rose bush they planted in memory of a loved one.
Janet Hartin, environmental horticulture advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, which conducts research and educates communities about keeping trees resistant to heat, drought and pests, shared a similar sentiment.
“The lawn can come back later,” Hartin said. “It’s much more dispensable than your trees.”
How bad could restrictions be? The Metropolitan Water District declared a water shortage emergency that will require member agencies to enforce water use restrictions by June 1 and parts of Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties may be limited to once-a-week watering.
Darren L. Haver, director of the South Coast Research & Extension Center at the University of California, said the first step should be to inspect irrigation systems such as sprinklers to ensure the maximum amount of water that can stay in your garden does.
“That means you’ll have to turn on your system and you’ll have to make sure there are no leaks and you don’t have any misdirected irrigation heads,” Haver said.
While some gardeners like to increase the amount of time they water their lawns in hot, dry weather, Haver said people should instead pay attention to the time between waterings. Consider the number of days the grass continues to look good between waterings, then water at that interval. The duration of watering should always be the same.
Protect established trees
Hartin said trees and food crops are among the most important to protect. She said trees help cool urban heat islands and play an important role in carbon capture.
She recommends that trees not already connected to some form of drip irrigation should be given deep waterings. One way to do this, she said, is to take a hose and reduce it to a trickle and let the water soak into the ground for two to four hours during the early morning hours once a week. to reach the deep root system of the tree.
Homeowners may also have to think about how their trees might be affected if they decide to remove their lawn. Hartin said some trees have very shallow root systems because they are only supported by the same sprinkler systems that support a grass lawn, and when that lawn is removed and the sprinklers are turned off, those trees suffer. She said it’s important to make sure these trees still get regular irrigation and then weaned off and move on to deep, infrequent waterings.
Take care of the vegetable garden
Just as trees benefit from deep, infrequent watering, so do garden plants.
Parker recommends this form of watering to encourage plants to develop deep root systems that will help them become more resilient to drought conditions.
The duration and frequency depends on many variables, including the size of a plant and the type of soil it is in. Small plants with weaker root systems need more water than larger plants, and clay soil retains more water than sandy soil.
Parker said there are young plants that she sometimes waters for up to an hour, and in areas where she has clay soil, she can go up to four days without watering again. It is up to gardeners to determine their own water needs based on their conditions.
Another important tool to use is some form of mulch to help seal in moisture. Parker said she places grass clippings around the base of her plants to help keep moisture sealed into the soil after watering.
There are also structures that can be placed in the garden to try to cope with hot and dry conditions. In the absence of a large tree canopy, people can put up umbrellas to keep the ground cool and help keep some moisture in the ground.
Parker said something like a whiskey barrel planter can be placed on wheels and moved to more shady areas to protect plants.
Plan for the future
While now isn’t the time to plant new trees, gardeners should think about it in the fall for the long-term benefits these trees can provide once they’re established, Parker said.
Hartin recommends visiting the Urban Forest Ecosystem Institute website at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which has a feature for people to find the most suitable trees for their area of California.
It may also be time to reassess the green lawn and begin to move toward a drought-tolerant native landscape, said Muriel Fernandez, senior lecturer in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona.
Fernandez said people might worry that their garden will look dull if they abandon their lawn, but there are plenty of plants that stay green throughout the year. Some she recommends include Cleveland sage, California buckwheat, and California maritime lilac.
Fernandez said the native plant gardens also serve as “stepping stones” in an effort to help maintain local bird populations, which she says is important as canopies of native trees are disappearing.
She used her own garden as an example, saying her salvia plants fed bird species flying in her area after their stems snapped and released seeds onto the ground.
“Drought resistance can be spectacular and you support your local biodiversity,” she said.