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How green does your garden grow? If your yard requires an abundance of water to maintain that brightly colored curb appeal, it might score high in hue but low in landscape sustainability.
It’s true the earth is made up mostly of water, but only 1 percent of the world’s water is actually usable. While California has made a turn for the wetter, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, about 14.1 percent of the contiguous U.S. is still classified as experiencing moderate to exceptional drought, as of the end of February.
Even if you don’t reside in a drought state, incorporating something called xeriscaping into your landscape design is essential for the well-being of our planet by protecting our precious resources. Xeriscaping — a landscape and garden design approach that uses water conservation techniques — reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation systems. It works by incorporating drought-tolerant plants as well as those native to the region.
While I’ve been living an eco-friendly lifestyle for many years, as a California resident, my green thumb techniques have been limited to decks and patios. So, I consulted with gardenista Teryl Ciarlo, who says it doesn’t matter if you have a lawn, a patio or want to start your first mini garden — it’s time to get your hands dirty! Ciarlo is a West Los Angeles landscape designer who believes gardening an hour a day keeps the doctor away. According to Ciarlo:
“Gardening and working with soil reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves mental health and raises endorphin levels.”
Ciarlo shared with me some surprising tips that we can all incorporate this Earth Day and beyond to help save water, save money and improve our health.
10 Tips for Water-Conscious Garden Design
1. Catch Rainwater
April showers certainly bring May flowers, but they can also be used to water your yard and garden, and even wash your car. According to RainBarrelGuide.com, for every inch of rain that falls on a “catchment area” of 1,000 square feet, approximately 600 gallons of rainwater can be collected. That’s a lot of water that would otherwise be wasted, which equates to serious savings for homeowners.
If the thought of ugly, oversize gray barrels in your yards makes your inner designer cringe, fear not. Ciarlo says catchment options range from stylish storage tanks to pretty planters that double as rainwater catchers. Try her favorite, the Rain Wizard Rain Barrel Urn from Good Ideas. This barrel helps you harvest rainwater and even air-conditioner condensation, and the flat back lets you optimize outdoor space.
“Rainwater sliding off a polymer, metal, ceramic or real slate sloping roof into collection barrels is safe for secondary uses like garden irrigation,” says Tim Gentry, vice president of technical services at DaVinci Roofscapes. “Roofs like these do not tend to leach chemicals or pollution into the water.” In fact, their 100 percent recyclable, USA-made, synthetic roofing tiles contain inorganic pigments permanently bound into the polymer tiles that meet California Proposition 65 protocols and certify that the products do not release or discharge toxins into water. Savings, safety and style? That’s what I call smart.
2. Sprinkle Sparingly
If you’re like me, you’ve over-watered everything on more than one occasion. While we all have good hydration intentions, the average American family is devoting a whopping 30 percent of the household water usage to lawn and garden watering. You probably know to turn off the sprinklers when it rains, but you should also water in the early hours of the morning to reduce evaporation.
3. More Gravel, Less Grass
By removing portions of your grass and installing gravel or decomposed granite instead, you can save water — while also cooling your home — by surrounding the space with canopy trees for extra shade. According to the Arbor Environmental Alliance, one large tree strategically placed in a yard can replace 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours per day.
Create a gravel sitting area with a farmhouse table and chairs. Add pops of color with upcycled benches, recycled pillows and comfy throws. Ciarlo says gardens shouldn’t just be viewed from the kitchen window but experienced year-round. She believes excellent landscape design incorporates season-less gardens, with plants peaking all year.
“I have a deep affection for being able to provide my clients with the classic ‘California dreaming’ reality, using the indoor and outdoor living spaces as the path,” she says. “Homeowners and their guests always gravitate toward the garden or terrace if you lead the way by making it cozy and inviting.”
4. Use Drought-Tolerant Plants
Contrary to popular belief, succulents aren’t the only plants that are drought-tolerant. Beautiful herbs like rosemary and lavender are not only fragrant and great for cooking or freshening your indoor air, it turns out they’re extremely water-conscious. For fantastic border plants, try Little Ollie shrubs; they’re a clean, compact-growing shrub that requires very little attention or water. My husband’s kind of plant!
5. Add Rain Gutter Catch Basins to Your Rain Gutters
While that may be a tongue twister, redirecting rainwater to a drought-tolerant herb garden or storage tank is, well, savvy. Aesthetics-driven readers, take a breath: There are very discreet underwater storage tanks that hold quite a bit of water without being an eyesore. And, slim fit isn’t just for men’s shirts. Nowadays, you can even find slim, wall-mounted tanks that can run alongside walls and fences, like this one. Just attach a hose and water your yard. Your neighbors will be green with envy.
6. Collect Gray Water from Your Sinks
It’s surprising how much gray water we produce every day without realizing it. By merely saving water that would otherwise go down the drain (i.e., waiting for the faucet to warm up) or used to rinse fruit and vegetables, you can repurpose this to water your potted plants. Even water left over in drinking glasses and water bottles can be collected in a pitcher.
Don’t forget to fix all leaks from hoses or pipes. This is not only vital to prevent mold, but if you have a leak, you’re wasting water. A great way to spot leaks is to check your water meter at the beginning of a two-hour window of no water use. Then, check again at the end of the two hours. If the number has risen, you have a leak.
7. Add Mulch to Trees and Plants
Did you know mulch discourages weed growth, minimizes water runoff and retains moisture? By adding a few inches of compost or mulch around trees and plants, this will slow the evaporation of moisture, allowing your garden plenty of time to take a long sip of water. Mix mulch with all your soil to encourage moisture retention in the entire yard.
8. Install a Drip Irrigation System
Sprinklers are out; drip irrigation systems are in. If you aren’t familiar, you’ll be thrilled to know that drip irrigation systems save 50 percent more water than sprinklers, with little to no water loss from runoff or evaporation. They can be installed anywhere, from large yards to individual planters. A drip irrigation system allows total control over the amount of water supplied to each designated area. They work wonderfully with mulched areas, thoroughly soaking the moisture-retaining mulch sans the runoff.
9. Think About the Needs of Bees
According to Ciarlo, bees pollinate one-third of all food, but we’re seeing fewer of them due to climate change and habitat loss. Bees pollinate a plethora fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, apples and squash (and even almonds!). They require flowering plants and herbs to thrive, and with the popularity of suburban lawns and the destruction of native landscapes, bees are rapidly disappearing.
Good news! You can encourage bee production by planting flowering trees and clover in your yard or in planters on patios. Also, avoid chemically treating plants and flowers since chemicals can negatively affect a bee’s system, human health and the entire ecosystem. Bees like volume in their flowers, so plant plenty of the same type of bloom together. A few good examples are lilacs, lavender, sage, wisteria and verbena — they’re not just practical, but bee-autiful!
10. Plant a Tree — or Three!
According to NASA, upward of 20 percent of Earth’s carbon dioxide (CO2) could remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years, and rising concentrations are already causing the planet to heat up. By just planting a single tree, you can help, given that plants neutralize excess CO2. A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds per year, while releasing oxygen back into the air. Planting a tree creates beauty, fights global warming and is good for our health, too. (Want to know more? Read “The 3 Plants Every Home Should Have for Clean Air.”)
Trees can also help keep cities cooler by releasing water vapor into the air and breaking up urban hot spots. Shade from trees slows water evaporation, and surprisingly, most new trees only need 15 gallons of water per week, according to Ciarlo. Surround your home with trees and enjoy the numerous benefits while also doing your part to help our beautiful planet. Mother Earth will surely thank you.
I hope this inspires you this Earth Day to take even just one of the above action steps. Last time I checked, there is no planet B.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock