How Can A Garden Thrive In Hot Summer

Feeling really hot this summer?  It’s right.  Everywhere you go, you can see news about record high temperatures and wild fires.  In such hot weather, how can plants in a garden survive and thrive?

Record Temperature

July 2018 is the hottest month in California since 1895, when the temperatures were first recorded.  The average statewide temperature was 79.7 degrees, according to National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Several places in southern California set records for the hot temperature: UCLA: 111 Fahrenheit degrees; Burbank Airport 114; Santa Ana, 114; Riverside, 118; Ocotillo Wells (San Diego): 124.

According to Indicators of Climate Change in California, a comprehensive study by the California Environmental Protection Agency,

  • “Annual average air temperatures have increased since 1895, with the warmest four years on record occurring in the last four years.
  • Five of the state’s years with severe to extreme drought since record keeping began in 1895 occurred between 2007 and 2016.
  • Some of the largest glaciers in the Sierra Nevada have lost between 50 to 85 percent
 of their surface area since 1903.”

Wild Fire

With the record high temperature, 2018 is another year with huge wild fires.

According to the same study above:  “The area burned by wildfires each year has been increasing since 1950. Five of the largest fire years have occurred since 2006. The largest single recorded wildfire in the state, the Thomas Fire, which resulted in the filing of more than $1.8 billion in insurance claims, occurred in 2017.” The Thomas fire actually was just surpassed by the Ranch Fire that started in late July.

Per Wikipedia, in 2018, a total of 5,723 fires had burned an area of 1,250,467 acres (5,060.46 km2), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center, as of August 28. The active Mendocino Complex Fire has burned more than 459,000 acres (1,860 km2), becoming the largest complex fire in the state’s history, with the complex’s Ranch Fire surpassing the Thomas Fire to become California’s single-largest modern wildfire.

wild fire

Plants suffer in the hot weather

With the record temperature, plants need sufficient water to survive and thrive.  When not enough water is provided, plants show signs of stress, which can be seen everywhere.

stressed plant

If the plants do not get enough water for too long, they will pass the point of being saved and just die off.

dead plant

To keep the lawn green,  a large amount of water is needed to spray on it, otherwise it will go yellow very quickly.

lawn watering

A garden thrives in the hot summer

Some gardens, however, do not need any extra water versus usual, yet still grow well despite the heat.  How is this achieved?

This garden was first installed in early spring:

drought tolerant garden

After just 3 months, the plants grew in a lot, with beautiful blossom:

drought tolerant garden

This sage grew from a small plant to a bush in just 3 months, big enough for the hummingbird to visit:

sage plant
When first installed

After 3 months:

sage plant
3 months after install

Another 3 months passed since late spring, it is the hot summer time with close-to-record setting temperatures.  How do the plants do?

They all do well!  While the high temperature stressed out so many other plants, not here.  The owner said he did not do anything after the garden was installed; he just let the irrigation run as first programmed, which is mere couple minutes each time, at about 3 times a week.

drought tolerant garden

 

Keys to a robust garden in summer

There are several important reasons to the thriving garden.

Plants

All the plants selected are drought tolerant, such as California native plants, and succulents.  The native plants are well adapted to California’s arid weather.  They have very strong root system and can go very deep and suck in the water.  That means, at very dry and hot times, they are better able to get water than other non-drought tolerant plants.  Here you see a California native Monkey Flower can live off very little water, on a rock.

California native

When they are planted in a garden, for many native plants, after they are established, they don’t need any extra water all year round.  They can sustain themselves from the water in the soil.  Here is the same native plant Monkey Flower in the garden.

California native

Succulents are another type of plants that only need little water.  They have no fear for dry and hot conditions – they thrive in it.

Succulent

Drip Irrigation

Even though all the plants are drought tolerant, they still need proper watering to establish.   Here, drip irrigation is the secret behind the water.

When the garden was installed, for every plant, a drip line was placed around its root zone, so water can drip right into the root ball in the soil.  As water is slowly dripped, it can be absorbed into the soil without any runoff.

A irrigation controller was installed to control the watering frequency and length automatically.  For this garden, just a short watering time was programmed, so the water usage is quite low.

drip irrigation

Mulch

Mulch is another key piece for the puzzle.  With it on the soil, evaporation is greatly reduced, and the moisture can be kept in the soil much longer.  In addition, it will suppress the  growth of the weeds, which take water away from the plants.  The mulch is made from tree bark, which is organic.  When it decompose, it will add organic matters to the soil, which will enhance the water storage capability, to allow it to hold more water, longer.

mulch

Much water can be saved versus lawn

In hot summer days, 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!

irrigation for lawn

A drought tolerant garden, on the other hand, uses much less.  As it only lasts couple minutes each time, by drip, the garden shown above uses just about 1/4 of the water of the same size lawn.    When you add up such drought tolerant landscapes, the amount of water saving can be really significant.

drip irrigation

When it is hot, everyone uses more water, so it puts a huge demand for the  water supply.  Unfortunately, the supply has been on the decline with the shrinking of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, higher temperature and other reasons.  Here is the Guadalupe river, the river of the Silicon Valley, at the peak of summer.

river

Here at Los Gatos Creek, a tributary to the Guadalupe river, the water was very low.  However, the birds and other aqua animals that live in this habitat, like this hawk, depend on the water to survive.

hawk

According to USGS, “Each Californian uses an average of 181 GALLONS of water each day. ” We then use half of that water on lawns and other outdoor landscaping to keep it green.  Water is a very valuable resource, we may use it in a more efficient manner.

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”.

“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.”  An outdoor target will be announced later.

For outdoor landscaping, we should aim to reduce the water usage from the current 50% of total to something lower.   This can be best achieved with a  water efficient garden.  As we can see in the garden above, it needs much less water than that for a lawn.   The drought tolerant plants can fill the garden with beautiful colors, and keep the water usage low even in hot summer days.   Birds and other pollinators love the blossom and will drop by often to visit.

It is hot out there.  No more worrying about spraying more water on the lawn to keep it green.   Just sit back, let the irrigation run as programmed, and enjoy the beautiful view the garden has to offer.

drought tolerant garden

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Attract Pollinator to Your Yard in 3 Steps

A golden monarch butterfly stopping on a bush, a hummingbird sucking from a flower…a view that everyone would love to see.  The good news is, we can turn a yard into a pollinator friendly garden and enjoy such a view often.   Pollinators play a vital role for the eco-system, and for us humans, yet their populations have experienced dramatic decline in the last 20 years.  We can do something now to help slow or stop the decline.  Here, by looking at the garden as an example, we can show that in 3 steps, a space without any pollinator can become one full of it within just 2 years.

Step 1: shrink down or remove the lawn

After the historic drought in California 2 years ago, this lawn turned completely brown.  The house owner wanted to get rid of the eye sore  and have something beautiful.  They wanted a garden with  lots flowers, a garden that would bloom year round.  When they heard that such a conversion would also allow them to receive the Landscape Conversion Rebate, they decided to take on the project.

To replace a lawn makes sense, as it needs a lot of water.  A converted landscape can save water by 30-80%.   in addition, a lawn does not have the different colors and flowers that pollinators need, so it can hardly be a habitat.

Step 2: Put in plants that sport bright blossom

During the design process, plants were carefully selected to have bright blossom, and would bloom for a long time.   Luckily, many of the drought tolerant plants meeting the requirements of the rebate program can fit the bill very well.  There were a lot to choose from.  Plants like Statice, Cherry Sage, Cone Flower, Lion’s Tail were all good candidates.

The project started, very quickly a floral garden was installed.

Step 3: Wait for the blossom, and pollinators follow

The plants grew quickly.  After just a couple months, in early spring, some plants already grew to a point where they bloomed.

After just a year, the garden was in full bloom.  A dream was fulfilled:

pollinator friendly garden

Sure enough, some small visitors came.:

bees on flower

Sage 2

monarch butterfly

This humming bird really craved the flower.  It worked on every single petal:

hummingbird

hummingbird

In just 3 steps ,  a little a space without any pollinator became this magnet that attracted all types and many of them.

Another garden: same transformation

This garden also went from a lawn without pollinator to one with a lot.  The garden was designed to be a California native plants garden, so more native plants were chosen.

 

One of the plant selected was Matilijia Poppy.  This is a big California native, once a contender for the California state flower.  This is how it looks like in the field:

Planted in the garden:

M Poppy

In the first summer after planting, it grew its first flower:

M Poppy

After another year,  it grew into this full bush with its big white flowers.   M Poppy

Sure enough, bees came to visit:

M Poppy

Another California native chosen was the California Golden Poppy, also favorite for the bees:

G Poppy

At the end of summer, even though most of the poppies already faded, the bee still wanted to have what was out there:

G Poppy

Both gardens showed to us, that by replacing  lawns with landscapes of nectar plants, the pollinators would love them and come.  We could provide a habitat to them from our own yards.

A serious issue – decline of pollinators

Pollinators play a critical role for the eco system in nature, and for us humans.

When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into seeds and fruits.   The seeds allow the next generations of the plants to grow, thus ensuring a bio system to continue and thrive.

For agriculture, bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops.  According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops.

Unfortunately, in the last 2 decades, the pollinators of bee, butterfly and hummingbird all experience rather significant decline, some species go as far as to the brink of extinction.  The culprit?  while the scientists are still exploring, the widespread use of pesticide, pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat all count as remarkable reasons.

Bee

According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):

  • “Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.”

The rusty patched bumble bee has declined by almost 90% since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017.  It became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species.

In this article “Why are bees declining“, the big reasons for the decline are described as:

“Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation – Homelessness; General declines in wildflowers within the landscape – Hunger, Pests and disease – Sickness, Agrochemicals – Poisoning, Climate change – Changing environment”

Humming Bird

According to Ellen Paul, “the annual breeding bird survey shows that between 1966 and 2013, the rufous population on the Pacific Coast dropped an average of 2.67 per cent per year. ”  Pesticide was thought to be one possible factor for the decline, with a research going on right now to find out;  Climate change, and loss of habitat that comes with it, can be another big one.  According to Climate Central:

“the warming temperatures make it harder for these birds to eat, rest, and even reproduce… Rather than search for food in the increasingly hotter summers, some hummingbirds simply seek shade to remain cool. They are also less social during the hotter weather, suggesting they are not as likely to mate.

Suitable habitats for hummingbirds are also starting to shrink as the climate changes. Spring blooms are occurring earlier in the year, affecting the timing between blooming plants and hummingbirds’ return from their tropical winter retreat. This can leave the flowering blooms without their necessary pollinators, and at the same time birds have less food, which puts both plants and animals at risk.”

Monarch Butterfly

The most alarming decline comes from monarch butterfly.  According to David Mizejewski on EcoWatch, “populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the United States–both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults- through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs’ overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.”

One of the most effective conversion measures, that we can do,  is to build more habitats for the pollinators.  It can be in our front and back yards, or on the campus of a company or school.

Big tech putting native plants on their campuses

In the last several years, big high tech companies in the Silicon Valley  planted native plants around their campuses and transformed them into spaces friendly for pollinators.

Apple

At Apple’s iconic spaceship campus, the 3 acres space is filled by 9000 trees, California native and other drought tolerant plants.

Spaceship

 

native plants

The native plants that were planted just a year ago on the campus, are already serving the hungry bees the food they love.

native plants

bee

Google

At Google’s Mountain View headquarter, most of the planting areas are also filled with California native and drought tolerant plants.  Here the California native buckwheat is blooming in the heat of summer.

native plants

The bee is busy feeding on nectar

bee

Here is a parking lot on the campus.  A butterfly is working on the California native Cleveland Sage planted in the garden next to the parking lot.

 

butterfly

More plants, more pollinators

native plants

 

native plants

While we don’t have a huge yard like these, when we all put a couple native plants and other nectar plants in our garden, together they can make up this habitat that the pollinators badly need for their survival and thrive.  Let’s act today and build a garden friendly for pollinator.

 

 

 

 

 

A Race for Saving Water

On Apr 14, 2018,   I participated the Great Race for Saving Water in Palo Alto.  This is the fifth Earth Day celebration hosted by city of Palo Alto.  It is a 5K run/walk and kids 1K fun run to “raise awareness about water resources, conservation and environmental health”.

Great Race for Saving Water

Great Race for Saving Water 2

The race would start at 9am.  From the early morning,  people started streaming into the start venue, Palo Alto Baylands Athletic Center.  Once there, a lot of exciting things were already waiting.

A water truck – H2O On the Go

You have seen food trucks, but have you seen a water truck?  One of the first thing that would catch anyone’s eyes  was a water truck, Santa Clara Water District’s “H2O to Go”.

As Santa Clara Water District describes on the truck’s website, “Standing 11 feet tall, the water dispenser-on-wheels holds approximately 500 gallons of chilled tap water; about enough to fill 8,000 servings in 8-ounce cups. Under a roll-out canopy on each side, residents can fill up at any of the vehicle’s 14 dispensers, seven on each side. The cold, refreshing water is from the district’s water treatment plants, which supply Santa Clara County with clean, safe and high-quality water. Water from our treatment plants consistently meets or exceeds all state and federal regulations, which continually grow more stringent. Drinking tap water also helps to protect the environment. With enough water to replace almost 4,000 water bottles, the water truck can save the earth from 105 pounds of plastic waste”.

water truck

There are so many benefits drinking from tap like these in the truck versus bottle.  A big portion of bottled water actually is just tap water;  while the tap water costs consumer almost nothing ($0.004/gallon), bottled water costs 300 times more, at $1.22/gallon.   Despite all these, the bottled water consumption has increased tremendously in the last several decades.  Per capita consumption increased 3 fold from 9.8 gallons per person annually in 1991 to 30.8 in 2012.

One huge issue stemming from this massive consumption is pollution.  Globally, humans buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute; however, 91% of the plastic is not recycled.  A huge number of plastic bottles end up in landfill, and a big part of them go into ocean.   According to Ocean Conservancy, plastics are believed to threaten at least 600 different wildlife species90% of seabirds are now eating plastics on a regular basis; by 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 100%; At that time, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.   To manage the issue, Europe is planning to ban 10 single use plastic items that make up for 70% of all litter in EU waters and on beaches.  While we all need to drink water, we definitely do not need more plastic bottles.

Everyone would enjoy some cold, refreshing water, especially after running at a race.  Before the water truck,  water supplied to thirsty runners at a race like this would be just boxes after boxes of bottles.  As there are over 30,000 organized races and close to 17 million race finishers in the US a year, suppose one runner at least consumes 1 bottle, the races in US alone will generate 17 million bottles, with a big portion of that ending in landfill and oceans!  The Great Race was estimated to be attended by 1000 people.  By providing a water truck, the race organizer and Santa Clara Water District removed at least 1K bottles from this event.  Kudos to them for quenching the thirst for the runners, and doing a great thing for the environment!

Here, no bottle was found at the bins:

A leaky toilet

At 9am, the race started.  In the race, one could not help but notice something that was rather unusual  – a running “leaky toilet”; to be more concise, someone who was wearing a costume of a toilet.  Why a toilet?  Well, it carried a rather big message about water.

According to Peninsula Press, “Leaky toilets are just one source of common water wastage in home, since one out of five homes may have a toilet in any given year, according to Ora Chaiken from WaterSmart Software. She reprised her role as the “running toilet”, which participants tried to catch during the 5k and 1k fun runs.”

Leaks are a big source of water waste.  Up to 50% of households will experience some kind of water leak in a given year;  according to EPA,  household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. enough for more than 11 million homes’ annual water use!  As water leaks can waste so much water, we should do everything we can to prevent and fix it immediately when it happens.

We all understand the importance of using high water efficiency products, like the high efficiency toilet shown here, to save water. However,  if leaks happen, any  savings can be wiped out, and more.  It is good that we use these products, like the toilet, or water efficient irrigation such as drip ; equally important though, is that we can prevent, detect and fix any leaks quickly when they happen.

leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Plant a garden with native plants

There were quite a few partner booths and activities at the festival.  Here, a landscape designer was giving a presentation about landscaping with California native plants.  Compared with a lawn, a garden with drought tolerant and native plants can save water significantly.  In addition, these plants can provide habitat for pollinators like bees, birds and butterflies, providing rich biodiversity and supporting a healthy eco system, which a lawn can not.  A garden can also add so much color and textures to the space, making it attractive and adding the curb appeal for the house.

Outdoor landscaping accounts for half of the urban water use in California, which is a lot.  To save water, replacing a lawn with a water efficient gardens is one of the most effective ways.  Plant some wild flowers, save water and help out the bees and birds.  They will surely be grateful!

wild flower presentation
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Kids Played a Big Part

When one came to the festival, they would find this sure was an event not just for adults, but also for kids.  There were kids everywhere, from little babies to teenagers; There was an 1K fun run just for kids.  For a kid,  there were so many fun things to look and do.  The smokey bear!  The eagle!

Smokey bear
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Eagle
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

With global warming, pollution and other environmental issues, our globe is facing some serious challenges, which will just become more serious if not managed well.  This makes it really important for kids to be involved early, to become educated in the topics about earth, environment and sustainability.

When today’s kids grow up, they will inherit the earth with all the issues and challenges; what they learn now can prepare them for the challenges then; furthermore, if they understand the importance today, they can join join adults and do something to prevent, reduce or slow down the impact of these issues.  For example, our water supply from snowpack might decline by 60% in just 20 years.  Facing such a future, kids should learn today how precious our wate is, and what they can do now to conserve water.  By chasing the “leaky toilet”, they will understand the significance of preventing water losses like leaks.  When they grow up, in a world that will have less stable water supply than today, they will fully appreciate the value of water and try to come up with ways to use it well. Out of the many things they will do,  they might design a better toilet that have less leaks, and save more water.

Kids chasing leaky toilet
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
#1 kid
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water
Win at the race

Well, beyond all the fun activities, this still was a race.  I was just planning to have a good time and did not prepare anything special for the race.  After the race started, I dashed through the 5K.  When they announced the winner for each age group, to my happy surprise, I won 1st place in my age group.

Luckily, in our long race towards a clean and sustainable earth, not just one person, or a group, a country, or one generation  can be the winner.  All of us can.  If we come together and work together, if we bring our kids along, we will all win in the end.   The sky will still be blue, water still be clean in the next generation, and the next.

The Great Race for Saving Water has been a very fun and educational event, blending in sports, games, plants, animals and many more to give everyone an abundant dose of fun and information.  It is truly a Great Race for Saving Water.

race finish
Photo credit: Great Race for Saving Water

Turn an Empty School Lot Into a Veggie Garden

On a beautiful April morning, on the campus of an elementary school in the Silicon Valley, just after the school start time, while the whole school went from the hustle and buzz accompanying drop off into a total quietness, at this corner, however, happy chatters and bursts of laughs could be heard some distance away.  Getting closer, one could see it was a class of 4th grade kids going to start on a veggie garden.

They were all very excited.  It was not their first time they did something related to a garden though – they did it before, kind of.

Start small

2 years ago, when California was still in the historic 5-year drought, in response to the call of conserving water, the school reduced the watering for its garden.   Like so many gardens across the area at that time, a big part of it went barren.  After the drought was over, though it was with a good reason, the garden could be improved.

Finally a proposal was made, “Let’s do something!”  It happened that at the time the kids at 3rd grade were learning about water and water conservation as part of the curriculum.  Why not let the kids be involved in the garden?  After all, after the project was to be finished, they would see it the most; and, this would be great education for gardening, and water it would take.

So the kids had a very different class on an afternoon, a discussion about the garden, and water.  What could we do about the garden?  What requirements must it meet?  Why is water so valuable?  To conserve water, what can we do?   Then came the fun part.  The kids were shown some of the plants, and they got to pick the ones they liked for the garden.  When they saw how the plants were like, they all got psyched up. “I like this one!”  “I like that one, I saw it on my hike!” “This one!” “No, that one!” “This one is like – I will just name it Medusa’s Hair!”

After half hour of shouts, exchanges and laughter, the plants were decided on.  The list was sent to the principle, and the garden was planted.

By next spring, the garden bloomed:

Another year went by, by spring, the garden has completely been filled in.  It was lovely, all plants were blooming in the spring breeze. From time to time, parents and kids could be spotted pausing to take in the view before hurrying away into a busy day.

The 3rd grade kids are now in their 4th grade, and they were assigned another research project for water conservation.   Another class discussion about water was held; at the end, everyone went out to take a look at the garden, something that they discussed and designed a year ago.  Once in in front of the garden, kids all got excited.  They asked about the names of the plants, remembering what they commented back then, shouted, laughing.

When everyone was just looking and chatting, some kids and teacher saw this plot of empty land next by, and wondered: “Can we put some there too?  It will look nicer.”

Definitely.  Actually, it can be a veggie garden!

Benefits of a school veggie garden

Kids can get so much out from building and growing a veggie garden.

Improve understanding of science – The gardening process involves a lot of STEM knowledge.  To plan for a garden, the first step is to find out its size.  To that end, one needs to measure, and calculate – that is math right there.  For plants to grow well, it needs good combination of water, sun and soil.  That is botany.  What is in the soil?  How to make it fertile? Chemistry.  In a garden, these subjects are not just some dry concepts in the book, but something kids need to apply to tackle problems in the real world.

Team work and communication – it is a team effort, from designing, planting to caring for the plants.  In the process, kids need to communicate, coordinate, do their own parts well, and come together to deliver a wonderful garden.  As the process usually takes several weeks to months, it provides ample opportunities for team-building.

Connection to nature, and food  – nowadays a typical day for a kid is filled with books, homework and screen times of mobile phones and computers.  There has been less and less outdoor time.  When they are eating, very few would know how all the food are like when they were grown on a farm.  By growing their own veggies, kids get to see the nature up close, and see how the veggies are before they become their food.   That can be a rich and rewarding experience.

Value the food, eat healthy  According to State of Obesity, “The latest data show that the national childhood obesity rate among 2- to 19-year-olds is 18.5 percent.” In other words, almost one in every 5 children are obese today.  That is an alarmingly high number.  While there are many ways to tackle the problem, one of the ways is to let  kids eat healthier, both quantitatively and qualitatively.  By growing their own veggie, kids will come to value their food much more, eat the healthy portion, and more likely to enjoy their  veggies.

Planting Day

Just like last time, kids played a big role in designing the garden and deciding on the veggies to plant.  Once the design was done, the project went underway.  Veggie beds were built, soil added, seedlings were purchased.  All was ready for the planting day!

After some instructions were given to the kids, the planting started!  Spinach, chard, tomato, strawberry, basil… very soon all the seedlings were planted.

A science teacher brought a box of the worms, kids just scooped them up and put in the soil.  They loved the worms!

Then they helped put some plants in an empty area around the veggie beds, which were all drought tolerant, and would have blossom that attract bees and butterflies.  With these plants, the space will not only look more appealing, but also attract the pollinators that can help the veggies.

All all the seedlings were planted, kids found the plant labels and put them next to each of the plant.  They wanted to learn about the plant names, and wanted the labels there for future reference.

Finally all was done!  Everyone were very happy with the beautiful new garden.  All it takes now is the time for the veggies to grow, and some care and watering.  Now the kids can sit back a little, watch the veggies grow, and wait for the harvest time!

Before

Now

(Below is added  5 weeks after planting)

First Harvest

In the weeks since planting, the veggies have all grown well, and grown up.

Two weeks later:

5 weeks later:

The end of school year was fast approaching.  A party would be held to celebrate.  Any idea for food at the party?

Harvest time!

While the tomatoes have not come yet, the lettuce ad chard were big enough for harvest.  After they tasted it, kids said: “Yum!”

When they were asked to write down the best memories from the last school year, all kids wrote about the garden.  One kid said, ” “It was nice to see our work come to fruition”  Another: “I love seeing the garden every day as I walk and leave school”.  And this one: “”I am so proud of making our school beautiful and leaving a part of me here, forever”.  Veggie garden not only gave kids some salad, but an experience that they cherish and love.

 

 

 

Great Makeover Story: From Barren to Beauty (1)

This story is about an amazing transformation from barren to beauty.

When the owners moved into the house, the first thing they wanted to change was the front and back yards.  It was barren, utterly unattractive.  The main part of the front yard was this hard surface covered with sand.  It had been used as a parking space for years.  The backyard had the similar hard sandy surface as the path, with a big bush of catti plants in the middle.  When it was windy, the sands from the surfaces would be blown up and hit everything around: people, dogs, kids.  It could be messy.

Barren old front yard

Old Back Yard

The owner wanted beautiful landscapes for their yards; meanwhile, they also wanted something that is environmentally friendly, that would not use a lot of water.  To be “good” to the environment was important for them.  They wanted to be efficient for all natural resources, keeping the footprint on environment as small as possible.

Addressing the challenges of building a garden

When one looked at the front yard, the challenges for building a garden was obvious.  A big lot.  Hard surface. No top soil.  And, on a slope.  For plants to grow well, at the minimum, they would need water and soil.  How would these be addressed?

Capture and reuse rain Water

When one checked on the site, they would see two downspouts, one on each side of the house, come right down to the lot.   They pointed to hard surface, which would just let the rainwater runoff.   That is quite a waste.   Rainwater is an excellent resource of water, which can be used to water plants.   To capture and reuse rain water, one can use a rain barrel, or build a rain garden.  As the the front yard is on a slope where rain water would flow down naturally, a rain garden built close to the bottom of the slope could capture the rain water and reuse it well.

Downspout 1
Downspout 1
Downspout 2
Downspout 2

When it doesn’t rain, plants still need water to establish and grow.  For irrigation of a water efficient garden, drip irrigation is the way to go.  It can point to the root area for each plant precisely, so water can get to where it is needed exactly, without mass runoff.  Compared with a sprinkler system, drip can save water by 30-60%.

Select hardy and drought tolerant plants

As the soil under the surface is very hard from years of being used as a parking lot, it was not the best soil for many plants.  Ideally, the soil could be improved with materials such as compost and organic matters over a longer period of time; however, the option was not  available due to the time limit of the project.  This made the selection of plants especially important.

Many native  and other plants are adapted to California’s soil system and can thrive in all kinds of soils.  They can be hardy for tough environments, and need little water once established.  They also have other benefits.  A lot of them produce blossom that are good food for pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds, supporting a vibrant Eco system.

California Native Plant

Repurpose of the existing plants

For the design of the back yard, it was decided that the bush of cactus plants would go; the space would be emptied for other uses.  The catti plants thrived well in the micro system around the house, making them a a good bet for the soil conditions in the front yard.  Instead of discarding them, the catti would be reused for front yard.

Catti Bush

Building the garden

After the design of the garden was finished, the project entered installment.

Installing a rain garden

There are several parts to this.  First, proper discharge of rain water from the down spout.  Instead of letting the rainwater just go down to the ground and run off, the water would be drained into the garden.  Ditches were dug, pipes were connected.   Two  channels were also dug from the end of the pipes to the rain garden.  When it rains, rain water would be discharged out of the pipes, into the channel, then flow into the rain garden.

Pipe 1

Pipe 2

Stream 1

Stream 2

Then an area was dug for the rain garden.   The shape of the rain garden usually is round or curvy, to reduce the force of runoff and effect of erosion.

After that, plants were put into the rain garden.  There are some special requirements for such plants.  Specifically, they should be able to stand both wet and dry conditions well.  Better yet, they can add color and texture to the garden, making the garden look even more attractive.

Lastly, the whole area of the channels and rain garden were filled with pebble stones.  Once the stones were added, two “streams” and a “pond” came into life.  When it rains, all the roof’s rain water would flow into the stream,  out to the pond, seep through the pebbles, water the plants, then percolate deep down and recharge ground water, an act badly needed for our environment.

Rain Garden 1

Rain Garden 2

In big cities where surfaces like concrete is prevalent, only 5% of rain water can infiltrate deep into the soil, depriving groundwater the opportunity of being recharged.  Areas like rain garden can change that and let as much as 25% of rain water go deep under.  Recharging groundwater  is very important for keeping a healthy water system and providing backup when drought hits.

Impervious Cover

A lovely catti Area

Catti plants are favorites for many people!  They come in all kinds of shapes, colors and forms, some of them sporting splendid and beautiful flowers.  They are very drought tolerant, needing only very little water once they are established.  Catti plants can fill out a full garden, or can be integrated as part of a bigger garden, just like what was being done here.  Here they fill out the long stripe along the driveway, offering something wonderful to see and enjoy when one comes home.

Catti Plant 1

Catti Plant 2

A magnet for bees  and birds

Plants with splendid blossom provide the food that bees, birds and other pollinators depend on.  As bees’ population has been on a decline,  it is even more important that we provide places where these small creatures can feed on and take a good break.  Compared with a lawn which does not provide any food or shelter, gardens with drought tolerant and native plants can become a paradise for bees and birds.

Here, this plant was planted in a row along the pathway.  When it blooms, it has this bright beautiful blossom that is hard to miss.  It is not just us who love them,  bees and birds crave them too!

Plant for Bee

Bee

Parking Strip not to be ignored

Compared with the main garden, quite often, parking strips are “after thoughts” since they are a bit small.  However, in quite some cases they still have sizable spaces, and are an important part of the front space.  They can also be filled with the drought tolerant plants and native plants, adding to the curb appeal, and food for bees and birds.

Parking Strip 1

Adding Mulch

After the garden is finished, an important step is to cover the whole surface with mulch.  There are several benefits of this.  First, they can significantly slow down water evaporation, keep soil moist longer so reduce water required for the plants.  They can also suppress the growth of weeds, further reducing water usage.  Third, organic mulch like this made from bark can disintegrate into the soil over time, adding to the organic matters in the soil, improving soil quality and water retention capability.  Aesthetically, they provide this backdrop for all the foliage and blossom, making the space look even more appealing.

A brand new garden

Tieing all the elements together…the new garden was born!  The space has dramatically changed.  Here was how it was like:

Old Yard

And the new garden:

A rain garden doing well in rain

Shortly after the garden was finished, several storms hit the area.  How did the garden do in the rain?

All came out to be good!  Water flew into the stream and pond as designed; plants enjoyed the rain and grew well.

Off the garden, water that came down from impervious surfaces like driveway pooled into runoff, which would flow out to a sewer and empty into the streams and rivers.  There were lots of pollutants in the runoff which would hurt the animals living in the waters, and pollute the broader water system.  That is why we should limit the areas with impervious cover and try to build more rain gardens, like the one shown here.

With a design of native and drought tolerant plants, the front space of this residence has been completely transformed.  Not only has it gone from utterly unattractive to beautiful, but also become  a wonderful place for bees, birds and butterflies.   As the plants are drought tolerant, only a little water will be needed after the plants are established.  Low water use, beautiful, great for the bees – water efficient gardens can add so much charm for your space!

Run for Water – My Journey to the New York Marathon

The New York Marathon finished last Sunday on Nov 5, 2017.  While several days have passed, the excitement of seeing so many runners, the cheering crowd, and crossing the finish line in one of the most iconic races in the world is still so fresh on the mind.  It has been such an extraordinary experience.

marathon

Determined to Run

Though I have run marathons a couple times before, I have never run a New York Marathon. In the last 2 years, I registered for the lottery, but never won.  This year, with the high hope that “3 is the charm”, I was very sure that I would be able to make it. But the email came yet again telling me otherwise.

Hugely disappointed, I started to consider the only option, which I never looked at before – fundraising for charity. When I scrolled down the long list of organizations, came upon “Water for People”, and read through its description, right then I knew – this is it, I will fundraise to run my New York Marathon, and I will fundraise for Water for People.

Water is something that I have been working on for the last 2 years.  Run for water – there is nothing more fitting to describe my mission for this marathon.

The Drought, and WaterEfficientGarden.com

From 2011-2016, California experienced an epic drought.  At its worst, the water content in California’s snowpack was only 5% the normal level.  Suddenly, everyone realized how valuable the water resource is, and how we must do everything possible to conserve water.

From “STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032”:

“Achieving a 25 percent reduction in use will require even greater conservation efforts across the state. In particular, many communities must dramatically reduce their outdoor water use;

“In many areas, 50 percent or more of daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping. Outdoor water use is generally discretionary, and many irrigated landscapes will survive while receiving a decreased amount of water;”

To convert a lawn to a water efficient garden is the most effective way to conserve water.   For a lawn of 500 square feet, it can take as much as 4000 gallons of water in a month; if it is replaced with a water efficient garden, 30% to 80% of water can be conserved.  Suppose the original household water usage is 8000 gallons a month, and the garden saves 50% of water, the total water usage will reduce to 6000 gallons, a 25% saving versus the original.

It was during the drought, WaterEfficientGarden.com was created to help more people build water efficient gardens, conserving more water.

Water for People

According to its website, “Water For People is an international nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to creating reliable, safe drinking water resources, improved sanitation facilities, and hygiene education programs in the developing world; it currently operates in 10 countries: Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, India, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia & Peru. ”

“The organization’s unique business-oriented approach works to establish partnerships between local and national government institutions, nongovernment organizations, private enterprise, and entrepreneurs to enable local communities, districts, and municipalities to plan, build, finance, maintain, and operate their own safe water and sanitation services. Water For People puts long-lasting solutions and 100% coverage of a region with safe water access for everyone at the forefront of its strategy. It fosters innovative solutions to water and sanitation problems that are adaptable worldwide, and through monitoring and evaluation of its program impact for at least 10 years post-implementation, Water For People ensures that its work is sustained by local partners.”

Water for People is rated 4 star  by Charity Navigator, the highest of the ratings.

While the angles to work on the water issue are very different, we both try to address the same root – water.  At Water for People, it aims to create more clean water resources for people; at WaterEfficientGarden.com, we want to help people conserve more water with water efficient landscaping.

Water for People

It is Global

At the New York Marathon opening ceremony, runners from every country walked in a parade, a scene that strongly reminds you of the opening ceremony of Olympics.  Yes, running is truly global today.  In the more than 50000 finishers of the New York Marathon this year, 139 countries were represented.

Brazil

Water is a critical resource for all human.  The water crisis we may be facing tomorrow is equally global.    United Nations predicts that in 2050, the number of urban dwellers living with seasonal water shortages will reach 1.9 billion, or more than a quarter of the world’s population.  A global issue takes a global effort.  We will need efforts like those of Water for People, and the energy behind the global running phenomenon to tackle the challenges together.

At WaterEfficientGarden.com, we aim to make it easier for people to build water efficient gardens, so more water can be conserved.  As STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032 indicated: “Water conservation is the easiest, most efficient and most cost-effective way to quickly reduce water demand and extend supplies into the next year, providing flexibility for all California communities. ”  One of the easiest and effective ways is to replace a lawn with water efficient garden.  Not only will it conserve water, but it can provide a beautiful view for the house, and give food to pollinators.

Water Efficient Garden

To solve the water issue globally is not unlike a marathon – it takes effort from everyone, and over a long period of time.  Just like that in a marathon though, when everyone puts their mind, sweat and work into it, the finish line can be reached ultimately.  Run for water – and we will win at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall is a great time to install a water efficient garden

As the leaves on the trees have started to turn yellow, we know that fall is here.  Here in the Silicon Valley in California, quite some  lawns are also brown.  Though California’s historic drought already ended in spring, many people keep the habit of water conservation and continue to let the lawns go brown.  While this shows we have all been doing our part to conserve water which we can be proud of, the lawn, well, can look a little bit nicer……here comes the good news:  fall is a very good time to remove the lawn, plant water efficient plants and have a beautiful garden! Not only is the time great for plants, thanks to landscape conversion rebate programs such as the one offered by Santa Clara Water District, by doing it now, you may also receive some rebates.

Brown Lawn

Fall is one of the best times for planting

Fall is one of the best times in the year for planting. There are several reasons for this.

  • Temperature.  Very cold winter and very hot summer days can be harsh for young plants.  Fall offers the optimal temperature.
  • In time for the rainy season.  After plants are placed in soil, to establish and grow in the new place, they need the soil to be wet enough so the roots can stabilize and grow.  With California’s Mediterranean climate, the rainy season comes in winter and early spring.   When planted in fall, the plants have the right amount of time to settle in the new environment, and take the full advantage of rains when they come in winter.
  • Great for spring bloomers.  A lot of plants bloom in spring.  If they are planted in fall, by next spring some of them may grow enough to bloom. Blossom in spring – what a lovely view!
  • Good for pollinators.  Most of the plants in a water efficient garden can provide food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, which are so important for us.  However, their population have been on a decline.  Bees need more plants that they can feed on.  By growing plants in fall, come spring time bees will have much more places to go to have their meal.
Many beautiful plants to choose from

There are a large collection of plants that are both water efficient and beautiful.  If the lawn is replaced with plants that are on the Qualifying Plant List of Santa Clara Water District Landscape Rebate Program, it is eligible to receive the rebate of $1 per square feet.  Browse some of these water efficient plants here.

Flower

Planted in fall, bloom in spring

These two gardens were planted in last fall, after just a winter, they all grew phenomenally and bloomed in spring this year.   Last winter was one of the wettest on record, which definitely helped.

This California native garden was installed last October.  How long did it take to bloom?  Less than half year!  And it lasted all the way through summer.

Fall
Oct
Spring
May
Flower in spring
May

This garden was installed in late last fall.  It also bloomed in early spring, just several months after the installation.

Garden in Dec
Dec
Flower in spring
May
Conserve water, enjoy the garden

A beautiful garden is not only something you can enjoy everyday, but will also go a long way to conserve water.  Although California’s drought already ended, as Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement, “This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner.  Conservation must remain a way of life.”

Outdoor watering for a lawn typically accounts for half or more of an household’s total water use; to convert a lawn to a water efficient garden, the water consumption for outdoor watering can be reduced by 30 to 60%, for total household 15 -40%.

You may receive rebate by removing the lawn and putting in water efficient plants now ($1 per square feet if all requirements are met).  Find out more about the Santa Clara Landscape Conversion Rebate Program here.

Water saving by water efficient garden Why wait?  Now is the great time to plan and build that lovely water efficient garden!  Find out more information at WaterEfficientGarden.com.

water efficient garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds At an Aquatic Habitat: What Changes Could You See After Storms?

In Santa Clara county where the Silicon Valley is located, Los Gatos Creek is one of the few urban streams that remains relatively intact throughout countless developments in the area during the last 200 years.  The stream originates in the Santa Cruz Mountains, flows into the Vasona Reservoir, winds through a small valley, and clears into the Guadalupe river that finally empties into the San Francisco Bay.  It is one of the many steams and creeks in the vast Guadalupe River watershed, and a habitat for many wetland species.

Los Gatos Creek Map

Watersheds are critical habitats for birds, fishes and other animals that live a wetland environment.  200 years ago, before any of the modern developments, the creek must have been a heaven for the birds and fishes.  At the time, all kinds of birds could be seen flying in the sky and resting in the creek; fishes swimming through the creek in massive numbers.

Unfortunately, in the 200 years since, “about 90% of California’s original aquatic habitat has been altered or destroyed through human activities”, more than any other states in the nation.  What we see in Los Gatos Creek today is one of the 10% that remains.

Los Gatos Creek

Today many of the parks like Los Gatos Creek often provides the only refuge in urban areas for native wetland species.  They have been living here for tens of  thousands of years.   During migration season some species of birds will also come and use the place as a resting area, critical for their survival.  If the park no longer exists, or its environment dramatically changes, it can be devastating for all the birds that have been depending on it for so many years.

Bird sightings at normal time

The birds that can be seen most often are Canadian goose.

Los Gatos Creek

Canada Goose

Great egret and snowy egret can also be seen from time to time.

snowy egret

This was in the migration season of November.  These birds were taking a rest before they flew out to their next destination.

Bird sightings after storms in 2016 winter

After an epic, historic 5 year drought, starting from late fall of 2016, California went from extremely dry to extremely wet, with record breaking rainfalls.   Heavy rains pummeled from late fall all the way  into spring, in some places floods and mudslides occurred.  At Los Gatos creek, parts of the trail were also flooded several times.

Flood

The new “stream” in the previous trail was quickly discovered by some lovely “guests”.  They came in swiftly, playing in this new playground of theirs, relaxing, fishing and enjoying a good meal!

Feeding

Same as these ducks, quite some birds found out the new water and came right in.  Here is normally what you would see when you cross a bridge to enter the trail and look down at the water .  The right side of the creek bed is completely dry.  On the morning after several heavy storms in January, though, the whole span of the creek bed was fully filled with flood water.  On the muddy yellow water you could see these two little birds, guests that were not seen here before.

Creek

Two Birds

They are hooded mergansers.

After you walked a bit more along the trail, there was another surprise waiting.  A Double Crested Cormorant was “relaxing” on a tree, which was never seen here either.  She streatched her wings, turning her head from left to right, right to left, then left to right….with the kind of excitement of a baby.  In the second photo, the two small birds could also be seen swimming in the same place.

Bird

Bird 2

The cormorant really liked it here. In the next 2-3 weeks you can see her swimming, resting and relaxing in this particular spot.

Bird

Bird

Bird

Even more surprises ahead.  After you went further down the creek and came to this spot – Look!  literally a bird’s paradise.  So many birds, of different species, gathered here, rested in this comfy patch made from branches and grasses brought by the flood water.  The patch was right in the middle of the creek, providing the birds all they needed: food, shelter, and a fun place to hang out.  After just one  day, though, the patch was gone, so went all the birds.  Such a view was not seen again.

birds after storm

A great blue heron, and a great egret:

Birds

In the next 2-3 weeks when it continued to rain hard, more birds usually unseen could be found at the creek.

Bird

Bird

2 couples of the mallard duck.  Look at that beautiful blue stripe.

A big group of the American coot, on the flooded trail.  While coots can be seen often, such a big group was only seen during this time.

birds

A big bird was seen here at the tree right beside the trail, towards the end of the rainy season. She really enjoyed the tree and stayed on it for hours, ignoring all the people who passed by on the trail.  She was seen only once.  This is a black-crowned night-heron.

Bird on a tree

Birds, habitat, and water

The heavy rains at Los Gatos Creek gave us a valuable opportunity to observe how a sudden increased level of water would mean for the creek habitat, and the ecosystem.  If we just look at the birds, the answer is clear: they loved all that water.  While we don’t have a count for the birds’ numbers during the storm time, the number of species, and the size of the bird groups we saw, increased quite significantly.  This happened with just 2 months of storms, one could only imagine how it would turn out if the same rains continued for a longer time.

In the last 5 years, when California experienced the epic drought, the birds, and the whole ecosystem at the aquatic habitats must have been very stressed.  They lost a big chunk of their habitat; at the habitats that did remain, water was way more scarce than usual.  As Professor Peter Moyle from University of California, Davis pointed out, “Drought is hard enough on us, and on farmers, and cities, and so forth.  It’s really hard on the fish, really hard on the aquatic and riparian systems.”

Continue with water conservation

Water will just become more scare in the future, relative to our demand for it, with population growth, economic expansion, and climate change.  How can we manage and use it , so that we not only will have enough for ourselves, but also for the birds and fishes in the aquatic and reparian habitats?

While all kinds of solutions are being explored, one thing is clear: we must continue to conserve water,  which is the easiest and cheapest solution among all.  In California, we use half of our water in outdoor landscaping.  If we can all switch to water efficient gardening, we can surely save a significant amount of water.  As we see in the picture, when we save water with drought tolerant plants like these Mexican bush sages, we no only save for us, but also those birds in the creek.

Lake