Have questions about your landscape? The drought? Need water-efficient tips? Ask Juan! Juan is IRWD's very own drought conservation specialist with more than 10 years experience in conservation. Here are a few of his past columns.

Fill out this form to submit your questions to Juan. 

 

Turf

 Juan, I need your help! My watering use went up this summer and I don’t know what to do to reduce it. I have a large landscape and most of it is grass. Any suggestions?

 

Have you considered reducing your grass area or replacing it? A lawn for functional purposes like recreation is OK, but if the grass is just sitting there for aesthetics, it is drinking up your water. Many groundcovers and water-efficient plants can use less than half the water typical grass requires. If replacing your lawn is an option, definitely take advantage of our turf rebate program. Visit our website at RightScapeNow.com/rebates for more information.

 

||| I’m considering changing up my landscape into something more water-friendly. Is this the right time?

My lawn is using quite a bit of water. Do you have any tips on ways I can minimize my lawn’s water use rather than removing it?

 

One easy way to conserve water is to simply raise your mowing height, to anywhere from three to four inches. This will increase leaf (blade) surface area, which increases photosynthesis, otherwise known as grass producing its own nutrients. It will store these nutrients and survive drought stress. Also, you will be mowing less frequently and the roots will grow deeper and more extensive, making deeper water available to the plant.

 

I like my grass. Is there a more water-friendly grass out there that you recommend?

 

Consider the cycles of drought that California goes through. We might have one, two or three good years of rainfall—but right around the corner could be another drought. Still, you can have landscape that is vibrant, green, flowering and water-efficient. Drought-tolerant landscape does not mean cactus and rock, unless you like that sort of thing. Our Mediterranean climate allows us to plant everything from California natives to non-native water-friendly plants throughout the year. If you want a lawn, consider low-water-use grass types instead of your typical, cool-season tall fescue, which is a high-water-use grass. Warm-season grass options include buffalo grass or hybrid Bermuda.

 

I'm considering changing up my landscape. Is this a good time? Do you have any recommendations for doing it in a safe, non-chemical way?

This is the perfect time, because it’s planting season. Before planting, take notes and sketch out ideas: what parts of your lawn to remove, types of plants, storm water management, landscape care methods (pruning, pest control, fertilizing). Choose a method for removing turf. One option is spraying with vinegar, soap and water to kill the grass, then removing it manually. It’s labor-intensive but eco-friendly.

Consider California native plants. They will root in well now, before onset of spring and summer. They also will require minimal water once established. Turn rain into your first source of water by adding rain barrels to your downspouts to capture rainfall. Finally, inspect your irrigation system for leaks. Consider using a smart timer that waters appropriately for the weather and shuts off when it rains. You can also achieve this by adding a simple rain sensor to a standard controller. Many of these items will earn you rebates from the water district.

 

Are rebates for turf removal available for homeowners? Can you recommend a turf-removal contractor?

I’m glad you asked. Yes, IRWD’s Turnkey Turf Removal Program currently answers both of your questions. It offers residential customers the benefi t of a full service landscape contractor to take the stress out of having to research, design and build a drought-tolerant landscape project. First, customers meet with the program’s landscape design consultant to discuss their vision and goals for the turf removal project. Once a design is fi nalized, a dedicated project team will be assembled to remove existing grass, install new drought-friendly plants, and convert the existing irrigation system to drip irrigation. Program participants are responsible for obtaining any required design approvals from their home owners associations.

 

What do I need to do in the fall to begin preparing my parkway turfgrass area to be converted to a drought-friendly garden area?

To prepare your parkway for planting, it’s important to “Plan Now, Plant Later.” This is the perfect weather to start killing off your lawn. There are several methods to kill your grass from spraying with herbicide to sheet mulching. The important thing is to start planning now on what you want to do with the area. Start to create a plant and landscape materials list. When the weather cools and your grass is dead, you are ready to begin your project. 

 

I’m going to let my water-guzzling curbside and driveway lawn strips die. When is the best time to replace the dead turf grass in these areas with a new drought-friendly garden?

Plant later—in late fall. Climate appropriate plants establish roots better when exposed to the cooler soil and air temperatures typical here in late fall. Your new plants will also respond well to early seasonal rain, if we get any! 

 

 

 

 

Plants

Juan, thank you for your tips on going native in my landscape. I’m having trouble finding plants. Any ideas?

 

There are a lot of great resources for finding native plants. The California Native Plant Society has a website, Calscape.org. You enter your address and it will give you a list of California plants that are native to your specific location. If you see a plant that you like, a nursery button shows you local nurseries that stock the plant.

 

||| We are thinking of replacing low juniper with succulents in front of our house. Do you know of anyone who could design a succulent garden that would look good and stay looking good through the years?

February is the month of love. What’s your recommendation for a water-friendly gift?

 

Give your loved one the gift of a flowering California native plant such as the Red Valentine Monkeyflower (Mimulus ‘Valentine’). This water-friendly California native shrub will produce beautiful red flowers year-round. Use the guided search at RightScapeResources.com to find other waterefficient plants that fit your needs. The database has lots of great photos and gardening tips. Happy planting!

 

I have to replant a hill in my backyard. It is 15 feet high and fairly steep. In the past 46 years, it was planted first with African Daisies, and later with Red Apple succulent. Can you suggest any ground covers that flower and are drought tolerant?

 

African Daisies and Red Apple are considered drought-tolerant or medium-water-use plants—so replanting them wouldn’t be a bad choice. However, if you’d like to try something different, I’d suggest the Arthur Menzies Seaside Daisies (Erigeron Arthur Menzies) or the Emerald Carpet Manzanita (Arctostaphylos Emerald Carpet). There are also many other great groundcover choices to consider.

 

I have a small 6' x 9' patio. All of the plants are succulents. I would like a single pot with two to three flowering plants for some color. What would you recommend?

 

When it comes to growing plants in containers, remember to always check the soil moisture. Drought-tolerant plants or not, if the soil becomes too dry, the plants may go into shock, wilt and possibly not come back. Lavender (Lavandula spp.) and rosemary (Rosmarinus spp.) are good choices. Lantana is also good. Always consider the exposures when selecting plants. Happy gardening!

 

How can I control weeds in my garden without using events toxic herbicides?

 

The best way is the good ol’ bend-and-stoop method—manually removing weeds. But that can get tiring. Here are some easy ecofriendly strategies: First, mix one gallon of vinegar, one cup of table salt and one tablespoon of biodegradable dish detergent in a bucket. Pour it into a spray bottle and label it. You have created an eco-friendly weed killer. Be sure not to spray plants you don’t want to harm. After removing weeds, you can lay down four to five layers of printed newspaper as a weed barrier then place a thick layer of mulch on top.

 

What’s your favorite California native drought-tolerant plant?

 

There is a vast selection of California native plants that are water efficient and perfect for the landscape. If I had to choose, I absolutely love our Ceanothus spp. or California Lilacs. They are evergreen, very drought tolerant and provide a burst of colorful flowers that range from white and light pink to blue and deep purple. Be careful not to overwater these plants, especially in the summer. One or two deep waterings per month in the summer is all you need once established. Try to plant the species that is native to your area for best results. If you live in Irvine, that would be Woollyleaf Ceanothus (Ceanothus tomentosus). For more information, visit the California Native Plants Society website at cnps.org.

 

What’s the advantage of planting nonnative drought-friendly or California native plants?

Both are excellent choices, but each type requires different care throughout the year. Non-native drought-friendly plants require a little more water throughout spring and summer and provide an attractive landscape. Generally, California native plants are most active during the cooler months while requiring little or no water during the hottest months of the year. As always, do a little research before selecting and establishing new plants. Group non-native plants with similar water needs together in the same hydrozone for efficient watering. Likewise, California native plants should be planted in separate groupings to accommodate their unique water needs.

 

I have a Tipuana Tipu tree in my backyard coming out of its deciduous period and it needs pruning. Is now a good time to prune, shape, trim or should I wait? I will need a good tree service to do this, could you point me in the right direction?

It is a common practice to prune deciduous trees and plants during their dormancy period. This period allows you to shape the tree, remove diseased, damaged or dead wood, and will promote a vigorous burst of new growth in the spring. Late winter would be the optimum time to prune. Pruning during the growing season can stress the tree, making it vulnerable to diseases and pests. As far as hiring a professional, look for someone that is fully licensed, bonded, and a certified arborist.

 

I recently changed the plants in my parkway area and planters to drought-tolerant plants. I converted my sprayhead sprinklers to drip for these plants. How long should I water these plants in fall?

After converting to drip irrigation, you will apply water more efficiently, and at a much slower rate. Typically, drip run times will be longer, depending on the type of drip you have installed. For example, if you use inline emitter tubing, drip run time could be 20–60 minutes, depending on various factors. For some of the most common drip systems, we have posted recommended drip irrigation schedules and remember, plants’ water needs drop significantly in September.

 

What are your favorite drought-friendly plants, especially ones that are hearty and easy to maintain?

Five of my favorites are Azurea Bush Germander, Concha California Lilac, Dwarf Orange Bulbine, Lamb’s Ears Silver Carpet and Sweet Pea Shrub. You can view these plants, and 80 more, in our RightScape Demonstration Garden in front of IRWD’s office building at 15600 Sand Canyon Boulevard, Irvine. The garden is open 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. 

 

My husband and I took out our front lawn and replaced it with a colorful garden of drought-friendly plants. I would like to add some edibles to this garden. I have already planted rosemary and lavender. Can you recommend some other low-water edibles suitable for my central coastal OC location?

It’s great to hear that you want to incorporate more drought-friendly edibles into your landscape, like the rosemary and lavender. Irvine’s Mediterranean climate is ideal for growing a drought-tolerant edible garden. Consider building up your soil with nutrient rich compost, grouping plants together by water and care needs, and mulching. Here is a list of water efficient, edible plants for your garden: pomegranates, peppers, artichokes, eggplant; and these Mediterranean herbs: oregano, fennel, sage, sweet bay, and thyme. 

 

Is it too late to begin planting my landscape?

Given our mild Mediterranean climate, planting can be done almost year-round in southern California. While drought-tolerant plants like to be planted in late winter/early spring when the cooler weather helps them to establish more easily, planting is still encouraged throughout our spring season, except when temperatures rise and remain consistently summer-like. California’s typical spring weather allows plants to “root in” and green growth to “push out.” If planting in the beginning of summer, make sure not to let a plant’s root system dry out and use plenty of mulch to keep soil at an adequate moisture level. 

 

How do I determine which water efficient plants will grow in the shade?

Before selecting plants for your landscape, it’s important to research each plant’s specific needs such as sun exposure, water, and soil requirements. Make sure you consider all these requirements carefully when selecting plants for your landscape. Also, make a list of alternative plants just in case you cannot purchase the exact plant you are looking for. 

 

I’m looking to add more color to my drought-friendly landscape. Can you recommend a few hearty flowering plants or shrubs that don’t need lots of water?

Four colorful plants that are well-adapted to our semiarid climate are Grevillea Hybrid, Purple Rockrose, Texas Ranger and Yellow Bush Lantana. You can view these plants, and about 80 more, in our RightScape Demonstration Garden in front of the IRWD office building at 15600 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine. 

What are your favorite drought-friendly plants, especially ones that are hearty and easy to maintain?

Five of my favorites are Azurea Bush Germander, Concha California Lilac, Dwarf Orange Bulbine, Lamb’s Ears Silver Carpet and Sweet Pea Shrub. You can view these plants, and 80 more, in our RightScape Demonstration Garden in front of IRWD’s office building at 15600 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine. 

What are some drought-friendly and fire resistant plants that I can establish in the landscape of my house in the foothills?

Good question. IRWD customers who live in the foothill and canyon areas are more vulnerable to fires and would benefit from including fire resistant plants in their landscape. Below are a few options for homeowners to consider when planting this autumn or winter:

Shrubs

  • Monkey flower (Mimulus sp)
  • California lilac (Ceanothus sp)
  • Autumn sage (Salvia greggii)

Ground Cover

  • Common yarrow (Achillea)
  • French lavender (Lavandula dentata

Trees

  • Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)
  • California sycamore (Platanus racemosa)
  • Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

 

 

Water

Can I cover my new ¾-inch brown drip line with dirt or do I have to use mulch? I’m worried the holes might get clogged if I use dirt, but I have ice plant ground cover that doesn’t like hardwood mulch.

 

Thank you for your question. You can lay the dripline on the ground and let the ice plant grow over it. Companies make inline emitter tubing for both types of applications, above or below ground. Follow manufacturer specifications when installing the drip line to make sure you have all the necessary components. A couple of dripline manufacturers to look at are Rain Bird and Netafirm.

 

||| Juan, even though we’ve had a mild summer, I’m still concerned about my overall water use going into September. Does my landscape require as much water as it did these past couple of months?

I like to water by hand instead of using my sprinkler system. Is this an efficient way to water? Do you have any recommendations?

 

I myself like to water my landscape by hand using a hose. Watering by hand is efficient because you are placing the water exactly where you need it. Water each area in small amounts and then move on to the next area. Repeat this in rounds. By watering in sections, you allow the soil to absorb the water efficiently. Make sure you always have a hose shut-off nozzle—they’re inexpensive and you can purchase one at a hardware store.

 

I saw an ad suggesting I water 30% less during the fall.Will my landscape survive?

 

Great question. Even though it might still be hot, the days are getting shorter. Plants know winter is coming and start to transition into their dormancy period. They will still thrive but will begin to need less water. In fact, too much water now can drown your plants. As we approach winter, start by reducing irrigation time by a few minutes. This will save hundreds of gallons of water. Learn more—and score some rebates—at WateringGuide.com.

  

My New Year’s resolution is to be more water conscious and more environmentally friendly when it comes to my landscape. What are your suggestions?

 

Thanks for your question. What a great idea! To be more water conscious, consider the use of more water-friendly plants such as California natives or succulents. Some of my favorite California native plants are Ceanothus spp., otherwise known as California lilacs. There are various species of these plants that will provide color at different times throughout the spring and summer, and use very minimal water once established. To be more environmentally friendly, consider putting in a habitat garden.

If you’re interested in attracting birds, butterflies and other forms of life to your garden, many California native plants have co-evolved with our local fauna. The Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society has many great ideas on its website, occnps.org. When selecting plants, make sure to reference PlantRight.org. You can also check out IRWD’s butterfly garden at the San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.

  

I am thinking about replacing my lawn with something more water thrifty—something low growing, fast spreading and easy to maintain. Any recommendations?

 

Numerous groundcovers are available, such as Dymondia margaretae, also known as silver carpet. I’m particularly excited about Phyla nodiflora, also known as kurapia. It’s an innovative groundcover that spreads fast and doesn’t require a lot of water or maintenance. It’s also kid and pet friendly. Before removing your lawn, please remember we have two turf rebate programs: the Turnkey turf program, which is all-in-one, and the DIY program. Visit rightscapenow.com/turf-removal to learn more.

  

I recently turned my irrigation system back on after the rains and noticed that some of my sprinklers were leaking or clogged. Should I hire a professional or is it something I can fix myself?

 

As we start to increase watering during the summer months, we need to make sure our sprinkler system is working as effi ciently as possible. Turn on the sprinkler system and conduct a walk through. Look for issues like leaking, broken or clogged spray heads. A broken or missing spray head can waste as much as 20 to 40 gallons per minute. Fix as soon as possible. Most repairs you can do yourself. If not, seek out a licensed professional for help with the problem. To view IRWD’s video on “How to Check and Adjust for Sprinkler Leaks,” visit rightscapenow.com and click on “How Do I?” and “Fix a Leak?

 

How should I water my backyard citrus trees?

 

Citrus have specific water and fertilizer requirements depending on variety, age of tree, size of canopy, and flowering and fruit development period. Citrus trees can require water year round, especially during late winter through spring. When citrus trees begin fruiting, their water requirements increase, but they do not like standing in water. An average 10-foot by 10-foot canopy citrus tree will need about 100 to 150 gallons of water per week. The feeding roots of a citrus tree sit in the top two feet of soil, three to four feet out from the trunk all the way to the drip line. For good growth and fruit, proper fertilization is required. The generous application of mulch is also key to keeping the top 12 to 24 inches of soil beneath the tree canopy consistently moist, but not too wet. For more details on how to water and care for citrus, avocado and stone fruit trees, visit UCCE Orange County Master Gardeners at mgorange.ucanr.edu/Edible_Plants/.

 

Do you have any tips for applying the water from my rain barrels to my landscape?

 

Remember to lead each rain barrel's overflow hose away from your home's foundation and into an existing garden or bioswale, where the water can easily percolate into the soil. It's also best to use rainwater on inedible plants such as turfgrass, shrubs and flowers. Rainwater from a rain barrel can be used on vegetable gardens, but to ensure safety, make sure to apply this wate rnear the base of the plants and avoid the fruit and foliage, especially on edible leafy greens.

  

When can I start watering again?

 

Whether El Nino comes on strong in March and April or fizzles out, we are still recovering from years of drought, making it very important to continue being water efficient. Regardless of the temperature and how much rainfall we've received, let's all keep using less water. In any event, you wait until late spring to start watering your landscape again. 

  

My landscape is a mix of grass and flower bed areas with drought-friendly plants. I currently use only spray head irrigation, but I am interested in saving water by converting to drip. How do I begin?

 

Start by putting drought-friendly plants with similar watering needs into the same area. This is called hydrozoning. You want to make sure that all your plants receive an adequate amount of water without overwatering any of them. There is no need to remove your existing spray heads or dig up irrigation lines to convert to drip. Various drip conversion kits are available online that can utilize your existing system simply by replacing the heads with a conversion drip body. Cap off any spray heads you don’t need and convert the rest without cutting or gluing. Remember to never mix spray heads and drip irrigation on the same valve. Each type requires very different run-times and water line pressure. Spray heads put out water in gpm (gallons per minute) while drip puts out water in gph (gallons per hour).

 

If the weather heats up this fall, should I keep using the same amount of water that I used in August?

 

At this time of the year, even though the weather may feel warm, the days keep getting shorter. This means that you do not need to water as much as you did during the summer months. Plants adapt to less light by becoming less active and using less water in the fall. Please refer to our fall watering schedule for details on how to more efficiently water your landscape. 

 

Can you recommend some low-water edibles besides rosemary and lavendar suitable for my central coastal OC location?

 

It's great to hear that you want to incorporate more drought-friendly edibles into your landscape. Irvine's Mediterranean climate is ideal for growing a drought-tolerant edible garden. Consider building up your soil with nutrient rich compost, grouping plants together by water and care needs, and mulching. Here is a list of water efficient, edible plants for your garden:

  • pomegranates
  • peppers
  • artichokes
  • eggplants
  • oregano
  • fennel
  • sage
  • sweet bay
  • thyme