Posts tagged California drought

Hyundai HeadquartersPeople often ask whether there is a grass that can replace their traditional water-loving lawns. The challenge is most residents want to continue to see the color green. However, one should keep in mind there isn’t a magic plant that will duplicate the rich green, all-American fescue lawn that many of us have grown accustomed to in front yards and reduce water use significantly. In order to get a low water grass we must begin to rethink the garden and imagine our home’s landscape with a more naturalistic meadow appearance. Here is a trio of California Native grass options that require less water:

The Buffalo Grass Blog documented 8 weeks of growing UC Verde Buffalo Grass in their yard.

The Buffalo Grass Blog documented 8 weeks of growing UC Verde Buffalo Grass in their yard.

UC Verde Buffalo Grass (Buffalo Grass)
I recently used this grass at the Hyundai Headquarters in Fountain Valley, California as a lawn substitute. I think it’s a great options for the front yard. This grass uses about 75% less water than the traditional grass and was developed by researchers at UC Davis and UC Riverside specifically for the California climate. Buffalo Grass is typically sold small plugs and not by seed. Plant the plugs at 8″ to 10″ on center and they will spread by stolons. You should have a full coverage within a 4-6 months if you plant the plugs in the spring.

Dog owners will be pleased to know this variety of grass not only holds up to foot traffic, but is also non-toxic for grass chewing hounds, while also being beneficial for improving allergies because this grass does not produce seeds. UC Verde Buffalo Grass is even available online for direct delivery to make establishing a new lawn easier.

Landscape designer Julie Orr used Agrostis Palens to  beautiful effect, noting Native Bentgrass does well in full sun and creates a more flowing, meadow-like lawn.

Landscape designer Julie Orr used Agrostis Palens to beautiful effect, noting Native Bentgrass does well in full sun and does a good job of looking like a traditional lawn.

Agrostis Palens (Native Bentgrass)
One of my favorite meadow grasses. Although this grass can be occasionally mowed, be aware this grass wants to be a meadow. If you want a more immediate cover use this species. It can be seeded any time (although prefers the fall season), germinating within a few weeks. It normally goes dormant during the summer, but can be kept somewhat green with occasional water during the hot months.

Carex Praegracilis (California Field Sedge)
This is a great option if you live near the coast. This grass uses about 25% less water, but once established it will appear similar to your old lawn. I’ve seen a few installations in the Santa Barbara area and California Field Sedge will tolerate some foot traffic as well as occasional mowing. Although it can be seeded, it is best to plant this grass with containers. This grass will spread by rhizomes.

I’ve notice in the last few of months that my neighborhood in Westchester is changing. There are many older homes being renovated and many are changing front yards to drought tolerant landscapes. Although I sometimes wonder who their designers are, I am thrilled that people are rethinking their water use.

My front yard has been an experiment for the last 15 years. I’ve been trying different ideas, re-thinking the traditional front yard lawn. As some of you know, I grew strawberries for about 5 years so it was time to try something new again. I removed the strawberry patch and planted a variety of vegetables that my wife and I enjoy: zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplants, and green peppers.

Now vegetables are not drought tolerant and they need water. My wife suggested why don’t we capture our warming water from our morning showers in buckets and use it for the garden. As it turns out both of us generate about 3 to 4 gallons of water each day, enough to irrigate all of our veggies. I am thrilled by what has transpired in the last 30 days.


Lake Tahoe Recession-5
While attending my nephew’s graduation at the University of Nevada in Reno, I spent this past weekend on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. I spent much of my outdoor childhood in the area hiking, skiing, camping, and backpacking. The Sierra Nevada was my backyard wilderness while growing up, so I was looking forward to my visit to the Lake.

Lake Tahoe Recession-9
Ascending the mountain through Virginia City, the drive was beautiful and scenic. There was one noticeable element that was missing during the drive – SNOW. You could see patches on the upper ridges, but it was something that I’d never experienced before. Not to sound too alarmist, but I’ve been going to Lake Tahoe for over 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.

Lake Tahoe Recession
The North Shore and Incline Village area received only 3% of its normal snow fall. I remember usually at this time of year this rustic community would be thawing from the winter with patches of dirty snow everywhere, but there was no snow to be found this time. Although it rained over the weekend and a dusting of snow fell in the mountains, the Tahoe basin felt dry, empty, and quiet.

Lake Tahoe Recession-3
I could even see the drought stress showing on a few of the large native Ponderosa Pine. Not a good sign. Lake Tahoe’s water level was so low that most of the private boat docks and ramps were unusable since the lake shore was over one hundred feet away. I stopped by one of the Nevada State Parks and found closed boat launching ramps, protruding boulders from the lake surface, and unusually wide beaches. The Park Ranger told me the boat launch area has been closed since mid-summer last year and is not schedule to be open anytime soon. It was sad to see the impact of the drought on the environment, ecology, community and it’s local economy. I know it is more distressing news, but it is critical that we continue to make present the caring of our sacred natural resource—water…

Lake Tahoe Recession-4


Have You Eaten Your Last Avocado?: “The avocado’s native environment is tropical, and we’re growing them in a desert.” It takes 72 gallons of water to grow a pound of avocados, compared to, for instance, nine gallons to grow a pound of tomatoes.

California Landscape Architects’ Strategies Hold Water: In spite of unprecedented drought and new water consumption regulations, local landscape architects are ahead of the curve.

UAMA exhibit focuses on changing landscape: Contemporary and historical pieces — most from the UAMA’s permanent collection — contrast one another throughout the exhibit, “Changing Views: Queering U.S. Landscapes”, showing how nature still thrives amid the tests of human economical, political and environmental influence.

Cricket Protein Bars Are Almost Here: Icelandic designer and entrepreneur Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson wants to make edible bugs an everyday thing. His company Crowbar Protein will soon offer a protein bar made, in part, out of cricket flour.

Honest Subway Announcements: “Ladies and Gentlemen: We are experiencing a momentary delay because of train traffic ahead of us. “Momentary” being something of a nebulous term, admittedly. Why, compared to the vast expanse of time, your entire life is a moment.”

Photo: Calvin Abe

I have dozens of Agave attenuata – aka Fox Tail Agave – in my backyard. The species is one of my favorite plants because of their beauty, sculptural qualities, subtle luminescence and, of course, their drought tolerance. They look healthier if they get some occasional water since they are from an arid tropical area of the world (South America). I love to photograph them because of the way they capture and naturally reflect the soft qualities of sunlight.

Photo: Calvin Abe

Photo: Calvin Abe

“Agave” is Greek for noble or admirable (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 864). The word “attenuata” refers to the tips which are produced to a point. Their form is quite majestic and elegant if you look closely at them. This particular plant is commonly found in Southern California gardens. Along the coastal areas, they are adaptable in both shade and sun, but they will grow slightly faster with a bit of sun. They are also great accents in the garden if used as focal points.

Photo: Calvin Abe

Photo: Calvin Abe

Agave attenuatas look spikey, sharp, and dangerous. They are not. Unlike other beautiful agaves, like ‘A. Deserti’ or the large ‘A. Americana’, this particular variety is soft and flexible. Nurseries typically sell them in 5 to 15 gallon containers, which are 12″ to 14″ wide. Don’t be surprised if after two to three years, the plant expands to a beautiful 30″ to 36″ width. Plant them 5–6 feet apart, and with a little patience they will grow in size to become sculptural elements in the garden. Make sure they have a neutral background to show off their spikey cluster.

Lastly, if you’re into photography as I am, the Agave attenuata is a brilliant specimen to visually capture and experiment with. I’ll share more as we go.