Posts tagged How to

Photo: Chuan Ding

Photo: Chuan Ding

It’s been over a year since our Governor officially declared a California state of emergency due to the state drought. However, it’s important to note average temperatures have been rising for over the past 15 years, meaning if the trend continues we are likely to face more extremely hot dry summers for years to come. Heat waves have already swept through Asia and Europe in the last couple weeks, during which time thousands of Europeans went out to seek relief out in the water. Swimming pools, public water fountains, mist fountains, and any body of water were popular destinations for families – and even pets – seeking relief during the heatwave and it’s no different here in Los Angeles when temperatures rise into the triple digits. With summer in full swing here in Los Angeles, the question arises, “How can we enjoy water in a time of drought?” in a city which has long relied upon swimming pools for summer relief?

Creative Commons Photo by Matt Deavenport

Creative Commons Photo by Matt Deavenport

But before we talk about any tips and recommendations, here are some facts about swimming pools every Angeleno should know:

  • There are 43,123 swimming pools in the Los Angeles basin, with an average depth of 5.5 feet and a surface area of 430 sq. ft. The average total volume is about 18,000 gallons per pool. This means that 760 million gallons, or 2,300 acre-feet of water, is stored in Los Angeles swimming pools at any given time. People in Southern California consume about 130 gallons of water per day, which means the amount of water in those 43,123 pools could provide water for all of our city’s residents for about 1.5 years.
  • Water evaporation from pools without covers accounts for around 2,000 acre-feet of water per year.
  • Families with swimming pools use an average of 22% – 25% more water than households without one, a figure cited from a 1999 study done by the California Urban Water Conservation Council surveying 194 homes with swimming pools.
Wikimedia Commons Photo by Jeff Sandquist

Wikimedia Commons Photo by Jeff Sandquist

So knowing all these facts, what are those 43,123 households with swimming pools to do outside of draining and filling in their pools? What strategies can pool owners take to efficiently enjoy their pool while wasting less of the precious resource of water?

Infographic via LA Times Twitter.

Infographic via LA Times Twitter.

1. Get a pool cover. Swimming pool covers can stop 90% of the evaporation rate, and in turn save 30%-50% total water loss. You might be surprised to discover a pool with a cover uses less water over three years than a turf lawn of the same size, and even a drought tolerant landscaped garden.

2. Keep the pool’s water level lower. Keeping the pool levels below the edge to reduce water loss caused by overflow and splashing.

3. Reuse the drainage water and spa backwash to water your backyard plants. Swimming pools seldom need to be drained, but when the need arises consider reusing the water. Just remember to neutralize the acids and do not use chemicals for 72 hours prior to draining. Pool water and spa backwash water (approximately 75 gallons per rinse), can both be used to irrigate a variety of salt-tolerant plants like oleander, rosemary, olive, aloe, deer grass and others once properly treated. More about reusing pool and spa water for gardens here.

4. Use a public pool: I’ve fond memories of learning how to swim as a child, and also spending hot summer afternoons with friends in Las Vegas, both done at public pools. Public pools are a more efficient use of water since the resource is shared amongst more people at once. Here’s more information about the best Los Angeles public swimming pools and water features.

One might notice the extremely hot weather and surrounding desert-like terrain while driving across US Highway 395 on a typical summer day. Make a turn westward onto Whitney Portal Rd and you begin to see some changes as you head up toward higher ground into Inyo National Forest territory.

As I began my quest towards Mt. Whitney’s summit, I was surprised to discover the vast amounts of water along the way. My mind was at peace when it came to replenishing my water supply, because I had a water filter handy, which I used to dip into one of the many streams and lakes I encountered on my journey.

Given California’s current drought problem, I started to realize how much I take water for granted and how truly precious a readily available resource it is normally. The human body can live up to three weeks without food, but only as little as three days without any water. What would I do if Mt. Whitney had no water supplies for me to drink from? What if I had to survive in the desert down below for more than 3 days? What would I do?

Three mechanisms for capturing water to survive:
1. Pit-style Solar Stills: These can take about an hour to build, but if constructed correctly, you may be able to get a quart of water a day from it.

2. Plant Condensation: This strategy utilizing plants as a water source can produce a cup of water per bag, but the key is patience.

3. Morning Dew: You can collect any dew that forms on plants or underneath rocks before the sun rises and it evaporates. This method doesn’t provide much water, but every drop counts when you are in the desert or anywhere where water is scarce.

After learning about these survival strategies I felt a little bit better about my chances out in the desert, and I also became a bit more water conscious. From now on, I’m going to appreciate the abundance of water I can access at my fingertips, and I will do my part in minimizing the amount that I use on an everyday basis.

Infographic: Holabird Sports.

Infographic: Holabird Sports.

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About 12 years ago I did a major home remodel and I remember when the building inspector told me that in order to get final sign-off of my permit that I needed to install rain gutters throughout the house. The gutters had to be directed to the driveway or directly to the street. I proceeded to comply to get my final approval, but I wondered why my rain water had to be drained away from my landscape.

After two years of watching rain water flow to the street, I decided to do something about it. I re-hired the same rain gutter contractor and had them reconfigure all of the downspouts so that rainwater would flow into several rain capture strategies, including landscape planters, dry well, permeable driveway, and a rain barrel. Fortunately, my house sits in an area of Los Angeles that has well-drained soils – my soil is very sandy and drains about 2 to 3 inches per hour. – which is key to having these strategies succeed.

Here are four rain capture strategies that I used around my home.

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1. Use Raised Planters: I built a raised planter in front of the house to capture half of the roof drainage. Since I buried part of my raised foundation I made sure we waterproofed the house footing to eliminate moisture from migrating to the wooden sill. I kept the soil level 6 inches below the top of the foundations. I reconfigured the front portion of the roof water to this planter.  I planted a combination of Chondropetalum and Agaves which will take both drought and wet conditions. However,  mostly drought these days. (image A)

Diagram by: Richard Quinn

Diagram by: Richard Quinn

2. Install a Dry Well: I raised my front yard around 14 inches so that none of my front yard drainage would run over the sidewalk. I installed a “Dry Well” along the street edge. You can see the two plastic drain covers which not only captures the surface water, but also gave me a place to observe the drywell. The drywell basically consist of a 20 foot long, 24″ diameter perforated PVC pipe in a 36″ deep trench that is filled with gravel and a 12″ layer of topsoil. This has been my flower garden, strawberry patch and vegetable garden for the last 10 years. (Image B)

3. Think Permeability:  I re-built my driveway to be more permeable. I placed gravel strips along the entire length of the driveway to capture all the surface water. It essentially created a series of “mini-check dams” that stopped the miscellaneous water from running down to the curb. Each gravel strip had a 24″ deep by 12″ wide gravel filled area to hold the water. What you see on the surface is a 4″ wide strip which most people think is simply a aesthetic design feature.

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4. Add Rain Barrels:  I installed rain barrels to capture, hold and re-use the rain water. We use this water to irrigation our surrounding landscape. If you go on to the City of Los Angeles DWP website you may qualify for a rebate. Check it out.

If you need help installing it, the City of Los Angeles has a great video. Rain barrels are inexpensive and easy to install. Here is a video from the DWP website:

Photos: All photos by Linda Daley

Photos: All photos by Linda Daley

I personally favor gardens that combine different types of plants in the informal manner of cottage gardens. I am also a fan of succulents, with an appreciation for their use in “California-friendly” gardens. While succulents (and cacti) are generally marked for drought tolerant yards, don’t over look them as ornamental additions in any California garden, for these plants can add visual depth and interest when contrasted against the textures, color, and character of many garden perennials and shrubs.

Aloe w garden perennials_1650

In planning your water-wise garden, there are several factors to consider when adding succulents and cacti:

1. Match your plants’ watering needs by zones: Don’t assume all drought tolerant plants have the same watering requirements. The cultural needs of succulents, for example, are as diverse as the number of plant species found in its broad category.

2. Consider the soil: Water is not the only consideration for a garden’s success. A water-efficient garden begins with the soil. For example, the National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society recommends this tip: “A soil mixture for succulent plants should have a good crumbly structure.  To test your soil mix, moisten and then squeeze with your hands: the mixture should not form a lump but crumble loosely.” So if you are interested in water conservation, the natural sciences, or simply having a green thumb, then take the time to learn about the plant/soil/water cycle. You will be a better gardener for it.

mixed planting_1667

3. Factor in scale and spacing: Aloes, Agaves, Aeoniums, Echeverias and Senecios are among the most popular succulents in use today. These plants can add architectural structure and beauty to gardens when designed appropriately for its scale and site conditions. Leave enough space between larger succulents, such as some of the Agave species, and they can stand out as features.

Garden Feature_Opuntia in Pot_PP-Daley

4. Mixing in planter arrangements: Cacti and other succulents also make excellent container plants. So if you must have a particular species that does not fit in with other plants in your garden, select a special pot or planter, make an arrangement with it and—voila!—you have a feature in the garden.

Thorns near sidewalk_1633

5. Consider placement: If you plant succulents in the front of your home, be careful where you place the ones with sharp points, spines, or prickly hairs. Certain agave species – such as the Agave americana – can get quite large with sharp points along its leaves’ margins and terminal spines. In my garden, no matter how lightly I move around my Opuntia (prickly pear cactus), its tiny hairs manage to attach themselves onto my gardening gloves, clothes, or skin.

Locate these types of plants away from edges where people or their pets may walk by, run, or play. I also recommend you leave such plants out of parkways—those strips of green between the curb and the sidewalk. I remember an unexpected visit to my veterinarian to remove thorns from my dog’s paw after he stepped into a cacti-planted parkway. Parkway planting ordinances do vary by city. So educate yourself before you dig. But then, isn’t that what gardeners tell themselves all the time?

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.