Six Steps to a California Friendly Garden

By Nan Sterman

Interested in saving water and making your garden easier to care for? Transform your landscape into a "California friendly" garden. That may sound like a daunting task but really it isn't, as long as you practice the two P's: patience and planning. Here's how: 

Step 1: Focus on one part of the garden at a time – the front yard or the back yard, or even a single irrigation zone. What is an irrigation zone? Have you noticed that your sprinklers don't all run at once? Instead, they are divided into zones, each of which waters one area of the garden: lawn, flowerbeds, vegetable garden, etc. By separating the garden into zones, you can customize each to provide just the right amount of water – no more and no less.

There's another reason for creating separate watering zones – water comes into your property at a particular pressure. Too many sprinklers on a single zone is like running two showers at once – neither sprays at full force.

Step 2: Turfgrass is one of the thirstiest and most demanding plants in the garden. Unless you truly need a big lawn for kids to play on, you can make a huge difference by getting rid of it – or at least reducing its size. Then, watch your water bill take a nosedive.

Step 3: Switch to drip irrigation. Drip delivers water to where plants need it – at their roots. Since drip is slow, water penetrates deep into the soil rather than running off onto sidewalks and streets where it is wasted. Drip irrigation is easy to install and easy to maintain. And plants love it.

Step 4: Check soil drainage. Most low water plants prefer well draining soils. Dig a hole about two feet deep by two feet wide. Fill with water, let drain, then fill again. Well-draining soils drain within a few hours. Poor draining soil can take several days. If soil drains poorly, consider bringing in new soil to form raised planting beds, a foot tall or taller.

Step 5: With soil and irrigation set, you can choose plants. This is the fun part. Start by checking the California-Friendly Nifty 50 list. Look through low-water gardening books (like mine). Cut out magazine photos and take pictures of gardens you like. Take the pictures to your local independent nursery for help identifying which plants are low water.

Step 6: Plan your new garden beds using the list of plants you assembled. Remember to group them according to how much light and how much water they need. Arrange them in an irregular pattern, using odd numbered groups – three, five, seven and so on. Set the tallest plants in back, the lowest in front. The layering, the irregularity and odd numbers will help make your garden look as if it were planned by Mother Nature – California's Mother Nature!

Copyright © 2008 by Nan Sterman, Author of California Gardner's Guide Volume II. All Rights Reserved. For more information, visit Plant Soup's website.