Monday, April 27, 2009

Get rid of your lawn!

As water starts to become more expensive, a lot of people are turning to getting rid of all or part of their lawn as a great way to cut down on water use in their landscape. Because lawn is so water hungry, this is a great tactic, but a lot of people are unsure how to begin and what to replace their lawn with, especially in their front yard. At my house, we recently pulled out our boring front yard and replaced it with a fun terraced patio surrounded by drought tolerant plantings. Here is an image of the newly planted front yard:

We added a new low decorative fence to add a perception of privacy from the street without cutting ourselves off from our neighbors. The larger of the two patios will eventually be for a table and chairs.

A few things to pay special attention to if you decide to remove your lawn:

1) Unless you want to be fighting grass that springs up everywhere you add water, you will need to properly kill your grass, not just physically dig it out. Roots left in the soil can and will germinate if you try to do it the easy way. Instead, get your lawn as healthy as possible and then spray it with roundup once a week for three weeks. Roundup is drawn into the plant as it photosynthesizes, so spraying a dead lawn won't work.

2) Try to avoid the temptation of artificial turf. Really, even the best artificial turf is still a carpet of plastic in your yard. It uses fossil fuel based resources, often isn't recyclable, and can become quite hot in the sun (adding to the urban heat island effect). Instead, consider other lawn alternatives such as yarrow, dymondia, or thyme. All of them are drought tolerant, quick growing, and attractive, but none can take as much foot traffic as lawn, so think about adding a walkway through a high traffic area.

3) Consider switching the focus to outdoor living. Instead of a lawn, focus your garden around a patio with a table and chairs, a bench, a birdbath/feeder, or a small fountain. Think about being in the space, not just looking at it. Use it as an excuse to enjoy our beautiful San Diego weather.

4) Think about edibles. Plenty of edible plants and herbs are drought tolerant. A great low water use herb garden could have rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, bay, yarrow, and savory.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cost Saving Water Saving techniques

I have started to get a lot of questions (finally!) about how people can save water in their yards. Now my favorite recommendation is, of course, to hire a landscape designer to help you rework the plants in your garden so that they are better suited to our climate, soils, and water bills. However, for people who are looking for low cost and do-it-yourself advice, there are still a few great options.

Compost and mulch: I am a big fan of mulch. A heavy top layer of mulch gives your garden a beautiful finished look but it does so many other wonderful things as well. Good mulch cuts down on weeds, nurtures your soil, and helps drastically reduce the amount of water lost from the soil to evaporation. Aesthetically, my favorite mulch is A-1 soils 1/4 "walk-on" fir bark mulch. It goes for about $60 a yard and is made of small bits of fir bark. The color is great and the texture is fine so the overall look is very clean and consistent. Expect to replace it once every year or two because it will break down over time. This is a good thing, because it adds to the organic nutrients in your soil.

$60 a yard may be more than you are prepared to spend, however. If that is the case, the San Diego dump has a wonderful compost and mulch center. They offer a decent selection (about a half dozen types and colors) and the price is great. If you load it yourself, it is free! If you want them to load it, bring a truck and they'll dump two yards into it for you for $6-$20 depending on which mulch you chose. I have heard some concerns about the mulch having weed seeds that could germinate once you put it on your garden. I use the natural wood chips at my own home and haven't had that problem, but I would say you should expect some minor germination of weeds.

Irrigation: Especially at this time of year, our weather is so varied that it is important to constantly monitor any irrigation system. If you have a spray system (sprinklers), try cutting down on the watering time by one minute a week until the plants show signs of being under-watered such as yellowing and wilting of the leaves. Then add 1-2 minutes back on and remember you might need to add more if the weather becomes very hot or dry. Try to water in the early morning so that you reduce evaporation.

If you don't have an irrigation system, my favorite low cost do-it-yourself system is a combo of soaker hoses, splitters, and battery operated timers. This only works for relatively small yards. Attach a splitter to your hose bib (that is the official term for your hose spicket) so that you can have a soaker hose and a normal hose. On the soaker hose side, attach a timer (you get these next to the hoses at Home Depot for about $25) and then the soaker hose. Wind the soaker hose through your planting bed and cover it well with a thick layer of mulch. If you like, they sell stakes to hold the hose in place. I typically set the timer to go for about 5 minutes a day for a drought tolerant garden, but experiment to see what works for your garden!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Glass tile

One of the current trends in swimming pool design is the use of glass tile. The industry has burgeoned over the last few years, giving us a huge selection of glass tile options. A few have become standard in swimming pool design, so of course my instinct is to stay away from those looks. I strongly believe that anything overused by an industry is bound to become quickly dated. Instead, I recommend looking for more unique glass tile that suits the design style of your whole landscape.

Here are a few of my favorites and the design styles I would pair them with:

This is by Lunada Bay Tile in their Hitari Etched Glass line. These are 4"x4" glass tiles with an etched pattern and you get to select the color and pattern from a wide range of choices. I love the terra cotta brown for a Moroccan or Spanish Colonial look.

This is the same line of tile with the color and pattern changed. By using a midori green glass with an asian wind pattern, you get a tile that would be perfect for a zen inspired garden.

This is a glass tile mosaic by Sicis out of Italy. Their stunning "Flower Power" series of mosaics would be amazing with a showy tropical style swimming pool. The glass tiles used have a lot of irridesence to them so they are really a show stopper. Their complimentary tile lines, like the Glimmer Line shown below, would be wonderful for a more subtle look that still has a lot of shine and depth.

Ann Sacks has some incredible glass tile options. I love the penny rounds in their crystal glass collection for a mid-century modern pool.

The Erin Adams Facet line has some gorgeous mosaic patterns. The small birds and vine pattern would be great for a cottage style look with an artistic flair. And I love the peacock pattern for a Moroccan design.

For a sleek modern design, I think the tendency is to use sleek glass tiles without a lot of character or definition, a choice that tends to fall flat. Instead, I like the cool modern colors of Malaga Cove's burleywood. Another nice option is Walker Zanger's Tiffany Glass line. Both have a lot of definition and work well with concrete.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sage Sages

At the moment, I am in love with Salvias. They are drought tolerant and come in all sorts of wonderful colors (and sizes) so there is almost certainly a perfect salvia for your garden. Here are a few I love. In order from left to right they are S. Dark Dancer, S. chiapensis, S. Navajo Dark Purple, S. spathacea, and S. freisland.

Celestial blue sage from Las Pilitas

A few of our local nurseries have great salvia selections. My favorite is Buena Creek Gardens.