Thursday, August 6, 2015

Drought Intolerance

In many ways, this year four of the drought in California feels like the first bad year.  This has been the year of mandated cutbacks for people in my water district.  Our water agencies have been asked by the Governor of California to reduce output by 20 to 25% ( I'm too lazy to check the exact percentage) and I read in the paper that during the month of June we were successful at doing that.  Confession: I didn't actually read the article.  Just the headline.  But hooray for us, I guess.  As someone who believes in conservation of resources I can celebrate that.

But as a gardener, I have to admit I hate having to conserve water by not watering my lawn and plants.  It’s become vogue to “let your grass go gold” but there’s nothing that causes the gardener in me more dissonance than dead, crunchy grass and sad, wilting plants. 

My side yard hasn't been watered all summer
because the spray from the sprinklers frequently
lands on the driveway - a big no-no.

The other day my daughter and I went to the backyard and played this complicated game with a balloon that we call “Don’t Let it Hit the Ground.”  In this game, the main objective is to hit the balloon to the other person and that person is responsible for not letting the balloon hit the ground.  It’s a challenging game of physical endurance and mental fortitude under normal circumstances but in this drought we have the extra obstacle of dealing with balloons that hit parched grass that has grown hard and sharp.  I kid you not, we popped three balloons by letting them hit the ground before we postponed the game for a lack of rain delay. 

Right now I’m allowed to water my lawn on Saturday mornings before 6:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m. and that’s it.  I’m allowed to water my plants and trees with drip irrigation 3 days a week.  Now you might be thinking that watering your lawn correctly once a week should still allow for a lawn to be relatively green.  And you’d be correct.   However, there are large sections of my yard where the sprinklers either don’t reach or provide inadequate/inconsistent coverage and the result is an unappealing mishmash of green and gold on the level of what the Green Bay Packers uniforms look like.  But less green and less gold.  So, not really like the Packers uniforms at all, I guess.

It looks like a river of gold running through the back yard.
The water restrictions make it pretty difficult to get any new plants established as even native and drought tolerant plants need supplemental watering their first year.  As a result, I really haven't planted much of anything since this spring before the restrictions were put in place.  Which has really led to a lack of blogging for me.  And, if I'm totally honest, a lot of the fun of gardening has been sapped from me this summer too.  It's been a summer of garden maintenance more than flexing my creativity and working toward completion of my long range vision.

The last thing I planted: ground cover of Dwarf Mondo Grass with three Japanese maples and a Dogwood.
I covered this part of the lawn with a thick mulch of leaves last fall and that killed most of the grass.

The hope is that the mondo grass will form a thick, green carpet that takes significantly less water than normal grass would.
The water restrictions are hard enough to deal with on their own.  Being such a hot topic (pun not really intended) people are making it even harder by generally being lame to each other.  What this drought has done is turn people into tattle-tales and guilty parties.  There's a group discussion on my neighborhood's "Next Door" web site that talks about how to turn your neighbors into the government if you think they are wasting water.  Whether that allegation is substantiated or not, the Water Resources Board sends you a nice little notice telling you you've been flagged and that they are going to come inspect your property and could fine you $100, $200, or $500 depending on how many times they find you doing something wrong.  The comments on this message board range from "Give 'em hell" to "wouldn't it be better just to talk to your neighbor?" to "you all are a bunch of Nazis".  Because every internet forum must prove Godwin's Law to be correct.

A typical Sacramento front yard.  I suspect this particular neighbor is happy about the drought because this is how his yard looked even before we had water restrictions.  Now he fits right in and looks like a model citizen!
As I mentioned before, I'm happy to conserve water and I believe it's my duty to be part of the solution, but it's ridiculous to me that people that know how to get the most out of their grass (deep, infrequent watering coupled with leaving the grass taller for example) are automatically targets for busy body neighbors that assume you're breaking the law because your lawn doesn't quite look like a hay field that's been shorn to the ground like the picture above.

From my tone, you might have guessed it: someone turned me in.  I'm waiting for a visit from the Water Resources Board any day now.  I'll be happy to show them the timer schedule for my sprinklers though.

In the meantime, I'm going to wash my car.  That always makes it rain.  Oh wait, we're not allowed to wash our cars anymore.  Well, maybe it's time to brush  up on my rain dancing.


  1. We've had a much drier than normal year here in WI too, but of course, absolutely by no means as severe as yours. When balloons are punctured during a rousing game of 'don't let it hit the ground', that is Extremely Severe! I can't begin to say I know how you feel because things here have not gotten as dire. And then to have the neighbors tattling and the Water Police coming when you've done nothing wrong would be just about enough to send me into a tizzy! The dwarf mondo grass looks very healthy, probably due to your mulch, but then it gets you in trouble because you are planting something that looks healthy despite the drought. I did see a company that goes around spray-painting dead lawns green, have any of your neighbors tried that yet? I do hope the drought ends for you soon.

    1. Hi Karen,

      Yes, we do have people that have been spraying their yards green with paint. I've also seen at least two of my neighbors replace their lawn with artificial grass. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. It's definitely drought tolerant and low maintenance but it's expensive and it seems to me that if you don't want to deal with a typical lawn you could do something more fun than just a green blanket.

  2. Chad, This must be so frustrating. It makes me realize just how lucky I am to be living in a region of abundant (but not too abundant) water. Are rain barrels an option for you? I ask because I added one at one corner of my house this year and I was surprised to discover that as little as a tenth of an inch of rain will fill up that 50 gallon barrel. -Jean

    1. Hi Jean, rain barrels are definitely an option here and people are installing them a lot more than they used to. I haven't yet though. The problem here is that it's been months since we've had a day with even a tenth of an inch of rain. I could be wrong, but I don't think we've had that much rain since a short storm we had in late April.

      We do have an HVAC system that sits on top of our roof and I'm able to collect the condensation from that. It's surprising how quickly I can fill up a 5-gallon bucket that way.