Saving water: A cautionary tale

One reason native plants are so popular is that many of them are very drought tolerant, so the assumption is that one would save a lot of water right away if planting natives. Unfortunately, water savings might take a while, and things can go wrong.
  • Choose carefully. Many of the more attractive natives are from the redwood or riparian habitats and require at least moderate water in summer. In fact, redwoods do not belong in many places where we find them now. They were planted and the homeowners have to water them to keep them healthy. Oak woodland or chapparal plants, on the other hand, can get by with very little water after they've been established.
  • Water the babies, let the adults go dry. When you plant natives, most want to stay moist for at least 6 months and get some water weekly or every other week in the first year. In the second year, watering every 3 or 4 weeks probably works. I've been upset to hear from people who stuck some natives into the ground in June, ignored them, and found they died quickly. Those plants are used to getting watered daily in the nursery, they need to adapt to their new home. Planting in the fall is, of course, a great way to give your plants a good start.
  • Check your irrigation carefully. Here's where the cautionary tale comes in. I've used agricultural drip (techline) for the last three years and have actually been quite happy. It's sturdy, and the plants seem to like it. However, 3 weeks ago or so I had some lines added for my fruit trees, and notices a waterlooged area near the new lines. My irrigation specialist came back, checked that line and two others, listened to them all, and found nothing. Then, last weekend, I put in a few new plants on my mounds near the fruit trees (though on a different irrigation station). I noticed some suspicious wetness near a line and lifted it. It was dripping slowly. I checked some others and they were as well. Turns out there was a problem with one of the valves, and I've been helping to add to the groundwater table for the last 3 weeks at least. Note that the system was off and the valve seemed to be off (no running water sound). But it was just like a dripping faucet, slowly leaking water. I don't even want to think about the water bill.
What did I learn from this? I have to check all lines often and carefully. And having the system off doesn't mean there can't be a leak.


chari and matt said…
Reading through your blog from the beginning :-) Put me in the "town mouse" category on my 1/4 acre in Lafayette, CA. I found the same problems with my own irrigation system (which I've been learning about since we moved in). I have now replaced 3 of the 5 valves, and each time, it was one of the last solutions I thought of. I dug up and replaced 3 sprinklers in a buried system needlessly. We had an enormous wet spot in the front yard for months before I sussed it out (that was the first time). I even nonchalantly asked my neighbor if he was SURE it wasn't something on his side. But yeah, the guilt, THE GUILT!!