Drought conditions make dry land plentiful

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

I visited Universal Studios’ theme park in southern California last week where they still have a section devoted to Kevin Costner’s 1995 movie flop, “Waterworld.” Those of you who may have seen it already know the plot revolves around a world after the polar icecaps have melted and dry land is hard to find.

We haven’t had too much trouble finding dry land in the last year or so, but observing southern California landscapes has reinforced an old opinion of mine that we water our trees, shrubs and lawns way more than we have to.

Even though southern California has a somewhat Mediterranean climate where the extremes of hot and cold aren’t quite as dramatic as ours, you see lots of the same shrubs used. Indian hawthorns, Japanese boxwoods, junipers, pittosporums, podocarpus and many of the ornamental grasses we like such as fountain grass (Pennisetum) are common.

Once established, these plants are doing fine without much help from supplemental irrigation. If they can handle southern California’s climate without lots of assistance, it just makes sense these shrubs won’t need help in our area typically receiving more than 50 inches of rain annually.

Not only are we wasting water, we are often killing these plants that handle dry conditions well. I see lots of Blue Pacific junipers collapsing from phytophthora root rot and fountain grasses doing like old soldiers and just fading away in the wet.

If the drought conditions have you thinking about saving water and changing plants, here are a few things to consider.

Use low-volume or “drip” irrigation in shrub beds where practical. Because the water is delivered directly to the root system without the losses associated with throwing water to the winds, you can keep your plants happy with significantly less water. Of course, low-volume systems don’t work in lawns or in densely planted areas, such as perennial borders.

Group lower water use plants together and zone your irrigation so you can irrigate areas differently. Many of our favorite plants like azaleas, camellias, gardenias and loropetalums don’t handle extended periods of drought. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them. It just means you’ll have to plan well and put a little extra effort in the irrigation system design.

When it’s time to water, do it thoroughly. You’ve probably heard that plants need one to one and one-half inches of water every rainless week. That old rule of thumb is supported by some recent research.

Consider setting up your irrigation system to apply about one-half to three-fourths inches of water twice each week—maybe Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Saturdays. Check your system by placing empty pet food or tuna cans around the areas and seeing how long it takes to apply that amount of water.

Of course, don’t forget the simple stuff like adding a rain-check device to prevent your system from operating when rain is falling.