By Michele E. Buttelman
The drought is back and new water restrictions threaten to put the “heat” on your summer garden. How can you help your garden thrive despite nature’s best efforts to kill everything you’ve worked so hard to grow?
First, it’s important to know the current watering restrictions in your area.
In the Santa Clarita Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency determines how much water you should use, and when you can use it.
In response to persistent, exceptional drought conditions throughout the SCV and the state, SCV Water has activated Stage 2 of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan and Water Conservation and Water Supply Shortage Ordinance.
SCV Water Stage 2 Restrictions
The Stage 2 action encourages customers to voluntarily reduce their water use by up to 20%.
Limits watering to three days per week:
Odd addresses Monday, Wednesday and Friday
Even addresses Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday
No watering on Saturdays.
Limits automatic sprinkler run times:
Maximum of two five-minute cycles per station per watering day, 10 minutes maximum.
Watering times of day during May to October: Midnight to 9 a.m. and/or 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.
What are some easy tips to keep your lawn healthy and green during the drought?
– Mow your lawn high. Keeping your grass at the upper recommended limit, about 2 inches for most species, will help shade the soil and prevent excessive evaporation.
– Now, more than ever, it might be time to consider xeriscaping. Eliminating your lawn will save money and water. If you can’t eliminate all your grass, consider reducing the amount of turf in a portion of your yard. Replace grass with artificial turf or drought-tolerant groundcover.
– Aerate your lawn. Adding holes to your lawn keeps it moisture-absorbent and healthy. In areas like the SCV with its clay heavy adobe soil, you should aerate your lawn every year.
Tips for both veggie and ornamental gardens:
– Water at the root zone to keep evaporation to a minimum. Keeping water off your plants’ leaves will also help control fungal diseases and prevent sunscald. A professionally designed irrigation system, drip or otherwise, is far better at proper water delivery than the simple lawn sprinklers you can buy in the hardware store. It is an investment that will pay for itself over time in reduced water bills and healthier plants.
– Create hydrozones in your yard. A hydrozone is a section of your yard or garden where plants with similar water needs are grouped together. This way, you can tailor the amount and frequency of irrigation (or none at all) and avoid overwatering plants that need less.
– Mulch, mulch, mulch. Apply 3 to 4 inches of mulch around valuable, water-stressed plants. Prominent shade trees or shrubs are your first priority. This minimizes water loss due to evaporation and reduces the need for irrigation by up to 50%.
– Weed your gardens weekly. Remove invasive plants and weeds encroaching on shrubs, vegetables and flowers. Weeds outcompete native and cultivated plants for water and nutrients.
– Replace ornamental plants that have high water demands with California native plants. The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants, 10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley, CA 91352, is the “go to” place for SCV gardeners looking for California natives. Visit theodorepayne.org.
– Use a moisture sensor to determine if it is time to water. Many gardeners are divided on the use of moisture sensors — some say they are useless, some swear by the sensors. I would advise buying a sensor and see if it works for you. Some gardeners say the best way to determine if a garden needs watering is to stick a screwdriver at least 3 to 4 inches into the ground. If the screwdriver feels cool to the touch, or wet, when pulled from the earth, don’t water. If the screwdriver is dry, it’s time to water.
Now is the time to invest in a good-quality rain barrel for next winter. Plan for future water restrictions by purchasing rain barrels to store water. The most common problem with rain barrels in the SCV is preventing them from becoming breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Unlike other areas of the country, freezing weather is usually not a concern in the SCV.
To keep mosquitoes at bay, use one tablespoon once a week of liquid dish soap, or after each storm. The soap creates a film on the surface of the water, breaking the surface tension and causing mosquitoes to drown before they can lay any eggs in the water.
Mosquito Dunks are a commercial product you can purchase to kill mosquito larvae. Dunks are biologically safe to use around animals and for garden water. Use one dunk once a month or as needed. Dunks are made of bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, or Bti, a bacteria that kills the mosquito larvae, as well as black flies. The product slowly dissolves, releasing the bacteria for continuous mosquito control.
Vegetable oil or olive oil also prevent mosquitoes. Use 1/4 cup once a week or after each storm. The oil suffocates the larvae.
Water Saving Info
To download a free water saving garden guide, visit suscon.org/california-garden-guide-download
For information about the drought in the SCV, visit yourscvwater.com
For a list of California native plants, visit