Who cares about low-water landscapes now?

Ellen Zagory teaches UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden Learning by Leading interns about the many benefits of regionally-appropriate landscaping.

Ellen Zagory, director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden teaches interns about the diversity of beneficial birds and insects attracted to regionally-appropriate landscapes. Salvias (sages), shown in the forefront, are great plants for attracting a variety of bees as well as hummingbirds.

For over four years representatives from the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden have been telling us to landscape with drought-tolerant plants, save natural resources, get inspired by lawn-free yards and stop spending so much money on water. But who cares about saving water in our landscapes now that we’ve gotten all this rain? Can everyone who kept their lawn breathe a sigh of relief and stop worrying about disapproving looks of their conservationist neighbors?

“I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” says Ellen Zagory, director of public horticulture for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. “Promoting the use of low-water plants was never solely about saving water – the drought did get people to listen.

“Our goal is and continues to be an overall improvement to our environment. It just so happens that in many cases, plants that are good for our environment are also low water.”

Whether local residents have updated their landscapes to low-water alternatives to support their local ecology, reduce their water use or both, it seems to be sticking, thanks to support from the City of Davis.

“Landscapes will continue to be a focus for our conservation efforts,” states Dawn Calciano, conservation coordinator for the City of Davis. “By encouraging our residents to landscape for the long-term they will be prepared for both wet and dry years. When we use 60% of our residential water in our outdoor spaces, changing our landscapes is one of the easiest ways to make a big impact.

“In 2016 we saw a 22.7% reduction over our 2013 water use,” cites Calciano. “We are incredibly thankful for our Davis residents who are planning for long-term savings.”

But is the drought over? The answer seems to be yes and no.

According to Jay Lund, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis, in a recent article to the Davis Enterprise, “In terms of surface water, most of California is no longer in a drought. The accumulated reservoir and soil moisture deficits of the last five years have been filled in most of the state.”

Yet, while most of the water shortages seem to be overcome, there are still areas in California that historically have less surface water and areas with aquifers that might never recover to pre-drought levels. In other words, we always need to be concerned with water conservation whether we are officially in a drought or not.

As Professor Lund encourages, “California must reconcile itself to being a dry place with some long-term water shortages.”

“We need to understand our environment and support it the best we can,” continues Zagory. “The days of proving we can grow something where it doesn’t belong are over. Low-water landscapes are not a fad. We live in a dry place; ‘low-water landscapes’ can really just be called ‘California landscapes.’

“Let’s be glad we got this incredible influx of water – it’s such relief – and keep moving forward on this revised, sustainable track. We have made such great strides in conservation; let’s keep it up not because the Governor told us to, but because we are resigned to adapting to our environment and not making our environment adapt to us – that will never work.”

To stay on track or get on track, do-it-yourself gardeners won’t want to miss the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden spring plant sales featuring the area’s largest selection of attractive, low-water, easy-care and regionally-appropriate plants. LEARN MORE

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