If you’re wondering what to do with an empty backyard (or front yard, for that matter) amid our escalating water shortage, you might want to consider planting a fruit tree orchard.
The reason I suggest this option is that you will be able to provide all the irrigation your trees need by recycling water from your washing machine, tub, shower, and sink. Each person living in your residence will produce enough water of this type, commonly known as gray water, to meet the irrigation needs of four trees. In other words, if only you and your spouse occupy your house, you will both be able to enjoy the fruits of eight trees watered exclusively with your gray water. If you also have two children, you will have enough gray water for 16 trees.
The good thing about a gray water system is that no sprinklers or drip pipes are involved. Gray water is never stored but pumped directly to the trees. In addition to meeting the water needs of trees, gray water also fertilizes.
Ideally, you will create a pond of mulch at the drip line of each tree. This is where the gray water will be evacuated. A mulch pond is four feet long by one foot wide and one foot deep. It is filled with wood chips that must be replenished every year, although the decaying chips enrich the soil in which the tree grows.
Costs range from several thousand to $10,000+ depending on the level of sophistication of your gray water system. The most basic system provides unfiltered gray water and a starter system would only recycle water from the washing machine. When it comes to laundry detergents, avoid powdered detergents as they contain salts that are harmful to plants. Boron-containing detergents should be avoided for the same reason. Liquid detergents are recommended when laundry water is recycled for fruit trees, while soaps, shampoos and conditioners are not a problem when shower and tub water is recycled for household use. use of fruit trees.
I received the above information from Leigh Jerrard, owner of Greywater Corps, a company that installs gray water systems as well as rainwater collection and storage systems in the Los Angeles area. He told me that he currently receives about 15 requests a day regarding water saving systems. His website at greywatercorps.com is full of useful information, including discounts offered by local water suppliers. Those served by Pasadena Water and Power, for example, are eligible for a free “Laundry-to-Landscape” gray water system. Jerrard also recommends visiting the website at greywateraction.org for more information on the many water-saving options available, including composting toilets. Finally, Jerrard itself offers workshops on water-saving systems that you can check out by calling 323-487-2687.
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In response to my request for testimonials regarding water-efficient alternatives to conventional lawns, I received the following email from Grace Hampton, a gardener in Burbank: “I’ve seeded my walks with buffalo grass and I find resistant. It is just mowed and watered – no fertilizer. The good thing about it is that it stays green without frequent watering because its roots grow six feet deep. It thrives in dry areas where an occasional deep watering will keep it green.
Regarding an alternative to the MiniClover lawn that I wrote about in May, I received a response from Hilda Sramek who gardens in Los Alamitos. She included before and after photos of a lawn that was mostly brown when she overseeded it with MiniClover ordered from the website at outsidepride.com. Less than three weeks later, the lawn had turned green. Before planting, she raked the area with a flexible leaf rake. “I didn’t dig into the lawn, just puff it up a bit.” She then broadcast a pound of seed over an area of approximately 1,000 square feet with an Ortho Whirlybird handheld spreader. At first she watered 15 minutes twice a week and now waters ten minutes twice a week. She waters lightly on other days but this practice decreases as the clover becomes established. Sramek says she followed the instructions on the MiniClover package and “the most important instruction was to keep the seeds moist, not to let them dry out between waterings.”
The following was received from John Hiatt, Specialist Gardener at Cal Poly Pomona: “About 3 years ago we replaced a Kikuyugrass lawn with white flowered Kurapia as an experiment and demonstration. After establishment, we reduced the watering from 30 minutes 3 times a week to 5 minutes 2 times a week. It’s amazing ! We mow it once a month instead of once a week and trim it twice a month instead of once a week. After this success, we planted it in a long, narrow bed with small trees between a parking lot and a main driveway. The students cut through the pot hundreds of times a day and the Kurapia grows very well, just very short, about 1/8 inch. We recently planted some of the pink flowering form in another planter that receives frequent foot traffic and it is doing well there too. Besides being a major bee magnet, Kurapia is a winner!”
Matthew Hunt, a gardener in San Clemente, sent in a great photo of a dwarf carpet star (Ruschia lineolata var. nana) growing on rocks and rocks. This succulent ground cover is considered a lawn alternative due to its drought tolerance and indifference to foot traffic. Hunt adds, “I was thinking how cool a carpet of stars would look growing into a retaining wall with spaces for planting. It would be better than rosemary etc. I think Hunt is referring to the fact that plants in such gaps usually grow awkwardly, shapeless and look neglected while the carpet of stars – named for its pink and white flowers in late winter to early spring – adheres well to the contours of the wall.
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“Bloom: The Secrets of Growing Flowering Houseplants Year-Round” (Quarto Publishing Group, 2022) by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf is a highly desirable volume for those with an increasing interest in growing houseplants. Houseplant enthusiasts almost always start with selections grown for their foliage, as a lush appearance is often the initial goal. Perhaps it has something to do with creating an antidote to the urban concrete jungle that surrounds us or is simply a testament to the exotic design elements in the diverse and often dramatic leaf shapes offered by plants in interior. Additionally, the exquisite markings on the leaves of Calathea species such as prayer plants and rattlesnake plants, for example, obviate the need for flowers in terms of the visual experience they provide.
In truth, the foliage of indoor flowering plants tends to be indescribable, though the fuzzy leaves of African violets provide a pleasing tactile sensation and the gray striped foliage strips of silver pitcher (Aechmea fasciata) contrast surprisingly with the pink astral flowers. The unique characteristic of African violets is their ability to bloom continuously, made possible when they receive morning light provided by an east-facing windowsill.
Whether you are watering African violets from above or below, certain precautions are in order. You can water from above and wet the African violet leaves as long as the water is warm. cold water will disfigure leaves and inhibit root growth. Overhead watering will require dabbing the foliage so the inner leaves stay dry to prevent crown rot. If you water from below, however, you will need to pour plenty of water into the soil at least once a month to flush out the salts that build up to toxic levels from bottom watering.
You are invited to share your success in growing flowering houseplants in an email sent to the address listed below.
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