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Water Wise

NEW WAYS WITH WATER: One in a series of articles on water-saving plants, techniques and technologies.

August 19, 1990|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

--Plants that are too tall and need staking; young trees that blow down during Santa Ana winds.

--Plants that die soon after planting, or several years later from root rots.

These common garden problems can be solved, or at least mitigated, if you adopt some of these new ways with water.

Are gardens and gardening practices about to change dramatically? Probably not. Or at least not immediately.

Lawns are sure to shrink in size, and already are--Santa Barbara nurseryman Ray Sodomka calls them the "new, little lawns"--as people discover the pleasures of growing other things in their place. But there will always be a place for flowers and vegetables and other favorite plants. They will just have to be managed more carefully.

Even lawns can be better managed. Forest Lawn, with its extensive turf areas, has managed to save about 20% of its water through improved management using low-flow sprinkler heads and new data called ET, according to chief engineer Clint Granath. That's a lot of water saved--roughly 100 acre feet, which would have cost about $50,000 a year.

So where does one begin with these new ways? With simple waste.

In a naturally summer-dry state there should be no excuse for waste. Water that runs down gutters and out to the sea is simple waste, helping nothing and no one. Water lost to the atmosphere through evaporation raises the humidity while contributing nothing to the environment and is similarly wasteful. A considerable amount is lost this way because of the way we water with sprinklers.

Water used to hose down driveways or sidewalks may be wasted, although some now question if using deafening leaf blowers to redistribute dirt and pollutants (they simply settle somewhere else) is a wise water-saving tactic. Here, however, government has already acted and banned the hosing down of sidewalks and driveways.

But, water that goes to plants is definitely not wasted--it is a renewable resource after all--and watering the garden is not an evil act, though some make it out to be.

Perhaps watering during the middle of the day when the wind blows much of the water toward Tucson is a matter for the "drought police," but sensible irrigation should not be. There is strong evidence that it actually helps the urban environment, by keeping plants growing even during the hot, smoggy season, cooling and cleansing the air.

The trick, then, is using that water wisely, with little waste.

Landscape architect Ken Smith of Thousand Oaks, who wrote the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's "40 Ways to Save Water in Your Yard and Garden," says that simply checking to see if something needs water and remembering to turn the water off afterwards, can save the 10% asked for by the city this summer.

Over the coming weeks, we will look at many of the new, wiser ways on these pages.

Next: An overview of the new techniques and technologies for managing water.

GARDENER'S CHECKLIST

For dedicated gardeners, here are suggestions from the California Assn. of Nurserymen on what to do in the garden this week:

* If you water your lawn well and still have brown spots, lawn moths may be to blame. Consult a nurseryman for the proper treatment.

* If your tuberous begonias are dropping buds, they may need more air circulation or more sun.

* Give yellowing azaleas, citrus, rhododendrons or camellias an iron supplement along with normal fertilization programs.

* Harvest vegetables from your garden in the morning when they are crisp and cool.

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