Get money back from your water district!

As drought concerns increase across the state, your local water district is doing all they can to help community members conserve water throughout their home and within their landscaping. If you live on the Central Coast, find your water district below to discover what rebates and incentives are being offered in your town. Make water management a priority in your landscaping and help conserve this precious resource, while also saving money.

San Lorenzo Valley Water District

If you reside within the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, they offer several free conservation devices including kitchen sink dual swivel aerators, bathroom sink aerators, seven spray water hose nozzles, toilet leak detectors, 1.5 gpm shower heads and even yard signs that boast “Doing our part to save water!”.

In terms of rebates, SLVWD extends a few home and yard incentives. Take note that these replacements will need to be inspected by a staff member and the old unit relinquished to SLVWD. Indoor rebates consist of toilet and washer replacements, while outdoor reimbursements cover irrigation systems.

Greywater Irrigation System

“Receive a rebate of up to $150 per laundry to landscape system and up to $150 per household for a dual plumbed system, when you install a greywater system to irrigate your landscape. The rebate applies to residential buildings only. Greywater systems must meet all applicable state and local requirements to prevent potential health threats and environmental contamination.”

Weather-Based Irrigation Controller

“Purchase and install a weather-based irrigation controller and receive a credit of up to $75 or $125, depending on the type of controller. Weather-based irrigation controllers have clocks that use current weather information to automatically apply the appropriate amount of water to the landscape. They can be installed new or replace an existing controller.”

“There are two types of controllers: (1) Sensor-based controllers use on-site weather or solar sensors to create irrigation schedules (up to a $75 credit). (2) Signal-based controllers rely on daily weather updates received from satellite signals or require an internet connection to receive the information (up to a $125 credit).”

Visit SLVWD’s website for more information on where to sign up for these rebate programs and receive their free water conservation devices.

Santa Cruz Water District

The City of Santa Cruz Water District also offers multiple rebate opportunities for water conservation. This involves toilets, ENERGY STAR ® washer/dryers, (as well as urinals, toilets and washers for small businesses), hot water recirculation systems and potentially an upcoming rain barrel incentive.  Specifically for landscaping, these two refund programs are available:

Laundry-to-Landscape Rebate Program

Save water. Save your garden. Attend a laundry-to-landscape workshop to learn about graywater system design and installation. The water conservation office offers a $150 rebate for customers who attend a workshop and/or have a laundry-to-landscape system installed by a professional installer that is listed on the Central Coast Greywater Alliance Installer Directory.”

“Graywater is untreated water that drains from your clothes washer, bathtub, shower, or bathroom sink. Graywater has low levels of contaminants, but when handled properly, it can be used for non-potable purposes such as landscape irrigation.”

“Laundry-to-Landscape greywater systems deliver water directly from your clothes washer to sub-surface distribution points in your garden. You can legally install these systems without a permit as long as it conforms to the requirements in Chapter 16A of the California Plumbing Code. In addition, customers who install a Laundry-to-landscape system within the City of Santa Cruz must file an Installation and Maintenance Agreement Form with the City of Santa Cruz Public Works department.”

Lawn Removal Rebate Program

$1.00 per square foot of lawn removed (Up to $1,000 for single family residential customers &

up to $5,000 for multi-family and commercial customers)

Due to recent COVID safety protocols, in-person inspections for lawn removal requirements have been temporarily suspended and a self-administered procedure put in place. Visit SCWD’s Lawn Removal page for detailed instructions on how to adhere for processing requests.

Outside of the pandemic, the program is set up in three steps:

  • Check In: “Lawns must still be in place and be irrigated by an in-ground irrigation system. Before removing ANY lawn, call the Water Conservation Office at 831-420-5230 to set up a pre-approval site visit. We'll verify your project meets the rebate requirements, take a measurement, and a photo. Lawn that has already been removed is NOT eligible for a rebate.”
  • Dig In: “Once approved, convert your lawn to a low-water use permeable landscape. Qualifying lawn conversions include:
  • Climate appropriate plants that require little or no supplemental irrigation.
  • Permeable hardscape such as pavers, bricks, or flagstone set in sand, gravel, or decomposed granite areas that allows water to pass through and be absorbed on site.
  • If the converted area will use an irrigation system, only low volume drip systems are allowed.
  • All planted areas must have at least a two-inch layer of mulch.”
  • Cash In: “When your project is completed, call us for a final site visit, submit your Lawn Removal Rebate Application and receive a rebate check.”

Visit SCWD’s Water Conservation for the Landscape page for more information on how to sign up for these rebate programs as well as plenty of examples, ideas and resources!

Soquel Creek Water District

Just like its neighboring districts, Soquel Creek Water District grants several rebate options and gives away free devices to aid in saving water. Among these free devices (limited to once per year per district customer household), are automatic shutoff hose nozzles, high-efficiency showerheads, low-flow faucet aerators, toiler flappers, toilet leak detection tablets and water conservation guides.

SCWD offers a generous selection of rebates, most of which can be credited back to your water bill. Indoor home refunds include programs for toilets, showerheads, clothes washers, hot water recirculation, pressure reducing valves and submeters. Outdoor rebates include:

Drip Irrigation Retrofits

“Replace your overhead spray irrigation with low-volume drip (and/or microspray) irrigation and receive up to $20 per every 100 square feet of garden area converted. In addition to receiving a rebate, you'll save money on your water bill by improving irrigation efficiency and reduce pollution from urban runoff. The maximum drip irrigation retrofit rebate is $1,000 per fiscal year (July 1 to June 30) for single-family residential customers; and $10,000 per fiscal year for commercial and multi-family residential customers”

Graywater to Landscape

“Receive a rebate of $400 per laundry to landscape system and up to $1,000 per household for a dual plumbed shower/bath and bathroom sink to landscape system, when you install a graywater system to irrigate your landscape. The rebate applies to single or two-unit residential buildings only. Graywater systems must meet all applicable state and local requirements to prevent potential health threats and environmental contamination. Please refer to the Graywater System Regulatory Requirements regarding state and local graywater system requirements”

Clothes washing machine to landscape or "Laundry to Landscape" (doesn't need a building permit)

Bathtub and/or shower to landscape (requires a building permit)

Bathroom sink to landscape (requires a building permit)

Pool Covers

“Pool covers can significantly reduce water loss due to evaporation, reducing the amount of make-up water you need to add to your pool. Additionally, pool covers can reduce chemical costs and the amount of time and/or money spent on cleaning the pool. If you have a heated pool, a well-fitting cover is essential to retain heat, minimize evaporation and lower your energy costs. When you purchase and install a pool cover, receive up to a $75 rebate, or 50% of the purchase price of a pool cover, whichever is less.”

Rain Catchment

$25 per barrel (for barrels with a storage capacity of 50 to 100 gallons) or $25 per 100 gallons of storage capacity (for tanks/cisterns with a storage capacity of 100 to 3,000 gallons). The rebate amount cannot exceed the purchase price of the rain catchment system. Sales tax and labor are not included.”

“Collect rainwater from your roof and use it to irrigate your landscape. In addition to saving water, rain catchment systems help prevent stormwater runoff and pollution and help to recharge groundwater. Our rain catchment rebates provide flexibility as there are many different types and sizes of rain catchment systems including single or multiple rain barrels, large tanks, and below-ground cisterns.”

Rain Sensors

“Up to $25 for a rain sensor that can be adjusted to detect 1/8-inch of rainfall. The rebate amount cannot exceed the purchase price of the rain sensor. Sales tax and labor are not included.

Help prevent water waste and improve the health of your landscape by retrofitting your existing irrigation system controller with a rain sensor. The district offers a rebate of up to $25 when you connect a rain sensor to your existing irrigation system controller. A rain sensor is a small device that detects the presence of a set amount of rainfall (e.g., 1/8-inch, 1/4-inch, etc.) and automatically stops the operation of the irrigation system to prevent watering in the rain. To qualify for the rebate, the rain sensor must be set to shut off the irrigation system when it detects 1/8-inch or more precipitation.”

Rainwater Downspout Redirect

“Up to $40 per downspout when redirected to an on-site landscape feature (e.g., rain garden, swale, dry well, etc.) for a maximum of two downspouts. The rebate amount cannot exceed the purchase price of the materials (e.g., downspout diverters, piping, etc.) needed to redirect the runoff. Sales tax and labor are not included.

Redirecting and slowing the flow of rainwater that runs off of your roof to the street can prevent damage to your home and foundation, provide water to your plants, promote infiltration and groundwater recharge, and help minimize erosion, runoff and stormwater pollution. The concept behind this rebate is to "Slow it, spread it, sink it!" “

Turf Replacement

“Replace existing high-water use turf with low-water-use grasses and/or low-water-use plants and receive up to $2 per square foot of turf replaced. In addition to receiving a rebate, you will save money on water and landscape maintenance. The maximum turf replacement rebates from Soquel Creek Water District are $2,000 per fiscal year (July 1 to June 30) for single-family residential customers and $10,000 per fiscal year for commercial and multi-family residential customers.”

“When you replace turf with low-water-use grasses and/or plants, you can save about 17 gallons of water per year per square foot of turf replaced. That is 8,500 gallons per year for a 500 square-foot turf replacement project!”

Weather-Based Irrigation Controllers
Sensor-type irrigation controllers - $75
Signal-type irrigation controllers - $125

“Install a weather-based irrigation controller that automatically adjusts the irrigation schedule based on daily weather changes and save water and money in the process. Larger sites (e.g., parks, homeowners’ associations, businesses, etc.) may qualify for a rebate of $600 per irrigated acre.”

“Weather-based irrigation controllers, also known as smart irrigation controllers, use current weather information to create appropriate irrigation schedules that adjust as the weather changes. They are most cost-effective for medium-size or larger landscapes; however, they can be used for any landscape. They are especially useful for vacation homes or homeowners that cannot or do not want to manually adjust their irrigation systems on a regular basis.”

To request a device, sign up for a rebate program, get more information, or even schedule a free water wise consultation, visit Soquel Creek Water District’s Conservation site today!

 


Fall Fertilization

The upcoming autumn season is a cherished time for many; cooler nights, cozy clothing and plenty of pumpkin spice lattes. In terms of your landscaping, fall is also a great season to focus on fertilization. Supporting your lawn, plants and trees during these months will help build a strong foundation to last through winter and give them that boost to thrive come spring.

Lawns

With drought conditions and water restrictions here in Santa Cruz County, your lawn may be in need of some extra help as we’ve entered September and a healthy lawn will use less water. A fertilizer rich in nitrogen will help encourage blade growth after a harsh, dry summer. As we get deeper into fall, supplement your lawn with another round of fertilizer, this time more abundant in phosphorus. Using a slow-release fertilizer for your lawn in the fall is an insider secret. The fertilizer will remain in the soil and roots throughout the winter as lawn growth is delayed due to reduced daylight and temperature. Once the spring sun starts to warm up the soil temperature, the lawn will begin to restore to its normal growing habits, having the fuel it needs already inside it’s underground system.

Plants

Your perennials might be starting to dwindle but giving their surrounding soil some phosphorus-rich fertilizer will give these plants the boost they need for stronger, more abundant blooms next spring. As the trend continues, you see these fall fertilization procedures are typically all about preparation for future growth.

Trees

Often overlooked, shrubs and trees heavily benefit from fertilization during the fall. Stimulate root growth and promote disease resistance by giving your trees a slow-released nitrogen fertilizer during late October. The excess nutrients will be stored in the roots to be used in spring when the tree needs them for new production. Tree roots and its vascular structure are actually quite active during the winter months, while most of the above ground growth is slowed or stopped. Since trees’ biological processes don’t stop, make sure you give them the needed nutrients to carry on with their mission to reduce our air pollutants and remain healthy!

Be careful not to go overboard with fertilizing – too much of a good thing can be adverse in this situation. Its always best to test your soil before applying any fertilizer recipe to your lawn or plants. Soil tests can be done in a variety of ways, I recommend investing in a soil test from a lab. We are lucky to live in an agricultural rich area where there are a lot of soil labs available.

Its easy to let landscaping duties fall by the wayside during autumn but committing to some simple fertilization steps before winter hits will reap its benefits when spring pops up next year. Supporting the magic that’s happening below the surface of your lawns, trees and plants is just as critical in maintaining the life and limbs we see earthside. Remember, we are in a drought and healthy landscapes use less water!


Don’t delay when it comes to drainage

Drainage may seem like the least of your landscaping worries as we currently face drought restrictions here in California, but winter will arrive before we know it! Is your property ready? Now is the time to start taking care of those drainage problems you’ve put off since last rain season. The following are some key things to look for when evaluating your property's drainage system. My goal is to bring awareness to the subject of drainage and remind us all about the importance of planning ahead.

We are in the middle of a labor shortage in the landscape industry and with the resurgent of Covid-19, this problem looks to only be getting worse. This winter is shaping up to be one of the hardest times in history to get contractors to come out to bid and perform on your projects. Many local companies have backlogs that extend beyond 3 months and some are booking work into next summer. If you have a large drainage project, or even a small one, the chances of getting a reputable contractor to complete the work by year-end is slim. If last winter you had issues with flooding or drainage and it's been on your to-do list all summer, get on the phone today and call your local drainage company. It's important you plan far enough in advance due to these unusual circumstances.

Contrary to the contractor route, many of the drainage problems can be solved by the average weekend warrior and some plain old hard work. If you have a good idea of what needs to be accomplished and you have some extra time on your hands, it may just be putting that time aside to get your project completed before the rains come. It's always harder to work on your drainage system after a rain, everything is wet and sometimes a poor drainage system can cause flooding or property damage.

What to look for:

Your roof gutters and downspouts. We have been dubbed "Tree City" USA here in Santa Cruz and while we appreciate the wonderful Redwoods and other varieties of trees, they can be a nuisance on your gutters, clogging them up and leading to overflow issues. Be sure to clean out your gutters and your downspouts before the rains begin.

Check your in-ground drainage collection boxes. While not all properties have drainage boxes or pipes most do and you will want to make sure they are cleaned out of debris, animals, or other obstructions that can reduce water flow. Take a moment and think back to last year during one of our few rain events, did the drains work properly? Did you have overflow or flooding issues? Chances are that if it happened last year, it will happen again this year. If you have a sump pump on your property, now is a great time to test it out and make sure it is still working. Sometimes sump pumps can blow a fuse or get unplugged during the summer.

Erosion control is an important step if you live in an area that has steep hillsides or any hillside that has been disturbed over the summer. You want to make sure any bare ground is covered by either landscaping or some type of erosion control matting. There are many options depending on the severity of your situation. If you feel there is a potential for a landslide you will want to work on preventing that from happening before the rains return.

If you own a commercial or residential property that was part of a LID project which included a bioswale, there is likely an annual report that must be completed and submitted to your local agency. Be sure to stay up to date with these inspections and reports to avoid potential fines. If there is a flood situation that causes damage and it is due to your bioswale not being properly maintained you could be on the hook for repair costs. Make sure to keep your Bioswales clean and free of debris that can prevent proper water flow.

This summer has been a house buying and selling frenzy. If you purchased a home in the last six months you may be unaware of existing drainage issues. Take a close look around your property and inspect all drainage systems it may have. If you aren't sure what to look for, reach out to a professional for a consultation, it may be worth the money to feel safe when the rains start.

The entire state is hoping for a wet year as the drought situation has dominated headlines, so if our rain dances work, we want to make sure you are covered. Don't hesitate, check your drainage systems this weekend!


drought tolerant landscaping

Drought Issues Continue, Here's What You Can Do to Prepare Your Landscaping

We are currently in a Stage 1 water shortage warning here in Santa Cruz. In Stage 1, each user is provided with a monthly water use allotment or budget. This provides the homeowner or building owner with an understanding of how much they are currently using compared to what their budget is.

Currently, in Stage 1, there are no penalties for going over your budget, just a notice from the water agency alerting you of your overuse. However, if Santa Cruz Water decides to move into a "Stage 2 Water Shortage Alarm”, the penalties will begin to be applied to those users who go over their budget. There is currently a lot of discussion around this issue, and we could see a move to Stage 2 in the coming months but more likely it will go into effect next May.

Whether you are in the Santa Cruz area or you are covered by another water district, you are likely to experience fines for over-use in the next 12 months. With the population on the rise and no clear drought proof plan for an increased water supply in Santa Cruz, water restrictions and fines could become a regular part of our life for the foreseeable future. There are actions you can take now to help reduce your exposure to fines and penalties in the coming years and I will go over a few of those below. (This information is directed towards homeowners and small commercial properties. If you are a large property owner or HOA and have a monthly water bill that is above $3,000 per month, you should be partnering with an irrigation management or landscape company that specializes in water use reduction and management to help bring that expense down. The money you are able to save on water should recover the cost of that service. This vendor may need to be in addition to your typical landscape maintenance company.)

Here are a few ways to reduce water use and prepare for the future:

Program your irrigation controller properly

The first thing we do when assessing a property's water use efficiency is to review the controller program schedule. If your controller is not programmed to apply the right amount of water, no amount of efficient system improvements will help. It all starts here and there are many resources to help you with this process.

Install high-efficiency sprinkler nozzles

I recommend MP rotator nozzles which can be purchased at Ewing Irrigation in Soquel. These sprinkler nozzles will apply the water more evenly and effectively, reducing the loss of water due to wind or evaporation.

Install sprinklers with check valves

Check valves help eliminate seepage at your sprinklers. When your irrigation valve shuts off, the water left in the line will usually leak out of the lowest sprinkler head. We call this "low head drainage" and it can be a real issue for slopes. If you have a low part of your yard that is always wet, this may be the issue. A check valve will actually close the sprinkler off once the pressure is reduced below a specific threshold, therefore holding that water in the irrigation line until the next time your system turns on.

Install a check valve on your anti-siphon control valves if they are below your irrigation lines

Similar to the issue with your sprinklers, you could have the same problem with your valve if they are, 1) anti-siphon valves and 2) located below your irrigation lines. When a valve is turned off the remaining water in the line will drain out of the valve wasting a significant amount of water. You can install a check valve on the downstream side of your control valve to help reduce this issue.

Change out sprinklers for drip irrigation in planting beds

Drip irrigation is a great way to reduce water and apply only the needed water directly to the plant instead of the entire planting bed.

Install mulch around your plants

Not only will this look better, but it will help retain water moisture in the soil.

Replace high-water use plants with native drought-resistant planting

This also includes lawn areas. If you have a lawn that is not used as a play area for kids or dogs and is only aesthetic, think about removing it and installing some native, drought tolerant, no-mow grass that can serve the same purpose while using a fraction of the amount of water.

These are just a few water-saving techniques, but the main ingredient to conserving water in your landscape is you. Simply by paying attention to your controller and the needs of your landscape, you can preserve a generous amount of water. Remember the majority of landscape issues arise due to over-watering, so “when in drought”, turn down that controller.


Preparing for Wildfire Season Part 4 of 4

I hope you are all working on your home’s fire hardening and improving the safety of your property. We are all too familiar with how quickly a fire can start and spread so it is important to be prepared for whatever mother nature throws at us. The conclusion of this multiple-part series will cover the outer sector of defensible space for fire-safety – Zone 2. While each of the three zones have specific instructions, they all exhort the same intention: reduce the spread of wildfire and the ability of embers to start.

I was talking with a client recently and they were having a hard time getting homeowners insurance for their property, they felt that because there are little to no trees within 100 feet of their home they are at low risk. I explained that in a wildland fire event the fire tends to spread through embers being blown around in the wind. These embers can carry in the wind for miles and be blown under decks and other flammable surfaces catching your structure on fire. So even if you don’t have a lot of trees around your house it’s still important to keep your property clean and maintained in case a fire is started nearby.

“Zone 2 extends from 30 feet to 100 feet out from buildings, structures, decks, etc. or to your property line, whichever is closer.”

Here are some ideas that you can use to harden your property in Zone 2:

  • If you have natural land on your property, it’s important to keep the grass and weed mowed down to a height of 4”. It will usually require mowing 3-4 times per season to keep the grass from becoming a hazard.
  • Create space between shrubs and brush. We don’t always want to clear cut our land, especially since that can lead to erosion issues in winter. What is better than clear cutting is carefully removing shrubs and plants so you have room in between them. If you are installing a new landscape, be sure to leave space between plants in your design.
  • Remove leaves, needles and small branches that accumulate in this area. These elements can catch fire easily by those flying embers. You can be a little less strict in Zone 2 and allow the leaves to pile to 3” before removing them. Remember, in Zone 0 & 1 you should remove leaves at least every week.
  • In previous articles I mentioned not to store your firewood in Zone 0 or 1, so where do you put it? Well, it goes in Zone 2. The best thing you can do is to clear down to bare ground 10’ in every direction of the wood pile, this will give you the best chance of extinguishing a fire if the wood pile does catch.

Fire safety has evolved into a paramount concern here in California and as conscious members of the community its our responsibility to do all that we can in the fight against flames. Preparedness and proactivity are the first steps, so take these defensible space tactics to heart and let’s help protect our homes.

 


Preparing for Wildfire Season Part 3 of 4

Following up from last week, we’ll jump into what you need to know for keeping your property more fire safe, specifically in Zone 1.

Zone 1: 30 feet of “Lean, Clean & Green” in all directions of your structure(s). This first perimeter of defense includes keeping tree branches 10 feet from any structure, removing dry needles and leaves from your roof, rain gutters or yard, and clearing out all dead weeds, grass, or plants. Wood piles should also be relocated out of Zone 1 and into Zone 2.

Here are some ideas that you can use to harden your property in Zone 1:

  • Remove all dead plants, dry brush and weeds.
  • If you have natural land within Zone 1, consider re-landscaping that area with fire-smart planting to reduce the amount of weeds and brush.
  • Remove leaves, pine needles or other debris that pile up in your yard. If you have pine trees or another conifer, it’s important to rake the needles up on a bi-weekly basis to ensure embers aren’t able to land and catch fire on the ground.
  • Remove any leaves or debris that may have accumulated in drainage swales, gutters or other open holes.
  • Prune tree branches to provide a minimum of 10’ of clearance from all structures. This is one that I see most mountain homes in violation of and it’s the easiest way for a fire to spread to your structure.
  • Skirt trees up the trunk so that a ground fire cannot easily move into the canopy. This is called the ladder effect and can be easily prevented.
  • Relocate wood piles or wood storage into Zone 2, at least 30’ from your home
  • Remove flammable shrubs that are near your home and windows.
  • Remove vegetation that can catch fire around your deck or wood stairs as these are well-known areas that can catch your home on fire
  • Plant your trees far enough apart to achieve separation of canopies. Use a similar method of 10’ between trees whenever possible to reduce fire from spreading canopy to canopy.
  • Utilize rock mulch whenever possible.

The basic idea for Zone 1 is to create a clean and well-maintained area that is hard for embers to land and catch fire. Every property is going to be a little different, so be sure to inspect your area for any specific applications of the fire safe methodology.

Check back for the final segment of Preparing for Wildfire Season which will cover Zone 2 of defensible space and how you can adhere to these guidelines to keep your property and home more fire-safe.

 

 


Pulling Weeds

Preparing for Wildfire Season Part 2 of 4

Last week we covered the importance of creating a defensible space around your home for fire safety. Weed through these examples of how you can adhere to these safety guidelines and state laws on your property, starting with (the newly designated,) Zone 0 or otherwise known as the “immediate zone”.

Zone 0: With the passing of Assembly Bill 3074 in 2020, a “Zone 0” was created which will require the board of forestry and fire prevention to create new regulation around a “no ember zone” which is within 0-5’ of any structure or home by 2023. Although there is still much to be sorted out with AB 3074, the good news is there is already a lot of information on this zone that we can use to be proactive in our fight for fire prevention. While this is not yet required by law, science has shown this zone to be critical when defending a home against wildfire, mostly because it is where embers will land and begin to catch flame.

This zone is easy to identify as it extends only 5’ beyond your structure, but it’s important to remember it also includes your structure along with decks, patios, and porches. Here are some ideas on how to harden this area of your property:

  • Remove all vegetation from this area if possible, including any tree limbs or branches that have grown within 5’ of your building. In an ideal situation you would have no vegetation within the 5’ buffer zone.
  • Remove all wood mulch and install rock mulch instead. Cobblestone or decomposed granite can be a great look and comes in many different colors to compliment the color of your home.
  • Install hardscape such as concrete, pavers or other non-flammable material in place of typical landscape plants.
  • Do not store firewood adjacent to your home as this could easily allow an ember to spark a flame.
  • Install metal screening under all decks and overhangs, we saw in the recent CZU Fire that high winds would blow embers under decks allowing them to ignite; small metal screening can help prevent this.
  • Replace all wood furniture with metal furniture that is non-flammable. Make sure that all combustible materials, especially gas cans, are not stored close to the home or outbuildings.
  • Always keep this area clean and clear of debris, especially leaves and weeds which can become a perfect environment for embers to catch fire.
  • Installing stone or concrete retaining walls in place of wood retaining walls can also help in this zone. If you have a wood retaining wall that you cannot afford to replace think about lining it with metal to help prevent it from catching fire. Metal flashing can also work well on fences and other wood structures.
  • Construct everything out of metal or other non-flammable material whenever possible, think of handrails on your deck and other structures. If you go with metal, not only will it last longer but it will make for a safer home.

The biggest issues I consistently see are leaves in the gutters or on the roof, branches hanging over roofs or touching the house, overgrown plants/weeds that are touching the house and firewood or other combustibles being stored against the house. There are many things you can do to help protect your home from a wildfire. Make sure these measures are taken now and not at the last minute, you may not have time to prepare in an emergency. For example, some people may think wood furniture isn’t an issue because they will move it away from the home in a fire situation but you may not always have that time. It’s better to be over-prepared than under. Every property is different and will have additional challenges and opportunities to work with, make sure you take time to inspect your house today.

Check back for the next Preparing for Wildfire Season, Part Three which will dive deeper into alternative options you can use in your landscaping and adaptations you can make for Zone 1 to increase fire-safety.

 

 


Preparing for Wildfire Season - Part 1 of 4

Growing in occurrence, size and concern, California wildfires are heating up for the summer. Paired with one of the driest “wet” seasons we’ve had on the Central Coast in years, the threat of flames roar high and wide as we make our way into the thick of 2021.  We’re finding that wildfire-prone areas are expanding past rural locations and can quickly spread into city limits. This growing susceptibility increases everyone’s responsibility to prepare and maintain their property for fire safety.  CalFire has already fought hard to extinguish over 3,400 wildfires that have burned around 19,000 acres this year, and its just the start. They are predicting an ever heavier fire season for 2021. With community focus shifting from lockdown to summer travel, it’s important to prepare your property now.

Fire-safe landscapes are not just about upkeep, it’s an entire design, build and maintenance mindset for homes and businesses in high-risk areas. Protect your home and community by developing and maintaining the landscaping on your property with these safety regulations.

Creating a defensible space

To slow down or stop the spread of a fire reaching your home, a buffer needs to be put in place. This means deliberately clearing out the dead vegetation that surrounds your building, as well as consciously designing the layout. In accordance with state law, 100 feet of defensible spacing is required for all structures and homes. As explained by Cal Fire (readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/get-ready/defensible-space/) the design of this defense is made up of several zones.

Zone 0: With the passing of Assembly Bill 3074 in 2020, a “Zone 0” was created which will require the board of forestry and fire prevention to create new regulation around a “no ember zone” which is within 0-5’ of any structure or home by 2023. The good news is there is already a lot of information on this Zone that we can use to be proactive in our fight for fire prevention. Although this is not yet required by law, science has shown this Zone to be critical when defending a home against wildfire.

Zone 1: 30 feet of “Lean, Clean & Green.” This first perimeter of defense includes keeping tree branches 10 feet apart, removing dry needles and leaves from your roof, rain gutters or yard, and clearing out all dead weeds, grass or plants. Wood piles should also be relocated out of Zone 1 and into Zone 2. It’s also important to remove any trees or branches that are within 5’ of your structure to prevent the fire from easily jumping to your house or building.

Zone 2: 30-100 feet of “Reduced Fuel.” The second zone requires both horizontal and vertical spacing between grass, trees and shrubs. Grass should also be mowed or cut down to a maximum 4-inch height. Prevent a vertical “fire ladder” by ensuring all large trees have a 6-foot clearance of plants below. When mapping out plant and tree horizontal spaces, note that the size of the plants and the steepness of the slope will also determine the distance required between them.

Fire-Resistant Plants & Landscaping

In addition to upkeeping your land with fire-safe protocols, choose specific materials and plants that are more resistant to fueling fire. No plant is fireproof, but certain types that retain moisture and grow close to the ground are safer options. A bonus is several of these plants can also be drought tolerant, so you’ll be saving water as well. Strategic placement and spacing is important to consider; the further away from each other, the better. Construct walls, decks and patios in a way that will create a line of resistance to fire. These seemingly small landscaping changes can make a big difference in your home’s battle against deadly flames. If you can build walls out of concrete stone or metal and protect the underside of all decks with metal screening to prevent embers from blowing under.

We live in one of the most fire susceptible communities in the Golden State and educating ourselves and our fellow neighbors on preventative measures is now more imperative than ever. Achieving a landscape that is both fire retardant and dazzling in appearance is possible.

The most important part of fire-safe landscaping is being cognizant of your current situation and taking decisive action to improve it. If you need help complying with defensible space standards or installing a landscape that promotes fire safety, reach out to Cal Fire, your local landscaping company, a landscape architect or consulting arborist.

Check back next week for Preparing for Wildfire Season, Part Two which will dive deeper into alternative options you can use in your landscaping and adaptations you can make around the zones of your home to increase fire-safety.

 

 


proper watering for garden

Controller Programming

Installing, navigating and maintaining an irrigation controller can be a job all in itself. I receive dozens of phone calls every week on “how to program my controller”, “my controller isn’t programmed right” or “my sprinklers are coming on during the day”, etc. Flow through the following to better understand how your controller works and why its beneficial for your landscaping, your wallet and water conservation.

What is a controller?

A controller is the device, or electronical “clock”, that operates an irrigation system with intended frequency, duration and start times. It plugs into a 120 volt outlet on the outside of your home or in your garage. Most systems typically have 12-14-gauge wires that run from the controller to each one of the valves. It sends a low amount of voltage, (between 12-14 volts), to operate a solenoid which then actuates and opens the electric valve. Water pressure is built up in the valve at all times, so once that signal is received, the solenoid opens and pressurizes the sprinkler or drip system. Once the electronic current stops, the solenoid closes which in turn closes your irrigation valve and stops the flow.

How should it be scheduled?

Determining how you should program your controller depends on may factors, including soil type, plant type, sun exposure, irrigation delivery system and exterior humidity. Sandy soil typically needs a schedule with shorter amounts of duration, but with more frequency. A clay soil usually does better with one start time. For example, a clay ground may need to run for 6 minutes total, while the sandy soil program switches between running for 3 minutes, then waiting 20 minutes, then running for 3 minutes again. This start-soak cycle lets the water penetrate into the ground without causing flooding and can be set up by adding multiple start times on your controller.

The best way to know how long to water your soil before it floods is to turn your sprinkler valve on and monitor it closely.  Once water starts to puddle up and flow off your lawn, you’ll know you have reached full capacity of what it can take in that period of time. For example, say at minute 7, water started running onto the sidewalk, so now you know you shouldn’t run that irrigation valve for more than 7 minutes at a time. Depending on how much water that sprinkler puts out, and how much water your lawn needs, you may find that 14 minutes per cycle, 3 days a week is the necessary amount. Your plan should be to set the controller to start at 10:00 pm for 7 minutes and then again at 2:00 am for 7 mins. This will accomplish the total 14 minute requirement run time but gives the soil the chance to soak up the previous water before applying the second. If you were to run the valve for 14 minutes straight, theoretically you’d be wasting half of that water because it would puddle up and run off.

What type of system do I have?

Sprinklers: Sprinkler systems use an overhead type of application where the water is dispersed by spaying out of a sprinkler head. Some sprinklers put out water slowly like a MP rotator (at 3 gallons/minute), while some put out really quickly like I20 sprinklers you would see on baseball field, (at 15 gallons/minute). Its critical in knowing the difference of precipitation rates and gallon/minute flow in order to adjust your system properly, in combination of knowing what type of sprinkler system you have.

Drip Systems: Drip systems utilize ½” flexible piping with small emitters to apply water directly to the plant root system. These types of systems tend to be the most common in recent years as they do not waste as much water as sprinklers. The challenge with these though, is that it is hard to see leaks and difficult to know if they are on or off. Drip emitters can range from 1 gallon per hour to 5 gallons per hour so it’s important to put the right emitters on the right plants. Once you have the system installed correctly you can then calculate how much water each plant should receive and program your controller accordingly. Most drip systems will run 20-30 minutes per cycle at 3 times per week.

Tree Bubbler System: Tree bubbler irrigation is similar to a cross between sprinklers and a drip system. While drip systems can give out 1 gallon per hour, many tree bubblers can give out 1 gallon per minute. This is a 60x higher amount of water release difference, so it’s very important to know your system. Most tree bubblers are installed in tubes or right at the surface, so its often hard to observe the system when it’s on. Most bubbler systems should run for 5-7 minutes and on a cycle of only 1-2 times per week. Trees like deep watering on an infrequent basis, whereas a lawn prefers shallow watering more often.

Don’t be afraid to do a little “digging” into your irrigation system and discover the ideal set up for your controller. It’s so important to understand what kind of application system you have and what type of delivery system you’re running. At the end of the day listen to your landscaping, it will give you indications of over- or under-watering. In general, the majority of landscapes are overwatered, so before you add time to your controller make sure to dig around your struggling plants to check the moisture content. If it’s damp, you are probably overwatering.

As we head into the Stage 1 Drought Restrictions for Santa Cruz County, reducing your landscaping water use by up to 30% will greatly contribute to your overall savings!

 


No-Mow and Ornamental Grasses

As the desire for less maintenance and more drought-tolerant landscaping increases, ornamental grasses are growing in popularity. With so many varieties, its easy to find the right color, size and texture for the needs of any outdoor space. As their name suggests, these decorative plants are a terrific option for sprucing up a yard, patio or outside area. Need more convincing? Ornamental grasses are resilient to a range of temperatures, are deer-resistant, rarely attract pests and their deep roots can help stabilize slopes to prevent soil erosion.

Ornamental grasses (OG) add texture to your landscaping and make exciting additions to borders and gardens. Try planting several types together like feathergrass, fountain grass and blue fescue to create eye catching designs. Or mix grasses in with other plants like lavender, succulents and hydrangea to forge a melody of colors and patterns. Use the same grass in different locations throughout your yard to add unity and tie it all together.

This fluffy foliage will also soften and breakup the harshness of hardscapes. Blending an OG with surrounding stone or concrete features will bring an aesthetic balance to your landscaping. On a smaller scale, put types like Elijah Blue fescue or Juncus grasses into pots or containers that can be moved around as desired. Overflowing by design, the wind will whistle through their swaying blades and garnish your outdoor space with movement that brings it to life.

OG make wonderful ground cover, especially in comparison to a traditional lawn. Requiring much less maintenance, they also help keep out weeds and maintain their visual attraction year-round. In these areas I would recommend “no-mow” grass. It usually consists of a special blend of native fescue grasses that grow up to about 6” tall and then fall over giving it a meadow-type look that does not require mowing. Once established, these grasses use little to no water and can give the appearance of a lawn or green area in your garden. Certain types will need routine “haircuts” to help trim down overgrowth and allow for fresh blades to liven up the plant.

One of the most popular OG, Calamagrostis foliosa (Mendocino Reed Grass) is a California native and does great in almost any soil or sunlight. They are small, require very little trimming and make great accent plants in your garden. Adding some boulders to your garden is another easy way to take up space without adding water requirements, and they go great with OGs!

Complimentary to any form of landscaping, ornamental grasses will provide a unique appearance for your exterior space, while cutting down on cost and leaving you with more time to enjoy your outdoors!