CREATING BAY FRIENDLY LANDSCAPES
WHAT is BAY FRIENDLY?
Landscapes that conserve water, create habitat, reduce runoff pollution and celebrate the natural beauty and sense of place in the Bay Area.
WHAT is a WATERSHED?
Obvious examples: rivers, streams, anything that directs water to a larger body of water like a lake, bay or the ocean. Less obvious examples: dry gullies and desert washes that carry seasonal rainwater and feed groundwater reserves.
HOW are WE a PART of the WATERSHED?
Natural Watershed: filled with trees, grasses, boulders and sandy pits a natural water shed has lots of places for water to slow and sink into the ground. It is also filtered by sand, roots, leaves and such so that by the time it reaches a larger body of water it is mostly clean.
Urban Watershed: roofs, driveways, parking lots, streets, gutters and drains lead to either underground stormwater systems or concrete culverts and eventually out to the closest river or body of water. Often unfiltered this water contains urban runoff pollutants like heavy metals from brake dust, oil and antifreeze, fertilizers and garden pesticides, trash, bacteria and viruses from animal waste and other contaminants.
WHAT can WE do?
By implementing even a few sustainable design techniques in our landscapes we can make lasting impacts on the health of our surrounding environment. Multiplied over the gardens on a street, in a neighborhood and in a city and the impact are huge.
No garden is too small to make change.
THE 7 MAJOR ELEMENTS of SUSTAINABLE DESIGN
1) REDUCE RUNOFF
- Permeable surfaces- driveways, patios, walkways, etc
- Rainwater catchment systems (rain barrels, rain hogs, slimline tanks, cisterns)
- Bioswales and retention basins which slow rainwater and allow it to sink into the soil (think back to our natural watersheds)
- Direct gutters into landscape or catchment system
- Build healthy soils - water soaks in faster and is retained for future use
- Retrofit or install new irrigation - drip, low flow, set back heads 24” from sidewalks and hardscape
2) ELIMINATE THE USE OF CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS, HERBICIDES + PESTICIDES
- Build healthy soils - water soaks in faster and is retained for future use
- Composting and worm bins, compost and worm tea
- Planting regionally appropriate and native plants
3) REDUCE WATER CONSUMPTION
- Plant regionally appropriate and native plants
- Build healthy soils
- Retrofit or install new irrigation - drip, low flow systems,
- Install a greywater system - L2L or other
- Install a cistern to collect rainwater for later re-use
- Incorporate a weather smart irrigation controller
4) CREATE HABITAT
- Install native plants.
- Incorporate a birdbath or small recirculating water feature for wildlife.
- Where it makes sense create space for wildlife to move through your property
5) INCORPORATE SUSTAINABLE/RECYCLED MATERIALS
- Where possible use reclaimed woods and other materials
- When purchasing new stone materials try to source from local quarries if possible
- When purchasing furniture or other garden design accents try out local garage sales, resale shops, and import shops that often have recycled/reclaimed materials that can be repurposed into planters or other unique features. These reduce waste through recycling but also create wonderful focal and conversational pieces
6) REDUCE AIR, NOISE AND WATER POLLUTION
- Eliminate green waste: plant for your space and use a compost pile for clippings.
- By eliminating lawn and planting for our space we are also reducing air and noise pollution caused by lawn mowers and blowers
- Plant veggies! Cuts down on the fossil fuel use in transporting foods, plus that used in driving to and from grocery store.
- Reduce water use - reduces amount of energy needed to transport water to our gardens.
7) LOW MAINTENANCE
- Make plant selections wisely - appropriate plants reduce need for trimming, supplemental water and amendments
- Mulch seasonally to continue building healthy soils
- Add compost as needed around edible plantings
- Install appropriate irrigation and make periodic checks on both the system and the timer (no over/underwatering) this will make for healthier plants in the long run. Plants are like toddlers, they do best on a routine.
HOW to IMPLEMENT?
BUILD HEALTHY SOILS:
- Till compacted soils
- Mulch, mulch, mulch
- Best is Sheet mulching - paper/cardbard, compost, 3-4” mulch (as we saw in Nicole’s presentation)
- Leave the leaves - don’t rake up leaf litter, it helps to build healthy soils
NOTE about native plants and rich soils: I do get a lot of questions about whether or not we need to add compost when using native plants and it depends on your soil conditions. As we know, most native plants don’t require amendments and thrive in lean soils. However in their native environments many of the species we use in our home gardens are growing where there has been an abundance of leaf litter that has built up over time. This duff along with a healthy native ecosystem provides a healthy soil system for the native plants. In our gardens, many of which have had all of the healthy native soil scraped away down to subsoil during development or have been trapped under lawns for 30 years or more, we are looking at less than optimal soil conditions even for native plants. I have seen newly planted native plants sit for a year or more without growing when planted into these conditions. In these situations a thin layer of plant derived compost and a nice thick layer of mulch will help to recreate a healthy soil biology for the native plants.
- If you are using overhead install low flow/rotator heads
- Set spray head back 24” from sidewalks and hardscape to reduce dry weather runoff.
- For areas under 10’ wide the State of CA mandates drip be used in all new landscapes.
- When using drip - these are my personal recommendations - I prefer to use Netafim or inline drip vs. Online drip (microspray and spaghetti tubes). I have found that maintenance is easier for inline drip and when laid out in a grid pattern the water is more evenly distributed which is crucial in developing healthy drought tolerant root systems.
- Install a weather smart controller
- Native plants
- Drought tolerant or plants that come from similar regions
- Non-invasive species!
- Plants that will grow to your space
- Hydrozone - plant plants with similar needs together and keep in mind the microclimates of your yard. Do you have a shady nook on the north side of the house, that might be perfect for a fern garden or plants that like a little more moisture, etc.
BONUS TIP: trees can help to act as natural climate control. Planting trees on the south and west sides of your house can help to keep the house cooler during hotter months. Deciduous trees will allow winter sun in while shading in the summer.
- Rain barrels - overflow to garden
- Rain hogs
RAINWATER RUNOFF CALCULATION: this is the calculation we use to calculate how much rainwater you can collect off of a roof or other impermeable surfaces
AREA (sq. ft.) x INCHES (of rainfall) x .62 (conversion factor) = gallons of runoff
BIOSWALES AND RETENTION BASINS:
- A shovel or two (some gardening gloves and a hat...)
- Gravel/pebble and decorative stone
- Plants if you plan to plant your bioswale.
Essentially what we are doing here is emulating our natural watersheds by breaking up the flat surface of our gardens and creating areas for the water to slow and sink in to the ground. Water that runs from your gutters and into the bioswale will have an opportunity to sink in and collect in the retention basin with excess water then running off.
- Flagstone or concrete pavers with pebble/d.g. or ground covers between
- Interlocking pavers
- Pervious asphalt or concrete
- Grasscrete pavers
- You can also convert an existing driveway into a more permeable option by cutting a strip down the middle ( known as Hollywood driveways) or cutting a strip across and installing grasscrete pavers or pebble to allow more space for runoff to be absorbed.
- L2L (Laundry to Landscape) Note: need to use the right laundry detergent to avoid killing your plants otherwise it kind of defeats the purpose.
- This is great for edible trees or larger edible shrubs as well as more water intensive species. Not great for small shrubs or root vegetables, lettuce, etc. although there are newer systems that use pumps and a drip system where you can use it on smaller plants.
- Sink and shower systems are available but generally require permitting and require pump systems, valve switches and are more difficult to retrofit into an existing home unless you are planning a remodel.
Seeking knowledge is the first step toward making positive change.
Congratulations on taking a huge step toward sustainability!