Monday, February 21, 2011

Go Green in the Yard and Garden...Before You Have To

Ever hear of WELO? No? You will, if you plan to do any landscaping. California passed the Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance in 2009, requiring all water suppliers to increase water use limiting the amount of water you use.

The ordinance (41 pages long) is still going through the bureaucratic swamp of local governments and water agencies, but it will happen.

• Public landscapes and private development projects including developer-installed single family and multi-family residential landscapes with at least 2500 sq. ft. of landscape area are subject to the Model Ordinance.

• Homeowner-provided landscaping at single family and multi-family homes are subject to the Model Ordinance if the landscape area is at least 5000 sq. ft.

• All new landscapes will be assigned a water budget.

• Landscapes will need an approved design plan, an irrigation design plan, grading design plan and maintenance schedule.
Basically, if it uses water, it will need approval, outdoors and indoors. 

It may be years before this ordinance is fully implemented, but if there is a yard and garden rehab in your near future, you may want to consider some of these preemptive steps to keep the water police away in the future:

Use Native & Mediterranean Plants

Native and Mediterrranean climate plants are already accustomed to much of California’s unique climates. These plants require little water, little fertilizer and very little care. And will become very popular after WELO is fully implemented. The horticultural staff of the UC Davis Arboretum have identified 100 Arboretum All Star plants.  These plants are tough, reliable plants that have been tested in the Arboretum, are easy to grow, don’t need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden. Many of them are California native plants and support native birds and beneficial insects.

Know Your Soil  
Will that plant thrive in your soil’s pH? Does your soil really need more nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium?
Do a soil test before adding any fertilizer (a soil test is part of WELO approval).

Use Pesticides & Fertilizers Properly and in the Right Amounts 

"If a little is good, then more is better". That’s definitely not the mentality to use when it comes to pesticides and fertilizers. Always follow the manufacturers instructions when it comes to application methods and amounts.  Be particularly careful not to over water your lawn or landscape after applying pesticides and fertilizers. Remember, everything that goes down the storm drain eventually leads to a river. (Yes, prohibiting water runoff - which might contain excess fertilizer or pesticides - is part of the WELO model ordinance).  

Before Using Any Pesticide, Try These  
Use cultural, physical or mechanical means to control pests. “Cultural” means: matching the plant with your yard’s conditions: sun, water and soil. Healthy plants can stave off pests and diseases better. “Physical” controls: a row cover, for example, to keep aphids and whiteflies off a young vegetable garden. “Mechanical”: a blast of water from a jet nozzle on a garden hose can dislodge aphids from rose bushes, for example ("Just make sure that nozzle has an on-off valve," admonishes Officer WELO).

Use Less-Toxic and Non-Toxic Pesticides
Keep your kids and pets safe by using non-toxic and less-toxic pesticides in the home landscape and garden. Put in plants that attract beneficial insects. These days, there are a lot of effective non-toxic and less-toxic pesticides for sale at your local nursery or home improvement center. Know the signal words on pesticide products: Caution (least toxic)-Warning-Danger (most toxic).

Use Organic Fertilizers

There are many organic fertilizers available at your local local nursery. These fertilizers range from steer and chicken manure to fertilizer blends made from natural materials and targeted towards different plant categories such as roses or vegetables. Organic fertilizers tend to release nutrients slowly and feed plants over a longer period of time than synthetic chemical fertilizers. Organic fertilizers may also help to amend poor soils by encouraging beneficial microbe populations in the soil, improving drainage and reducing runoff (WELO Points!)
Synthetic chemical fertilizers give plants a jolt of instant nutrition but there are downsides to that, including weaker growth that is more attractive to pests. Synthetic chemical fertilizers can burn plants if not used properly, may build up salts in the soil over time and can also produce new vegetative growth quickly that the plants root system may not be able to adequately support.

Stop throwing away kitchen scraps and improve your soil by starting a compost pile or worm bin.

WELO says: "A minimum two inch (2″) layer of mulch shall be applied on all exposed soil surfaces of planting areas except in turf areas, creeping or rooting groundcovers, or direct seeding applications where mulch is contraindicated." Mulch conserves water by keeping the soil evenly moist; reduces herbicide use because weeds have a harder time popping up through the mulch; reduces fertilizer use; feeds the soil by addiing organic matter that feeds the beneficial soil organisms. Mulch improves the soil by preventing soil compaction while increasing the tilth (soil structure).
Get in the Habit Now: Watch the Watering
Check your irrigation system every month or so to make sure that you are indeed watering your landscape and not the sidewalk or your neighbor’s car. Take care of any irrigation issues such as broken spray heads promptly. Use a moisture meter to help you determine when and how much to water your landscape.
 WELO's approved watering hours are 8 p.m.-10 a.m.).

New Lawn Sprinklers Use Less Water  
Replace old spray and impulse sprinklers with new models that use 30% less water. And maybe swap out sprinkler systems that are watering small areas. WELO says: "Narrow or irregularly shaped areas, including turf, less than eight (8) feet in width in any direction shall be irrigated with subsurface irrigation or a low volume irrigation system."

Rain Barrels
Every home should have at least one rain barrel system, if not three or four. If  100,000 homes were to have just one 55 gallon rain barrel, it would save 5.5 million gallons of water every year. WELO says: "Rain gardens, cisterns, and other landscape features and practices that increase rainwater capture and create opportunities for infiltration and/or onsite storage are recommended." 


Ditch the bag and grasscycle with a mulching mower. It’s easy, keeps your lawn looking great and best of all - no more heavy bags of grass clippings to dispose of. Mulching mowers, however, are not mandated by WELO. Yet.

Reduce the size of your lawn. 
WELO will nudge you in that direction: "Turf is not allowed on slopes greater than 25% where the toe of the slope is adjacent to an impermeable hardscape." Then, choose turf species that use less water. Blends that include certain fescues or bentgrass require 50% less water.
The Our Water, Our World Program 
is a program that helps to identify non-toxic and less-toxics methods of pest eradication.  The Our Water, Our World program distributes information sheets on effective pest control and uses special shelf labels to help customer identify of non-toxic and less-toxic pesticide choices.

The Master Gardener Program
is a program that is under the University of California Cooperative Extension that is designed to assist residents with landscape and gardening issues. The Master Gardener’s IPM or Integrated Pest Management program features tons of information how to deal with pests, diseases and fungus effectively. 

By the way, the WELO Model Ordinance is just a foundation for even more draconian watering rules in California. From the WELO FAQ:
"Can we make our local ordinance more stringent?"
"Yes, due to water supply conditions, climate and other factors, a local agency may make any provisions in its local ordinance more stringent than the Model Ordinance (option #2). For example, a local ordinance may further reduce the ET Adjustment Factor, limit turf grass area, use plant lists, or have specific fire prevention requirements. These will be determined by the local agency."


  1. One "yard area" that will be help your maximum allowed water usage calculation: Special Landscape Areas (recreational area, area permanently and solely dedicated to edible plants, and area irrigated with recycled water)

  2. Thank you for posting this....I was not aware of this new law....and it will impact all of us at some point.


  3. Maybe this will spur the Husband to agree the lawn (at least in front) has to go. I've been pushing for its removal for years now, but he won't budge because it's easy to leave as is.

  4. Thanks for this posting. I was not aware of the ordinace either. However, we're unintentionally ahead of the curve. Partially motivated by the impending switch to water meters in the city of sac, we're well on our way to converting our front lawn into a mostly edible landscape. In addition to shrubs and trees that will produce edible fruit, we will have other plants that will attract and provide food for beneficial insects.

    The transformation will take a bit of work, but we think it is well worth. Besides its a chance to change up how the space is used and make a better yard overall. We did use professional help in the design and plant selection, which is also very worthwhile. I can pick plants for a raised bed, but a whole yard is overwhelming!