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Your Garden with Cayce Hill: ‘Going brown’ is not as hard as it might initially seem

Published in the July 6 – 19, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Cayce Hill

Cayce Hill

Cayce Hill

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a very tropical, rainy place, you will recognize my nod to the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s clever water-saving campaign in the title “Brown is the new Green.” And it’s not marketing hype. In California most household water is used for landscaping and other outdoor purposes. We’re in a drought, folks. There is no time like the present to make a difference. Here is some encouragement for you, no matter where you are on your lawn-losing journey.

Stage 1: No way, no how. Not doing it. I would rather just stop bathing.

Keeping up with the Joneses these days is as much about choosing just the right shade of mulch as it used to be about achieving golf course perfection in your front yard. If the thought of converting your entire lawn all at once makes you nervous, consider sheet mulching (using cardboard and mulch) around the edges. If you can wait, plant in the fall after we begin to get rain. Continue this process of nibbling away at your lawn year by year until you’ve shrunk it down to nothing. You’ll forget you ever cared so much about it.

Stage 2: Still shedding some tears for my lawn that was.

Sure, it can be strangely satisfying to cut interesting patterns into your grass with the lawnmower. Hang in there, change is hard. Redirect that energy into artful pruning or admiring the bees buzzing around. Embrace your new look. Also be sure you are checking in on these newly planted additions. Even drought-tolerant plants need a moderate amount of irrigation to get established.

Stage 3: I might be falling in love with my ceanothus.

If you are in Stages 1 or 2, this may sound like nonsense. But I promise that when March rolls around every year, the bees and I fall head over heels all over again for my beautiful Dark Star and Julia Phelps. Drought-tolerant plants that have been in the ground for at least a few years will need very little, if any, supplemental irrigation. These plants are well suited to our climate and may even resent summer watering. Spend time reading up about specific plant requirements.

Stage 4: Brown has been my green for years.

Your early investment in drought-tolerant landscaping is likely paying off both on your water bill and in your garden’s resiliency. You may find that it is time to rejuvenate by replacing older plants at this point. Take a look around your garden and notice which plants have done well. Consider repeating those instead of immediately adding something different. Water in those newbies well.

Then give yourself a pat on the back for saving a few more precious drops for this beautiful place we call home.

Cayce Hill is a UCCE Master Gardener. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.