If you’re wondering what to do with an empty backyard (or front yard, for that matter) in the midst of our growing water shortage, you might want to consider planting an orchard of fruit trees.
The reason this option is suggested is that you will be able to provide all the watering your trees require by recycling the water from your washing machine, bathtub, shower and bathroom sink. Each person living in your residence will generate enough water of this type, commonly referred to as gray water, to meet the watering requirements of four trees. In other words, if only you and your spouse occupy your home, both of you will be able to enjoy the fruit from eight trees watered exclusively from gray water. If you also have two kids, you will have enough greywater for 16 trees.
The nice thing about a gray water system is that there are no sprinklers or drip tubes. Gray water is never stored but is pumped directly into the trees. In addition to meeting the water needs of the trees, the greywater is also fertilizing.
Ideally, you will create a mulch trough at the drip line of each tree. This is where the gray water will drain. The mulch tub is four feet long, one foot wide, and one foot deep. It is full of wood chips that need to be replenished on an annual basis, even as the decomposing chips enrich the soil in which the tree is growing.
Costs range from several thousand to tens of thousands and increase depending on the level of complexity of your greywater system. The primary system delivers unfiltered gray water and the startup system recycles the washer water on its own. When it comes to laundry detergents, avoid powdered detergents as they contain salts that are harmful to plants. Boron-containing cleansers should be avoided for the same reason. Liquid detergent is recommended as the wash water is recycled for fruit trees, while soaps, shampoos and hair conditioners are not a problem since shower and bathtub water is recycled for use on fruit trees.
I received the above information from Leigh Jerrard, owner of Greywater Corps, a company that installs gray water systems as well as rainwater harvesting and storage systems in the Los Angeles area. He told me he currently receives about 15 inquiries a day regarding water saving systems.
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In response to my request for certifications regarding water-saving alternatives to traditional lawns, I received the following email from Grace Hampton, who works in gardening in Burbank: “I have overused buffalo grass in my parks and find it resilient. It is only mowed and watered—no fertilizer.” The good thing about it is that it stays green without too much watering because its roots grow six feet deep. It thrives in dry areas where an occasional deep watering will keep it green.”
Regarding the MiniClover garden alternative I wrote about in May, I received a response from Hilda Ceramic, who works in gardening in Los Alamitos. She included before and after photos of the lawn area that was basically brown when I overdid it with ordering the MiniClover through the website at outsidepride.com. Less than three weeks later, the grass had turned green. Before planting, I went over the area using a flexible rake. “I didn’t dig into the grass too hard, I just hit it a little bit.” Then she broadcast 1 pound of seed over an area of about 1,000 square feet using a handheld Ortho Whirlpool spreader. Initially, she was watering 15 minutes twice a week and now she is watering ten minutes twice a week. She sprinkles lightly on the other days but this practice decreases as the alfalfa takes root. Ceramice says she followed the instructions on the MiniClover packaging and that “the most important instructions were to keep the seeds moist, not to let them dry out between waterings.”
The following was received from John Hiatt, horticulturist at Cal Poly Pomona: “About 3 years ago, we replaced Kikuyugrass with white Kurapia as an experiment and demonstration. After establishment, we reduced watering from 30 minutes 3 times a week to 5 minutes 2 times a week. It’s thriving!We mow it once a month instead of once a week and mow it twice a month instead of once a week.After that success,we planted it in a long narrow bed with small trees between a parking lot and a main driveway.Students cut through the planter hundreds of times per Today and the Corabia grows well, only very short, about 1/8″. We recently planted some pink floral forms in another planter that gets frequent foot traffic and it does well there too. Other than being a major attraction for bees, the Corabia is a winner !
San Clemente Gardener Matthew Hunt sent us a stunning photo of a dwarf carpet of stars (Ruschia lineolata var. Nana) growing over stones and rocks. This succulent ground cover has been lauded as a garden alternative for its drought tolerance and indifference to foot traffic. Adds Hunt: “I was thinking what a wonderful carpet of stars would look like growing into a retaining wall with planting holes in it. It would look better than rosemary, etc.” I think Hunt is referring to the fact that plants in such gaps generally grow awkwardly, without shape. , and looks unfussy while the star rug—named for its pink and white blooms in late winter to early spring—will adhere beautifully to the lines of a wall.
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“Bloom: Secrets of Growing Year-Round Flowering Houseplants” (Quarto Publishing Group, 2022) by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf is a highly desirable volume for those with a growing interest in indoor plant culture. Houseplant enthusiasts always start with grown selections for their leaves since the lush appearance is often the desired initial goal. Perhaps this has something to do with creating an antidote to the urban concrete jungle that surrounds us or just a testament to the exotic design elements in the varied and dramatic leaf shapes offered by indoor plants. Moreover, the gorgeous markings on the leaves on calathea species such as prayer plants and rattlesnake plants, for example, obviate the need for flowers when it comes to the visual experience they provide.
In fact, the foliage of indoor flowering plants tends to be nondescript even though the fuzzy leaves of African violet provide a pleasant sense of touch and the gray-banded foliage bands of silver urn (Aechmea fasciata) contrast strikingly with the pink star flowers. A unique feature of African violets is their ability to bloom continuously, which is made possible when they receive the morning light provided by an east-facing window.
Whether you are watering your African violet from above or from below, there are a few precautions you should take. It’s okay to water on top and wet the leaves of the African violet as long as the water is warm; Cold water will deform the leaves and impair root growth. Watering from above requires blotting the foliage so that the inner leaves remain dry to avoid crown rot. However, if you are watering from below, you will have to pour water copiously through the soil at least once a month to flush out the salts that build up to toxic levels from bottom watering.