Our desert climate is one defined by many months to many years of drought, and even a few years of normal or higher than normal rainfall will not change the fact that we live in a desert—a climate created by and adapted to extended droughts.
“Live Like a Desert Native” focuses on lifestyle changes that benefit everyone long into the future, not just during a declared drought. Since most of our residential water use in the desert is outdoors, this philosophy offers easy ways to conserve water outside, while encouraging everyone to continue the indoor conservation measures we have been exposed to in the past.
We are in a historic time dealing with water use. It’s going to require all of us to adapt to new ways of living…and to incorporate lasting life-style changes if we’re going to live sustainably and comfortably into the future.
We all need to be aware of one basic fact: We live in the desert.
Our deserts support a higher diversity of plants and animals than most other places on earth. In spite of the stressful extremes of weather and climate, a huge variety of native desert creatures have lived here successfully for eons.
These plants and animals don’t just survive here, they thrive. How have they done it? What’s their secret? How do we achieve the goal of living comfortably and successfully in the desert?
“Living Like a Desert Native” can be a fun journey, filled with rewards that provide a better quality of life.
We can learn from the strategies that native desert plants and animals use to save water every day. We can embrace the desert native way of life. We can link these ideas to our yard, our home, and our life without reducing our quality of life.
We can realize that using less doesn’t mean living less!
It’s easy to start living like a desert native, saving water while maintaining and even enhancing our quality of life. Here are some easy steps for success.
Put down deep roots
In your yard:
√ Water plants long & slow – not often or shallow – to encourage deep roots
√ Deep roots need watering much less often
Apply irrigation water slowly, rather than quickly:
Train your plants’ roots to grow down into the deep, cooler soil where water is retained much longer than in the hot surface soils where moisture dries out every day. If you water plants often, with only small amounts of water, you “train” the roots to stay up at the surface, because short watering times wet only the surface soils.
Roots respond to short watering times by growing only at the surface, because that’s the only place they can find water. This requires you to water more frequently; one day of dry soil at the surface may dry up and kill shallow plant roots.
Deep watering allows water to percolate down into cooler soil layers, enticing the roots to grow deep into those cooler, moist soils, where moisture from a single watering may be retained for many days or weeks. You will end up using less water by watering infrequently, longer, and slower, instead of watering for only a few minutes every day or two. This also reduces the possibility of applying water faster than it can be absorbed by some soils, meaning better absorption and less waste. Plants will be healthier, better able to withstand periods of no water, high heat, hot surface soils, and high winds, since their roots will grow deeper as both anchors and “sponges”.
Replace all or a portion of your lawn (which has shallow roots) with beautiful desert native and California friendly plants (which have deep roots):
Select an area to replace turf and add compatible California native or desert friendly plants, most of which use much less water than their foreign neighbors from other habitats.
Lawns are the thirstiest part of a garden – and usually the highest maintenance. California native and California friendly plants are both adapted to periods of long drought, so their roots are pre-adapted to grow deeply to find moisture from previous rains. Correct irrigation (watering infrequently but deeply) will ensure these natives put down deep roots for better drought-tolerance. Beautiful native plants like sages and buckwheats can reduce water use by 50 to 75 percent over that needed by a lawn, and reduce your maintenance time and expense by a similar amount.
Plant in the fall to establish deep roots in preparation for summer:
Plant new landscape plants in the fall to early winter for best root establishment – avoid planting in late spring or summer if at all possible.
In our climate, the majority of a plant’s root growth occurs in the fall. To establish deep roots before a plant experiences its first hot summer, it is important to give it a proper establishment period of a full fall season before it must endure its first summer of hot soils. Plants that can get their roots established during the fall, when air temperatures are mild, but soils are still warm enough for root growth, end up outperforming summer plantings for many years to come (some summer plantings even succumb during their first hot season of life). Plants that suffer during their first year from a late spring or summer planting may not recover from that trauma, and usually require more water for the rest of their lives. The faster you can get your new plant’s roots deep into cooler soil layers before summer sets in, the better your plant will perform—needing less water for the rest of its life!
In your community:
√ Join in with neighbors to celebrate and solve local issues
√ Engaged communities are more stable, secure, and healthy
In your yard:
√ Add shade with trees, shade cloth, umbrellas, & arbors
√ Shade saves moisture, cools you, your home, & the ground
Add shade over sunny outdoor living spaces with trees, arbors, shade- or sail-cloth, or umbrellas:
Cool the ground around your home to transform hot, reflective soil surfaces into shady, cooler living spaces – both for you and for your plants.
Shade from any source, whether from trees, tall shrubs, or structures designed to provide shade, will reduce air temperature, soil drying, evaporation, and water use by landscape plants. Even filtered shade from desert trees, like mesquite, palo verde, and desert catalpa, cools the soil enough to reduce moisture loss for both the trees and other plants around them – besides making cool places for you to enjoy your yard. Shade structures provide these benefits without using additional water.
In your home:
√ Add shade over outside living spaces with verandas, sail cloth, latticework, pull-down shades, and awnings
√ Shade reduces the need for cooling/AC
Block the summer sun from all sunny sides of your home:
Be creative in finding ways to shade your outside living spaces to make them useable all summer, as well as to cool your adjacent home spaces. Latticework (especially with shade cloth attached), pull-down shades, awnings, or shade sail canopies all create welcome shade for relaxing, entertaining, and saving on energy costs.
By blocking the sun’s rays for most of the day, you can stop excessive heating of your home, reducing the energy you use for cooling. Large deciduous trees (which drop their leaves in winter) planted on all the sunny sides of your home create shade from the hot summer sun, and can reduce summer air conditioning costs by up to 35 percent.
Pull down your shades or close the curtains on windows facing south, east, and west during the day. Up to 40 percent of unwanted heat comes in through the windows. It’s even better to create shade on the outside of the windows than the inside, so consider shutters and awnings to shade your windows.
Cover your ground
In your yard:
√ Add mulch, chips, rock, or gravel over the ground
√ Covering the ground holds moisture, cuts watering needs, reduces weeds, and cuts down soil erosion & run-off
Cover your ground with mulch, chips, gravel, etc.
Add a thick layer of mulch, wood chips, or gravel over the ground to save soil moisture and reduce irrigation needs. Placing rocks on the sunny (south) side of your plants also helps to cool the ground under them, shade and cool adjacent plant roots, and save soil moisture longer. Try to avoid placing rocks right next to the north side of plants, where a rock will reflect hot sunlight back (southward) onto the plant.
A layer of mulch, wood chips, gravel, or rocks can cut down water evaporation by as much as 75 percent, and studies suggest it can reduce overall water use by 25 percent or more. Mulch can be any loose material placed over the soil to conserve water, control weeds, and keep soil temperatures more constant (cooler in summer and warmer in winter). Organic mulches, like shredded wood chips and bark, will slowly decompose, adding nutrients to the soil, increasing water percolation, reducing soil erosion, and inhibiting weed growth. Inorganic coverings like gravel, pebbles, and rocks, cool the soil, help retain soil moisture and reduce soil erosion.
In your home:
√ Cover all the bases for water efficiency inside your home
√ Even small water savings add up
Explore all the options available to save water and energy inside your home:
Take advantage of rebates from your local water agency and electric company to upgrade appliances to the most energy-efficient and water- efficient ones available. Fix any leaks in faucets or toilets as soon as possible. Check with your local water agency for free and discounted water- saving devices, as well as simple tips for reducing water use.
In the kitchen, you can save as much as 5,475 gallons per year by installing faucet aerators, not letting the water run while cleaning dishes, fixing leaks right away, using the short cycle on your dishwasher, and only washing full loads of dishes. In the bathroom, you can save up to 14,600 gallons per year by using low-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, and fixing toilet and faucet leaks promptly. In the laundry room, you can save up to 8,030 gallons per year by using a high-efficiency clothes washer, using shorter cycles when possible, and only washing full loads. Just these indoor savings alone can add up to 125,671 gallons per year!
“Living Like a Desert Native” is easier than you might guess, and you’ll discover a lifestyle that is both satisfying and rewarding.
- Take it easy
- Make it easy
- Save water, and
- Keep your good lifestyle