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Landscape into a water-wise future

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Reducing operating costs is always top-of-mind for building managers across the San Diego region and their budgets are hit hard when it comes to maintaining landscapes. Property managers want to offer their tenants beautiful environments and outdoor spaces, but let's face it, we live in an area that receives little rainfall throughout the year. Ninety percent of San Diego's water is imported from resources outside of the region and the threat of a water shortage is always apparent, making water conservation very important.

Landscaping is the primary use of water for most commercial properties and finding ways to lower usage can also cut operating costs. Xeriscaping is one trend that has hit the market, saving money for both building managers and tenants.

A water-wise trend

In order to accommodate our desert-like climate, xeriscape techniques have become a popular among commercial property owners. This technique doesn't require landscaping to mimic the Mojave Desert, but is a system of grouping plants with similar irrigation requirements together and also choosing plants that do not require much hydration.

"I think there is still a big misconception about xeriscape with the public," said Tom Heaviland, owner of Heaviland Enterprises. "We need to continue to educate consumers that it is not just "rocks and cactus." There is a magnificent plant palate, excellent for xeriscaping, available to the San Diego area, which brings beautiful color, texture and variety to the landscape."

Indigenous plants make good choices for water-wise landscapes, but xeriscaping doesn't mean only integrating plants native to San Diego. Plants native to other similar climates could be chosen, giving a building's unique surrounding that could otherwise only be enjoyed in other parts of the country.

Principles for xeriscaping

According to the San Diego County Water Authority, there are seven principles for effective xeriscaping:

Planning and design. Planning is the most important step to successful water-wise landscaping, because it allows landscapers to install plants and trees in phases, reducing initial costs.

Soil analysis. A soil analysis based on random sampling will provide information needed for selection of proper plants and, if needed, soil improvements. Soil improvements allow better water absorption and improved water holding capacity of the soil.

Appropriate plant selection. Low water use plants can serve nearly all landscape functions and also provide seasonal color and year-round greenery.

Practical turf areas. Locate turf only in areas where it provides functional benefits. Turf is best separated from trees, shrubs and flowering plants so that it may be irrigated separately.

Efficient irrigation. Well-planned sprinkler systems can save water and money. For efficient water use, irrigate turf areas separately with sprinklers. Trees, shrubs and flowers are best watered efficiently with a low volume drip or bubble emitters.

Use of mulches. Mulched planting beds are an ideal replacement for turf areas. Mulches cover and cool the soil, minimize evaporation and reduce soil erosion.

Appropriate maintenance. When all six principles have been followed, maintenance of a water-wise landscape is easier and less expensive. Pruning, weeding, proper fertilization, pest control and irrigation system adjustments further water savings.

"When following these seven principals to xeriscaping, building landscapers should save important water resources," said Randy Newhard, president of New Way Landscape and Tree Services. "The amount that is conserved depends on the operator. Operators of landscape maintenance systems need to be experts on the types of vegetation surrounding their building in order to set the exact run times and frequencies of the water system. If done correctly, building managers can see a significant savings in their landscape water bill."

To learn more ways on how to become water-wise, visit the San Diego County Water Authority's Web site at www.sdcwa.org.

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