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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Oct 09

Do Over

Posted on October 9, 2015 at 9:17 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

One of my favorite classic movies, City Slickers, used the term "do over" when things went sideways for one of the characters. The message in the movie was to allow changes for a better outcome.

You might ask what City Slickers has to do with water conservation. The four-year drought, as you well know, finds lakes, reservoirs, and aquifers at extreme low points throughout the state. To help save water, the State of California is targeting green lush lawns. Lawns are water-guzzlers that made their way into many of our landscaped yards. But now we have an opportunity to change unused and unwanted lawns for the better outcome of saving our precious water. The state is offering a rebate "do over" for replacing thirsty lawns with water-saving gardens. And what a deal: They will pay up to $2 per square foot to help you make the change.

While the offer for a "do over" is amazing, you might be left scratching your head as how to proceed, or what to do with that space once the lawn is removed! Let's take it one step at a time. But, before you start, be sure to carefully review the state rebate requirements and application process.

First, identify the area that will be revamped. Use a hose or a bag of flour to outline the area. If there is a sprinkler system in that area, encompass that station or zone for ease of converting that part of your system to drip or micro spray—one of requirements of the state program. Changing plant material is also changing the hydrozone. If you remember from past blogs, efficient irrigation systems are designed to water high-water plants separately from low-water plants, and this "do over" definitely qualifies as a new hydrozone.

Now it is time to dream. What have you always wanted in your garden? More flowers? Wandering paths with bird baths to attract feathered friends? How about a butterfly garden or a meditative garden? Your bucket list may include a small vineyard or larger edible raised garden. Once you have determined your desired garden will qualify for the state rebate, you can begin to employ your ideas.

This is where the fun begins. First, measure out the area you identified and draw the shape on a piece of paper. Use graph paper to keep the scale in proportion. For the techies, this can be done on the computer with the right program. Draw in your existing trees, or where you will add at least one tree to meet the state rules. If permeable pathways are in your plans, draw them in. Next, draw in the low-water-using plants that will fill in the remaining area. Visit your local nursery to get ideas. Go to the internet to check out various websites for plant ideas, making certain the plants will thrive in Marin's climate. (MMWD has launched a new, Marin-focused website full of inspiration and ideas for incorporating a variety of low-water-use plants in your garden.) Take a walk through your neighborhood scouting out plants that catch your eye. This will give you an opportunity to strike up a conversation with a neighbor who may help you identify a garden treasure. And don't forget the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS) database for a comprehensive list of low-water-using plants.

Before purchasing, be certain to look at the width and height of a mature plant to avoid crowding. In the design, keep low-growing plants in front and taller plants in back. If the new planting area can be viewed from both sides, draw the tallest plants in the center and work the plant material down in height from both sides.

Plant lay out
 Plant layout
Once the area is outlined on paper and plants are purchased, the physical work can begin. Start by sheet mulching. Last week's blog went into this simple process in which cardboard is layered over the existing sod. Install permeable pathways (if they are on your plans) by following the plan you drew. Next, set the purchased plants out on the cardboard where they are to be planted. With a sharp shovel, cut through the cardboard and lift the sod and soil underneath to install the plants. Remember plants are going to thrive better if the hole is twice as wide and deep as the container the plant came in. Add some composted material to the soil you removed from the hole and backfill with this medium after placing the plant in its new home. Water in each new plant. After planting all the new plants, run a new drip system to each plant, and finish by applying 3 inches of mulch over the entire area.

Remember that autumn is the perfect time to plant. Rains will keep the roots growing during the winter and, come spring, those new plants will flourish. If the idea of re-landscaping the area seems overwhelming, consider employing a QWEL certified landscaper to help with the project.

For more information and inspiration, plan on attending one of the workshops offered by Marin Master Gardeners and MMWD, October 17 in Mill Valley or October 22 in Ross.

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