Just a trickle: watering in a drought

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

A very dry Kittle Creek.

With the alarming sight of dry reservoirs and parched hillsides this early in the year, it’s no surprise that the Marin Municipal Water District has issued water use restrictions to help conserve the supply we have left. Reducing water use doesn’t have to mean letting your plants go thirsty, though—here in the gardens, we’ve been taking steps to ensure that our watering practices are efficient as well as effective, so every drop counts. We’re sharing here some of what we’ve been doing to help inspire you to manage your water use and keep your garden growing. If you’ve got suggestions of your own, please share them to Garden Tips!

Not all areas of the grounds are served by our irrigation system; in particular, we hand water in the propagation area where we have young plants growing in containers that dry out quickly. Following the MMWD guidelines, we now hand water new plantings only from 7 to 9 am, when it’s cool and evaporation is low.

We are continuously checking our irrigation system, and did a system-wide diagnostic earlier in the season: turning on each zone to find and repair any breaks or leaks, and capping off any irrigation that isn’t absolutely necessary. We purchased an Irrometer, which tests the soil for available water and helps us determine how to water appropriately and neither over- or under-water.

Gardener Kate Small installs new drip irrigation lines at the main entry.

We have also converted from fixed spray to MP (matched precipitation) rotators: these sprinkler heads reduce water use by 30%.  They deliver water more slowly in a controlled way, reducing overspray and allowing the soil more time to absorb the water. We’re also converting from fixed and micro spray to inline and point source drip irrigation, which brings water more efficiently to the roots of individual plants rather than broadcasting a spray over a large area.  

You can also consider running your irrigation manually—wind, heat, fog and other factors can create a big difference in how much water your garden needs. Check if the soil is dry and turn on your drip system only when you need to, rather than running it on a schedule.

And finally, yes, in some cases, you may cut back on watering altogether: we are letting some of the peripheral lawn areas go brown, again following the MMWD guidelines. We are making tradeoffs, though: because the main lawns that greet visitors at the entry are such an important community gathering place, we have reduced water use elsewhere to be able to maintain these spaces for all to enjoy. We hope you’ll tread gently on the grass to help it stay healthy for everyone to appreciate. 

We’ll follow these watering tips with some guidance on how we choose more water-wise plants for the gardens here, stay tuned!

More to explore