Office of Public Affairs
For Immediate Release: March 19, 2014
For more information contact:
Media Contact: Heather Jones
SACRAMENTO--Home gardening and landscaping season arrives this spring in the midst of a severe drought, and many Californians are concerned about conserving water without having their property become unsightly. The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) suggests that with just a bit of effort, anyone can increase the water-holding capacity of soil, reduce erosion, and conserve water with proven solutions such as mulching, composting, grasscycling and xeriscaping.
“Sustainable landscaping practices have become more important than ever as the state faces its worst drought in decades,” CalRecycle Director Caroll Mortensen said. “Sustainable landscaping produces tremendous economic and environmental benefits. In addition to cutting water use, it reduces labor, and lowers water and fertilizer costs – it’s a common sense solution as communities struggle to conserve water and local governments work to balance their budgets.”
Keeping compostable green waste out of landfills will also be key to California’s statewide goal of recycling 75 percent of its discards by 2020, with lawn trimmings, leaves, and food scraps holding a prominent role in that effort..
“An important part of the CalRecycle mission is to increase the diversion of green materials from landfills for beneficial uses such as compost and energy production,” Mortensen said. “Californians can help us reach that goal by incorporating some simple, sustainable landscaping practices.”
Here are some easy ways many of us can save water and improve soil in our gardens and yards:
Mulch is the soil covering used to control weeds or erosion, retain moisture in soil, and insulate soil from cold weather. Organic materials commonly used for mulch include wood chips, ground-up landscape trimmings, shredded bark, coarse compost material, straw, and shredded paper.
Spreading mulch several inches thick over your outdoor site will keep out weeds. In the summer, mulch is an especially effective way to conserve irrigation water.
Composting, nature's own way of recycling, is the controlled decomposition of organic materials such as leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and food scraps. Not only is composting good for the garden, it’s also good for the environment by helping to reduce greenhouse gas. In 2012 California had 29 million tons of disposal, about 32 percent of which was compostable green waste – materials that can easily be diverted from landfills to be used as compost for landscaping, or create renewable energy such as biofuel.
Composting at home is super easy and a great way to teach kids about conservation techniques. Composting can, on average, reduce a household’s waste by 25 percent. A compost pile can be set up in a corner of the yard with few supplies. Choose a level spot about three- to five-feet square near a water source and preferably out of direct sunlight.
The best way to compost food waste is to mix it with dry leaves, sticks and twigs, wood chips, sawdust, dried/dead plants, shredded newspaper, or paper from a home shredder, along with yard waste such as grass clippings. Always cover fresh material with a layer of wood chips and a dusting of dirt. A compost pile in your backyard will have lots of microbes taking up residence. Keep in mind that the microbes need oxygen, water, and food, so it will need to be “turned” about once a week by fluffing the pile with a pitch fork to give it air. You can also turn the pile completely over by building it into another pile. If the pile gets too wet or dense with food scraps, it will smell bad and composting will slow down or stop altogether.
In most California climates, the compost is ready in three to six months, when it becomes a dark crumbly material that is uniform in texture. Spread it in the garden, raised beds or under and around plants. The compost can also be used as potting soil.
Grasscycling is the natural recycling of grass by leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing. Grass clippings decompose quickly, returning valuable nutrients back to the soil. It reduces turf grass fertilizer and water requirements, which minimize chemical runoff entering storm drains and polluting creeks, rivers, and lakes.
Grasscycling, similar to mulching, is also an effective way of conserving water. Many modern mowers come with mulching kits. These machines cut and recut grass into tiny particles, which drop down onto the soil. It is best to mow when the lawn is dry, since wet grass will clump and pile and does not make for effective mulch.
If starting from scratch or thinking of redoing an existing lawn or garden, xeriscaping might be right for you. Xeriscaping means landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants to conserve water and reduce yard trimmings.
The practice of xeriscaping will vary from region to region in California. Plants which are appropriate in one climate may not work well in another. The moist northwest may be considered inhospitable to sturdy plants of the desert south. Landscapes need to be planned to be compatible with locally available resources, including water, soil types, and sunlight.
California's limited supply of water, subject to ever increasing demands, is just one resource saved by xeriscaping. Xeriscapes generally require less fertilizer and fewer pest control measures than traditional landscapes. Because pesticides and fertilizers can inadvertently harm beneficial organisms, as well as impact air and water quality, reducing their use is a good idea. And, of course, using less of these materials saves money.
Check out CalRecycle's Organics site for more water-efficient gardening and landscaping tips and resources.