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Gardening: Greywater growing, water-saving techniques and information on indoor plants

If you are wondering what to do with an empty backyard (or front yard, for that matter) in the midst of our intensifying water shortage, you may want to ponder planting an orchard of fruit trees.

The reason I suggest this option is that you will be able to provide all the irrigation your trees require by recycling water from your washing machine, bathtub, shower, and bathroom sink. Each person living in your residence will generate enough water of this kind, commonly referred to as greywater, to satisfy the irrigation requirement of four trees. In other words, if it’s just you and your spouse who occupy your home, the two of you will be able to enjoy the fruit from eight trees watered exclusively from your greywater. If you also have two children, you will have enough greywater for 16 trees.

The nice thing about a greywater system is that no sprinklers or drip tubing are involved. Greywater is never stored but pumped directly to the trees. In addition to meeting the trees’ water requirement, greywater fertilizes too.

Ideally, you will create a mulch basin at the drip line of each tree. This is where the greywater will be discharged. A mulch basin is four feet long by one foot wide and one foot deep. It is filled with wood chips that need to be replenished on an annual basis, even as the decomposing chips enrich the soil in which the tree is growing.

Costs run between several thousand to $10 thousand dollars and up depending on the level of sophistication of your greywater system. The most basic system delivers unfiltered greywater and a starter system would recycle washing machine water alone. When it comes to laundry detergents, avoid powdered detergents since they contain salts that would be harmful to plants. Detergents containing boron are to be avoided for the same reason. Liquid detergents are recommended where laundry water is recycled for fruit trees, while soaps, shampoos, and hair conditioners are not a problem where shower and bathtub water is recycled for fruit tree use.

I received the above information from Leigh Jerrard, proprietor of Greywater Corps, a company that installs greywater systems as well as rainwater collection and storage systems in the Los Angeles area. He told me he is presently receiving around 15 inquiries a day concerning water-saving systems. His website at greywatercorps.com is full of useful information, including rebates offered by local water suppliers. Those serviced by Pasadena Water and Power, for instance, are eligible for a free “Laundry-to-Landscape” greywater system. Jerrard also recommends visiting the website at greywateraction.org for more information on the many options available for saving water, including composting toilets. Finally, Jerrard himself offers workshops on water-saving systems which you can learn about by calling 323-487-2687.

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In response to my request for testimonials regarding water-saving alternatives to conventional lawns, I received the following email from Grace Hampton, who gardens in Burbank: “I overseeded my parkways with buffalo grass and find it to be resilient. It just gets mowed and watered – no fertilizer. The good thing about it is that it stays green without frequent watering because its roots grow six feet deep. It thrives in dry areas where an occasional deep watering will keep it green.”

Regarding a MiniClover lawn alternative that I wrote about in May, I received a response from Hilda Sramek who gardens in Los Alamitos. She included before and after photos of a lawn area that was essentially brown when she overseeded it with MiniClover ordered through the website at outsidepride.com. Less than three weeks later, the lawn had turned green. Before planting, she went over the area with a flexible leaf rake. “I didn’t dig into the lawn hard, just fluffed it up a bit.” She then broadcast one pound of seed over an area of around 1,000 square feet with a handheld Ortho Whirlybird spreader. Initially, she watered 15 minutes twice a week and is now watering ten minutes twice a week. She sprinkles lightly on other days but this practice is decreasing as the clover establishes itself. Sramek says she followed instructions on the MiniClover package and that “the most important instruction was to keep seed moist, not let it dry out between waterings.”

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