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.”
The following was received from John Hiatt, Gardener Specialist at Cal Poly Pomona: “About 3 years ago, we replaced a Kikuyugrass lawn with white-flowered Kurapia as an experiment and demonstration. After establishment, we reduced the watering from 30 minutes 3 times a week to 5 minutes twice a week. It is THRIVING! We mow it once a month instead of once a week and edge it twice a month instead of once a week. After that success, we planted it in a long narrow bed with small trees between a parking lot and a main walkway. Students cut through the planter hundreds of times a day and the Kurapia grows just fine, just very short, about 1/8th inch. We recently planted some of the pink-flowered form in another planter that gets frequent foot traffic and it’s doing well there, too. Other than being a major bee-magnet, Kurapia is a winner!”
Matthew Hunt, who gardens in San Clemente, sent a stunning photo of dwarf carpet of stars (Ruschia lineolata var. Nana) growing over stones and boulders. This succulent ground cover is lauded as a lawn alternative due to its drought tolerance and indifference to foot traffic. Hunt adds: “I was thinking how cool carpet of stars would look growing in a retaining wall with gaps for planting. It would look better than rosemary, etc.” I think Hunt is referring to the fact that plants situated in such gaps generally grow out awkwardly, formlessly, and appear unkempt while carpet of stars – named for its pink and white flowers in late winter to early spring — would adhere decorously to the contours of the wall.
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“Bloom: The Secrets of Growing Flowering Houseplants Year-Round” (Quarto Publishing Group, 2022) by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf is a highly desirable volume for those with an expanding interest in the culture of indoor plants. Houseplant enthusiasts nearly always begin with selections grown for their foliage since a lush look is often the initial goal that is sought. Perhaps this has something to do with creating an antidote to the urban concrete jungle that surrounds us or is simply a testament to the exotic design elements in the diverse and often dramatic leaf forms offered by indoor plants. Moreover, the exquisite markings on the leaves on Calathea species such as prayer plants and rattlesnake plants, for example, obviate the need for flowers when it comes to the visual experience that they provide.
In truth, the foliage of indoor flowering plants tends to be nondescript even if the fuzzy leaves of African violets do provide a pleasant tactile sensation and the gray banded foliage straps of silver urn (Aechmea fasciata) contrast stunningly with pink astral flowers. The unique feature of African violets is their non-stop blooming capacity, made possible when they receive the morning light that an east-facing windowsill provides.
Whether you water African violets from the top or from the bottom, certain precautions are in order. It’s OK to water from above and get African violet leaves wet as long as the water is warm; cold water will disfigure the leaves and impair root growth. Watering from above will necessitate blotting foliage so that interior leaves stay dry to avoid crown rot. If you water from below, however, you will have to pour water copiously through the soil no less than once a month to flush salts that accumulate to toxic levels from bottom watering.
You are invited to share your success at growing flowering indoor plants in an email sent to the address given below.
Please send questions, comments, and photos to [email protected]