How to Maintain your Landscape during the Drought
May, 2014 - Issue #115
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock
Watering Santa Clarita Valley landscapes efficiently is always important. During a drought, it is critical. Keeping the landscape water-efficient, healthy and aesthetically pleasing is a real challenge. Fear not, though! There are some maintenance practices and watering strategies that will not only help you meet the challenge during a drought, but they can become part of your regular landscape care regime.

"Keeping the LANDSCAPE water-efficient, healthy and aesthetically pleasing is a real challenge."
Summers in the SCV are tough on plants. Keep in mind that the landscapes are already under a lot of stress - so less is more.

1. If you are planning on pruning trees and shrubs, remove any dead or diseased wood and thin the canopy to reduce potential wind damage, but keep as much shade as possible. The plants underneath will appreciate it. If you do have to do major pruning this year, wait until fall. Visit to find SCV-friendly plants.

2. Go easy on the fertilizer. If the landscape needs to be fertilized, do it now, and then wait until fall to fertilize again. Use a fertilizer that contains nitrogen and phosphorous. The nitrogen will help with overall growth and phosphorous will help with root development (and good roots are key to helping plants through drought). Avoid fertilizing during the heat of the summer and consider using a slow-release fertilizer.

courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock
3. Apply organic mulch to bare soil areas. Organic mulch, like wood chips, should be applied to the landscape in layers 2- to 4-inches thick on all bare soil and around the base of plants (keeping it at least 6 inches from touching the plant). This mulch will help to keep the soil cooler during the summer and reduce water evaporation from the soil. As an added bonus, the mulch will slowly break down, releasing nutrients back into the soil. This can reduce the amount of fertilizer you apply.

4. Watch the water - literally! Are the sprinklers properly adjusted so water is going where it is needed and not on the sidewalk or driveway? Do you see fog or rainbows because the sprinklers are making mist, not water drops? Fog and mist don't really do the plants much good - you want nice big drops of water that make it to the soil and the plant roots. If you have mist or fog, you may need to adjust the sprinkler nozzles or reduce the water pressure on that sprinkler zone. Also, water in the early morning hours when there is little wind and evaporation.

Plants are both smart and lazy. A little bit of water every day keeps the soil moist at the surface, so that is where the roots grow. This is bad for plants, bad for the soil and bad for drought tolerance. Watering should be just the opposite: "Water deep, water infrequently." When you water, give the landscape a deep drink and then wait a day or two before watering again. This forces the plant to develop the deeper roots they need during a drought. If water starts to run off the soil before the deep watering has been completed, divide the time in two and run two shorter watering times with a one-hour break between them. Most irrigation controllers can do this with a "repeat cycle." Visit to learn about smart controller rebates.

Start now. Summer is around the corner, so make these water-saving changes now and give the landscape an opportunity to adapt and prepare for the additional stress with minimal water. It is okay if your landscape looks a little rough. We only need it to survive the drought. It will improve naturally when the weather returns to normal.
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