Designing with Drought Tolerance
by Mike Tripp, DynaScape Account Manager
Running a successful landscape business in a location with abnormally dry or drought-like conditions is a challenge. Many places, particularly in the U.S., have now gone through years of severe drought, causing water shortages and forest fires, all of which have a great impact on the state’s economy and businesses. To account for the difficult climate, the landscape industry has been forced to change its practices.
Let’s look at some sustainable solutions that are helping the industry design better for both the climate and aesthetics:
1) Swap Water-Loving Plants with Drought-Tolerant Alternatives
Many landscape contractors are turning to “drought-tolerant” plants, which require very little water to survive, instead of traditional plants. One landscape company is very familiar with this practice, Taryn Tree, of Treehouse Landscape Design. Taryn became comfortable working with drought-tolerant plants in the High Desert area of California, where she worked for several years as Ambassador for the Indian Wells Water District. With her knowledge of Xeriscaping, drought-tolerant landscaping that uses various methods for minimizing the need for water use, Taryn was able to reduce the home’s dependency on water for plant material. Taryn is happy to see that several nurseries in her area, such as Bamboo Pipeline, are stepping up and becoming a source for drought-tolerant plants and information.
Designer, Charlene Brum of San Martin, has seen a significant increase in customers wanting to retrofit their homes to incorporate more drought-tolerant plants and become less dependent on water. She has seen at least a 50% increase in designs and customers wanting to retrofit existing lawns and gardens to properties less dependent on water.
2) Explore Grass Alternatives To Reduce Maintenance
Taryn Tree says she has seen a rise in homeowners requesting contractors to rip out all turf and opting instead to go with synthetic turf, resulting in at least a 50% decrease in the amount of water needed.
Rob Henderson of Artisan Outdoor in Irvine has also witnessed the impact drought has had on his business. In response to the crisis, new municipal regulations have been adopted, making permits for things such as pools tougher to get. He also had to purchase new equipment to cut and install for artificial turf.
For environmental sustainability, people in drought-prone areas shift from real grass to artificial turfs and other alternatives, choosing mulch or wood chips for plant beddings. Ornamental grass options like bluestem or purple fountain grass are being used to add a pop of color along with a mix of short and tall grasses. Gravel or stones can be used instead of real grass for outdoor seating combined with succulents. Using landscape-specific design software, you can easily add different elements from the database and showcase the results in 3D design format.
3) Tune-Up the Irrigation System
A significant factor contributing to household water wastage is a weak irrigation system. Systems that were once installed to meet the demand need constant evaluation because of the ever-changing weather conditions.
Rob Henderson of Artisan Outdoor has seen drip irrigation become more mainstream as a result of the drought. Drip irrigation is the method of irrigation that very efficiently delivers water to the soil surface or the root zone; this is done by having water drip slowly from emission devices, most commonly called ‘drip emitters’ or ‘drippers’”. Rob has seen some positive increase from the drought for his business as homeowners see companies like his who have become experts in the field of drought management as essential resources.
4) Think Out-of-the-Box with Hardscape Elements
Designer Charlene Brum of San Martin has been doing many more designs that incorporate boulders and dry creek beds in place of plant material in front yards. In the back, she will utilize pergolas, arbors, and walkways in addition to a selection of drought-tolerant plants. The challenges of the drought have given Charlene opportunities to be creative in new ways with her designs, such as replacing the natural curves of the lawn with hardscaping lines.
5) Fire-Smart, Drought-Tolerant Landscaping
The ongoing water shortages and increasing risk of forest fires in drought-prone areas have brought changes and challenges to the use of outdoor spaces. The landscaping community is finding creative ways to reduce water usage and protect homes against fire while providing unique, relaxing outdoor spaces. Homeowners and landscape contractors alike are starting to decide what to plant, keeping in mind the ever-growing chance of fire.
There is a growing trend of ‘fire-smart’ drought-tolerant landscaping that aims to control a fire should it break out near your home. Tactics such as using wide paver walkways at least 4 feet wide to divide garden sections, using low-lying and compact shrubs, trees, and perennials so as not to completely cover a home in foliage, and cleaning up dead branches and leaves from around the garden.
Designers and contractors working in water-scarce regions are being sought after for ideas on water conservation. Though dealing with water shortage is a challenging situation for the landscape industry, exploring sustainable design solutions can provide many alternatives that can help you bring a balance between design and the environment.