Oh Hail, CA Is Drought Free!


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Oh Hail, CA Is Drought Free!

All right already the rain can now stop! The snow pack is more than I can ever remember and it still looks like more could hit this season.

It truly is a nice thought that we are drought free for now, but we can’t loose sight of water conservation. In the past I’ve written blogs such as ‘Please Don’t Pick on the Pool Builder’ that have pointed out that having a pool doesn’t mean your property as a whole can’t be water wise. I am personally continuing to tighten up the water saving belt and still have a pool. We recently installed artificial turf in the front yard to permanently stop unneeded water use on a lawn. I installed a drain system that reintroduced any run off water on my property into the native soil instead of the gutter. We removed a fountain that was a waste of water and a maintenance issue at times. Newer appliances and fixtures are mandated to be water savers and energy savers. I’m glad to help you consider ways to become more water wise.

Good news, I’m excited about the upcoming river rafting season that has struggled in past years. Lakes that have been low and ugly will be full and beautiful. This weekend is the peak of the Wildflower Super Bloom in many areas in SoCal with many flowers yet to bloom as it warms up for Spring. We experienced an amazing migration of Pink Lady butterflies from Mexico that was a first for this 54 year native. Parts of Los Alamitos, Long Beach and Lakewood saw intense hail storm that dropped large hail balls. Thank you Amy Mora for this entertaining video.

Please share with us any extraordinary experiences you have witnessed due to this wet weather.

*Featured image from https://twitter.com/DigitalGlobe/status/1108441980567277573/photo/1

Winter Storms Push Back CA Drought

In just a few recent weeks the wet winter has greatly reduced drought conditions here in California. The mountains are covered in snow, Mammoth mountain recently received 11+ feet in just 5 consecutive days.

“The U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday, February 7th, that a large portion of the state including the Sierra Nevada, much of the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area is free of any significant dryness. Heavy rain has also ended most of the moderate drought that stretched from the Central Coast to the southern tier of the state, leaving a lesser condition designated as abnormally dry, according to the monitor.”*

Even before the recent stormy weather, the California Department of Water Resources found the Sierra snowpack above 100 percent of normal, an important reading because it holds about a third of the state’s water supply. It is now well over 125 percent of normal.**

Please Don’t Pick on the Pool Builder

Yes, on the surface it seems like a swimming pool uses a lot of water. Of course, we do not want to waste water, so be sure your pool doesn’t have a leak, a pretty obvious issue. Beyond a possible leak, when you think about the water consumption per square foot on a piece of property, you have many other culprits which waste much more water. The biggest culprit is your luscious green Marathon II sod lawn. This lawn uses much more water per square foot on your property than any other item except for maybe your toilet and shower. We believe the lawn and landscaping needs more attention than the swimming pool.

We did some research and found out that the per square foot evaporation rate of a swimming pool at an average temperature of 75 degrees is almost half of what it takes to maintain a Marathon II sod lawn. This doesn’t take into account the area around a pool known as decking which is either a concrete or other hard surface which requires no water. If you take the square footage of your swimming pool and decking area into account, you will likely see about 50% or less consumption of water compared to a lawn with landscaping.


We desperately need the rain but still need to be #waterwise all year long!



Fake Your Lawn ‘Til You Make It

A few months ago, we discussed the benefits of drought tolerant plants for your yard. However, we understand that some people still just love that classic green lawn in the front yard. However, in Southern California it has become nearly impossible to maintain a perfectly green lawn. Some are able to maintain this green lawn by spending precious time and money, but we have personally found the better solution to be artificial grass. Artificial grass has come a long way, and the newest artificial grass is almost indistinguishable from real grass. In this article, we will look into the benefits of artificial grass and why you should consider it for your lawn.

Pros of Artificial Grass

Like drought tolerant plants, an artificial lawn conserves water and saves you precious money on your water bill. Artificial grass also provides the advantage of less maintenance than any other option, as you simply just have it installed and only worry about the occasional quick cleaning. Artificial grass also has an aesthetic appeal similar to a traditional lawn and can often be indistinguishable to a simple passerby. Artificial grass may be more expensive than drought tolerant plants or a traditional lawn, but this money is saved in the long term due to water and maintenance conservation. Artificial grass has come a long way over the past few years causing its look to be nearly similar to that of a traditional lawn; thus, if you want to keep a green lawn without constant watering and hassle then an artificial turf lawn may be right for you.

Cons of Artificial Grass

The major downside of artificial turf is its negative impact on biodiversity and the environment. Artificial turf offers no soil or food value for other plants and animals, and it is non-permeable meaning water will not be absorbed and thus recycled to the environment. Artificial grass also has a heating effect, which anyone who has played a game on a turf field can tell you, meaning that every artificial grass lawn makes the local environment slightly warmer. Finally, artificial turf is produced using petroleum. Thus, artificial grass helps you conserve water while maintaining a similar look, but in doing so you may be slightly damaging the environment and local species.

Artificial grass has come a long way from the ugly, abrasive grass that used to dominate the market – nowadays you can get artificial grass that looks real and feels soft to the touch. Artificial grass offers very low maintenance as you never have to cut it or water it, but with this all comes the negative environmental impact. Artificial grass restricts access to soil which birds and insects feed upon while also causing heating and water runoff. With all this being said, we don’t think it should deter you if you want an artificial lawn. Switching your traditional lawn to artificial grass will not ruin the environment – after all you are only one person – we just wanted to share the slightly negative impact it may have.

The Devastation of the California Wildfires

As everyone is surely aware, wildfires have been devastating cities across California. However, many people are unaware of the cause of such fires, as well as the magnitude to which these fires are impacting communities. We wanted to write this blog to examine the cause of these fires, look at their impact, and take a moment to thank those brave fire fighters working effortlessly to keep us safe.

What is Causing This Outbreak in Wildfires?

California is coming off one of the wettest winters in years, so why are wildfires the worst they have been in years. Believe it or not, the wet winter negatively contributed to these fires because the rain left hillsides covered in grass and vegetation which then became dried out over the summer. This means that the hills were covered in dried out grass that provided tinder and fuel to these raging fires – there are also estimated to be 102 million dead trees due to the 5-year dry spell and bark beetle infestation. These factors, coupled with intense winds, make the fires stronger and pushing them further than ever before.

The Impact of These Fires

Cal Fire reported over 6,700 fires in California in 2017 which burned 505,000 acres. To put that in perspective, there were 4,742 fires in 2016 with 244,297 acres burned. This horrific year for fires first worsened in Northern California. The Northern California wildfires took 42 lives and burned 5,700 homes and businesses – making the Northern California series of fires the most deadly and destructive in California history. Now the fires continue in Southern California with new fires seeming to arise every day. The most significant and destructive fire is the Thomas Fire which had scorched over 270,000 acres and over 1,000 buildings. As of Christmas, the fire was only about 50% contained and had impacted over 100,000 Californians, according to Cal Fire. Below you can see a map of the fires that occurred in California from October to December and boundaries of the Thomas Fire specifically.

CA Fire MapFire Fighting Efforts

During the Northern California fires, there were some 9,000 firefighters working long hours to battle the raging hours. The combination of steep terrain, intense heat, and lack of sleep had Northern California firefighters “pushing it to the limits” according to one commander. The Southern California firefighters have been facing similar challenges, with more than 8,400 firefighters working around the clock with 1,000 fire engines and 34 helicopters. One firefighter, Cory Iverson, died fighting the fires and a funeral procession was recently held through 5 counties. We want to thank every firefighter working tirelessly to save these communities – especially those who may have spent the holidays fighting fires rather than with their families.

These California fires are looking to become the worst of all time; thus, we wanted to take a minute to update everyone on the magnitude of such fires. Beyond this, we are incredibly appreciative of everyone working effortlessly to stop such fires and keep us safe.

California Drought Update from a Swimming Pool Perspective

Have you noticed photos of the wildflowers blooming this spring after the amazingly wet season after the recent 6-year long California Drought? We have seen the news reports and the photos all over our social media feeds. On April 7, 2017, California Governor Brown terminated the January 17, 2014 Drought State of Emergency impacting all but Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne counties. California residents successfully conserved water in unprecedented levels, reducing water use in communities by 22% between 2014 and 2017.


Throughout the drought many counties and municipalities enacted swimming pool permit restrictions in an effort to conserve water; however, luckily, we weren’t affected by these restrictions in our local area.


In fact, residential swimming pool and spa owners are already conserving water compared to a conventional backyard. Swimming pools use less water than the same square footage of a lawn and if you add in a pool deck area, rather than grass, the water savings are increased.  Drought resistant/tolerant landscaping with native plants adds even more water conservation.


According to the California Pool & Spa Association, you can continue to do your part to conserve water in the following ways:


If you own a pool:

  • Install a pool cover to reduce water evaporation by as much as 90%
  • Shut off waterfalls, fountains and other water features to reduce water loss and evaporation
  • Check the pool for leaks, contact your pool service professional for guidance.
  • Minimize splashing or lower the pool’s water level to reduce “splash out.”
  • Plug the overflow line when the pool is in use.
  • Replace traditional sand and DE Filters with cartridge filters that do not require backwashing.
  • Keep your pool clean to reduce frequency of backwashing.
  • If your pool is heated, reduce the water temperature to reduce evaporation.


If you own spa:

  • Keep it covered.
  • Maintain the chemicals to extend water life.
  • Check the equipment for leaks.
  • Drain only when absolutely necessary.
  • Check with your pool service professional for new technology that helps keep the water clean and reduce the need to drain the spa.
  • If you drain your spa, reuse the water to irrigate plants and landscaping.


If you have any questions about the current condition of your pool/spa and landscaping, we are happy to meet and discuss your water conservation opportunities.


Interesting Drought-Tolerant Lawn Replacement

Today we are sharing a great guest post by Kitten Wylder Borgers. Kitten has been a client and friend for the past few decades. I have always loved and respected her viewpoint on our oxygen providing friends. I hope we provide you with good content and make your day a little greener.

Cheers, JZ

What’s Wrong with Today’s Drought-Tolerant Yards

Red Apple ApteniaI’ve been designing drought-tolerant landscapes for almost 20 years, and I have to say I’m pretty disappointed in most of the non-lawns I’ve seen lately.  I’m a big fan of drought-tolerant landscapes, but the way people are going about drought-tolerant landscapes is all wrong.  Too many people are killing their lawns with toxic chemicals and then covering them with crushed granite and a few small succulents and calling it done. In reality, creating a drought-tolerant yard can be WAY more fun and interesting than that.

Doing Drought Tolerant the Right Way

First, rather than just putting down gravel or crushed granite, why not try a ground cover that grows? I’m partial to Aptenia cordifolia (known commonly as heartleaf ice plant, baby sun rose, or red apple aptenia) myself.  It spreads well (although it can be invasive), grows with basically no water, and is a dark green ground cover with small red flowers.  Unfortunately, there’s some sort of blight (bacteria? virus? fungus? no one knows) that’s killing it all over southern California, so I have to at least temporarily rescind that recommendation.  There are, of course, lots of types of ice plants or sedums that also take very little water, although most spread more slowly.

ThymeIf you think you might want to walk on your lawn replacement, you could try spreading thyme (not the clumping kind); once established and assuming you just step on it occasionally and don’t play football on it, it’ll survive the steps and smell wonderful in the process.  The same goes with most of the mint family.  In fact, most herbs are VERY hardy and drought tolerant because they were weeds that someone found a use for.

Or you might consider freeway daisies (Osteospermum fruticosum).  You can be fairly sure that if they grow along the freeway they’ll be hardy.  If they start to get woody and leggy, you can prune them hard or even mow them, and the new growth will be beautiful.  You could also consider some of the lower low-spreading shrubs, like lantana, which while about a foot tall, has lovely purple, yellow, or red flowers; and each plant has a 5′-6′ horizontal spread.  You can’t walk on it, but the bees love it!

Don’t mistake drought tolerance for low maintenance.  Weeding will be required, at least until everything has filled in.  And keep in mind that EVERYTHING (succulents, cacti, herbs, all of it) needs water when you first plant it.  But if you get the right plants for your environment, they’ll be happy and healthy once they’re going.  And you’ll be proud of your beautiful yard!

Kitten Wylder Borgers

Wylder Landscape LogoKitten Wylder Borger
Wylder Landscape
562 493-7072


Kitten Wylder Borgers is a working artist, dog walker/sitter, and landscape designer in southern California.  Her interest in plants began in college in 1970 at UCSC, where she learned about herbs and dirt from Alan Chadwick at the campus garden and learned about composition and design as a dance major. Since then she’s continued to explore the world of herbs and other drought tolerant plants, both native and not, although she’s had to give up the dance major.  She’s fond of getting dirty and being silly.

El Niño Won’t Solve the Drought – Saving Water Will

El Niño is upon us! Can’t you tell by the 3 extra days it rained this year?
El Niño? More like El Busto!

We’re in a drought. So it’s time all of us Southern Californians sucked it up and faced it: El Niño won’t solve the drought – saving water will. El Niño is a weather phenomenon which is caused by a warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean and causes massive rain showers across the west coast of North and South America. While rain and snowstorms did increase this year in California, it was nowhere near the realm of massive and it would have needed to rain 2.5-3 times as much to even begin ending the drought. Aquifers and rivers remain dry as farmers and residents continue to cope with various methods of saving water, and as Julian Emile-Geay, a paleoclimatologist at USC, said, El Niño was merely a “band-aid on a gaping wound.”

Now we must all face the facts and limit consumption if we ever want our children and grandchildren to see green grass again in California. Some call for desalination and various ways to recycle water, but money doesn’t grow on trees, people. And others are pointing fingers at farmers because about 40 percent of water consumption in California is used for agriculture. But for crying out loud: they’re farmers, what do you want them to do quit their jobs and stop feeding us? It’s time we all get the facts through our sun tanned faces and bleach-blonde hair – El Niño isn’t going to save the drought. El Niño may have brought us a few good waves over the year, but the less-than-spectacular rainfall means we’re going to have to suck it up and save. We have the best weather of any place in the country; I think we should all be able to be appreciative and give up some water here and there.

El What??? El Niño!

El Niño! It’s no surprise that we’re in a drought; however, many people are unaware of the upcoming event named El Niño. You may have heard of this phenomenon in movies like “Chasing Mavericks” because El Niño is known to cause massive waves, but El Niño is also likely to bring in a wave of much needed rain to the Southwest.

What causes El Niño?

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that is caused by the warming of tropical waters off the coasts of South America. This rarity occurs every 2-7 years as the trade winds weaken and even reverse causing warm water to flow eastward rather than the typical westward direction. This flow of warm water is very minimal and causes a temperature rise of only about 1 degree Fahrenheit along the equator, but the impacts of this temperature change are significant. The warmer water expands and causes sea level to rise anywhere from 6 to 13 inches, the colder water is unable to rise to the surface and wreaks havoc for fishing crops on the eastern coast of South America which rely on cold water, the jet stream drops further south due to low pressure and stronger storms causing larger waves right here in Southern California, and finally rainfall increases dramatically along the west coast of North and South America. In summary, El Niño is beneficial to us through the increase in rainfall and sizes of waves, but damaging to South America, as they are struck with severe storms, and Asia, as they suffer from harsh droughts.

So no more drought?


Yes and no. El Niño means that we will likely be receiving a larger amount of rainfall, but this in no way means the drought is over. El Niño’s impact on rainfall is largely oscillatory meaning that it is never the same. Climatologists predict the upcoming El Niño will result in an increase in rainfall, but in truth they have little to no idea. This means that we could have anywhere from one to ten extra inches of rainfall which sounds nice but is not that beneficial in the long run. Thus, regardless of the upcoming El Niño’s effects, we will remain in a drought for years to come and the only way to solve this is through cutbacks on consumption. No single person can solve this drought – instead we have to work together and minimize water waste as a whole. I don’t know about you, but we here at Sunset sure are excited about the upcoming El Niño, but by no means does this mean that we are going home and taking 30 minute showers while we leave the sink running. During a drought every drop counts.