Green Tips for Earth Day

April 22, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary for Earth Day. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is celebrating Earth Day by offering Southern California gardeners 10 simple tips to help make green thumbs even greener. By using California native plants, local gardeners can reduce water bills, spruce up their garden and invest in their local environment.

“Native plantings in the landscape work with our hot dry climate without requiring a large input of resources in the way of water, pesticides or fertilizers,” says Director of Horticulture Susan Jett at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.  “But the real selling point is their incredible beauty and habitat value.”

According to The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California typical landscape irrigation in hot, dry areas can account for 70 percent of the summer water use for single-family homes. These 10 steps can help reduce water usage in the garden.

1. Educate. Visit local residential and public native plant gardens. Join a gardening club or take a class on native plants. Gardening books, Web sites and magazines are also great sources of information.

2. Understand the existing elements of the site. Evaluate the soil, sun and wind exposure, microclimates and available water.

3. Make a plan. How is the space to be used? A play area for kids? Dog run? Vegetable or habitat garden?

4. Become your own landscape designer. Create an overall plan for the garden. Include plant selections, garden conditions, desired use and style. Keep plants with like water needs grouped together.

5. Prepare the garden. Remove turf and weeds. Most California native plants prefer a “lean” soil. Rich soil amendments are not needed or desirable. Talk to your local garden expert such as the staff at the Grow Native Nursery at RSABG.

6. Establish an efficient watering system. Native California plants thrive on less water consumption than many non-native plants. Install a smart sprinkler controller for considerable water savings, making sure the controller decreases the frequency of watering during the summer. Check the existing sprinkler system regularly for leaks, overspray and broken sprinkler heads.

7. Buy California native plants. Landscaping with native plants welcomes native birds, insects and butterflies back into California yards and parks by creating native habitat. Choose healthy plants that are adapted to the sun, soil and water conditions of the garden. Keep the plant’s mature size in mind.

8. Plant. Fall and winter, when the soils have cooled and rain is expected, is best. Spring planting is fine for many perennials, desert and riparian species.

9. Mulch! Save water by using mulch around plants to reduce evaporation.

10. Visit new plants often. Provide supplemental water until the plant is established. Water during unusually dry winters and taper water use during the long, hot summers. Excessive watering during the summer encourages disease and unsustainable growth. The most common reason for failure in a California native garden is overwatering.