Garden Club
Member of Garden Club of America

Notes on Frank Niccoli's talk "Gardening in a Winter Drought"

February 27, 2014 Marcia Pade's home 10 AM


- #1 Use of Water in our Landscapes with a 25 to 1 net loss to the environment if you count the water and the energy used to mow and maintain
- There are a number of ways to eliminate our lawns and turn into planting beds with drought tolerant attractive planting:
*** Let grass die by shutting off the watering and rototill with new soil
*** Put a layer of compost over it, with brown cardboard over that, finally cover the cardboard by mulch. It will disintegrate into a nutrient rich soil bed.

- If you decide to keep some lawn, try to incorporate rye grass and dicots that will require less water.

- Try watering every other day with reduced watering times and set at two consecutive cycles to reduce runoff in the summer. (cycle and soak) In the winter drought, once a week is sufficient. More information can be found on the California Landscape Contractor's website at I particularly like the section on how to read your own water bill and water meter to track how much water you are using.

- Make sure your watering goes on the night after the gardener mows. It is not good for grass to be mowed while wet.

- Consider using a grey water system that uses run off from showers and laundry (low phosphate detergents and no chlorine bleach) to water the gardens. They are now legal and evidently easily installed.

- If you would like a similar look to grass (i.e. for grandchildren), he advocates No-Mow grass ( which can be planted right over existing sod and uses 75% less water. We could also consider using thyme or dimondia.

- Make sure your gardener mows the lawn with a mower "plug" that cuts the grass up more and leaves it on the grass. The restores nitrogen to the grass, does not build up thatch, and reduces waste. This is a source for the plugs:

- Do NOT fertilize in the summer since this requires extra water. Fertilize in the spring and fall only with an organic product that has lower nitrogen than usually recommended.


- In a drought year, only prune 1/6 of the plant rather than 1/3, and never .
- Do selective pruning and do not shear shrubs or hedges.
- Make sure everything is pruned with very sharp blades.
- Do not over prune oaks or they will grow excessively. Oaks don't need pruning more than every 5 years. Prune evergreen oaks in the summer, and deciduous oaks when dormant.

- Look into the Net-A-Fim watering system since it is much more efficient
- The new MP rotator watering heads can save 30%
- The P4 polymer product in pots can be helpful.


- Do not fertilize the gardens this spring if the drought continues, and if you do, use an organic fertilizer with low nitrogen (the first number on the formula). Compost tea is a good option for roses.