Rainwater Harvesting for California’s Central Coast

Rainwater Harvesting for California’s Central Coast

Although we’ve seen a bit of rain this year, as Californians we know that every drop we get is precious. It seems as though drought years are becoming more common, and wet winters are few and far between. Capturing and using rainwater has many benefits. Rainwater is very healthy for plants because it is 100% soft, free of salts, minerals, and chemicals, slightly acidic and a natural source of nitrogen. When it comes to the landscape, there are several techniques that can be used to harvest and utilize rainwater.

Bioswales and Detention Basins

You can beautifully maximize the effect of rainfall with passive techniques, using it to water deep-rooted plants such as trees. It is common to direct roof water and stormwater to bioswales or detention basins to allow for deeper infiltration in specific zones of the landscape. Keeping water on site reduces runoff and erosion downstream from your property.

Bioswales can be beautiful additions to the landscape if made to look like a natural creek or pond with rocks and plants. Concealed detention basins can be created by with underground gravel leach fields around tree groves.

For the 3,000 square foot home, you can get almost 500 gallons from downspouts with a light ¼” rainstorm. Even in a drought winter, your trees can get some good deep watering.

Rainwater Cisterns

The most efficient way to harvest rainwater is to collect it from roof surfaces by piping downspouts into a cistern system. With a properly designed rainwater harvesting system, you can essentially transfer 100% of the rainwater that hits your roof into storage.

For every 1” of rainfall, you can capture 0.62 gallons of water per square foot. This means that a home with a 3,000 square foot roof will collect 1,870 gallons from 1” of rain. With an average annual rainfall of 19” in San Luis Obispo and 13” in Paso Robles, that same home has the potential to collect between 24,000 and 37,000 gallons over one winter. Once stored, the rainwater can be filtered and pumped into an irrigation system to supplement the water supply during the dry season.

Options and Costs

One major constraint for rainwater harvesting systems is the cost. In California, most of the rain comes during our short winter season, with little need for irrigation between storms. To maximize the harvest, you need to have a lot of storage for the water. Most commonly, above-ground tanks are used to store collected rainwater. There are a lot of options for above or underground storage tanks, with plastic being the least expensive material. Collected water can also be stored in a holding pond, but this method allows for water loss to evaporation.

To have a system installed with a storage capacity between 5,000 and 40,000 gallons, you can expect to pay between $2 and $5 per gallon for overall cost installed by a qualified contractor. If a full system isn’t in the budget, you can certainly keep costs low and use simple rain barrels to harvest water from downspouts. You can use collected water for indoor plants or landscape areas that don’t get direct rainfall.

When to Plan

With all of the different ways to think about harvesting rainwater, planning is key. It is advantageous to think about your system now, during the wet season. That way, you can have your system designed and installed during the dry season to get ready for the following year’s rain. We recommend 3-8 months to allow for design and installation without rushing decisions. When June comes around, rain may be the last thing on your mind – just remember watching that precious rainwater running down the drain and plan, plan, plan!

At any time of the year, consult with your landscape designer. If you are already working on a landscape plan, be sure to consider your rainwater harvesting system. It can be designed alongside planting and irrigation designs to allow your contractor to take care of everything at once.

Want to learn more about including bioswales or dry creeks in your landscape design? Contact our team at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

On the Boards: Elegant Central Coast Retreat 

On the Boards: Elegant Central Coast Retreat 

Set in the rolling Atascadero hills, this 2.5-acre property is undergoing significant architectural renovations and a landscape transformation to achieve a family-oriented space for fun and relaxation. Planned as a family vacation home on the Central Coast, the new guest quarters, pool, and significant landscape improvements maximize the space near the house and infuse an elegant Mediterranean character to enhance the refreshed architectural style.

Using a colorful central planting palette and strong native transitions, Madrone designed a bold and beautiful setting. Features include a fruit orchard, a fire pit nestled into the front slope, redwood veggie beds, all new irrigation, a central pool deck and patio layout, planting throughout, stone walls, two water fountains, various seating areas, a bocce court, and semi-formal pathways through undisturbed zones.

Madrone has coordinated phased landscape improvements with the architectural firm, Isaman design, to transform large portions of the parcel. Phase 1 installation is already underway, where we are installing a dozen fruit trees near the rear of the property and a native plant screen at the front.

Interested in talking to us about your landscape design? Contact our team at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Five Colorful Fall Favorites

Five Colorful Fall Favorites

Show-stopping Foliage for California’s Central Coast

 

Autumn’s drop in temperature means the debut of many plants’ most show-stopping colors. Whether it be trees or bushes, they each create a vibrant pop in a landscape. We curated a list of five plants we especially love for their bright personalities come fall, and we’re excited for you to get to know them, too.

 

Pistacia chinensis – Chinese Pistache

A gorgeous option for full-sun areas, the Chinese Pistache is not only drought-tolerant, its leaves turn stunning shades of orange and red with the cold. The seeds of their small, bright October drupes are considered directly beneficial for wildlife, and its graceful, symmetrical shape provides a picture-perfect feature for any landscape.

 

Ginkgo biloba “Autumn Gold” – Maidenhair Tree

Gingkos are native to China with beautiful, uniquely shaped leaves that allow the tree to be appreciated from afar and intimately up close. Not only that, but said leaves turn bright yellow come fall, lending a luminous contrast to any stand-out reds, and will drop in a carpet of gold.

 

Geranium sanguineum – Bloody Geranium

This hardy perennial is known in spring and summer for its vivid magenta flowers, but that’s not its only colorful trick. In fall, with the absence of flowers, its foliage tints red, garnering its name from those bright shades. With its charming leaf shape, it can be a lovely, more shrub-like addition or low-lying ground cover that provides lasting color nearly year-round.

 

Sedum reflexum “Angelina” – Golden Stonecrop

A cheerful shade of yellow year-round, Golden Stonecrop is a low-maintenance, weed-smothering succulent that only becomes brighter as the weather gets colder. It really does become a brighter, deeper yellow the colder it gets, so it is a perfect pop of color for any rocky, Central-Californian soil.

 

Acer palmatum “Sango Kaku” – Coral Bark Japanese Maple

We all know Japanese Maples, but this one is especially striking. As its leaves turn from lime green to yellow in the fall, they drop to reveal a striking red bark that stays until its leaves sprout again. Fall and winter landscapes benefit significantly from this perennially beautiful plant.

Interested in a show-stopping colorful landscape? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Mulch Madness – A Guide to Mulch

Mulch Madness – A Guide to Mulch

Key Benefits, Types, and Methods of Using Mulch in California Landscapes

It’s almost insane how many ways mulching adds to the success of California landscapes. It is easily one of the most useful practices one can do in the garden. Mulching is a great way to control weeds, retain moisture and protect your soil. It also hides and protects drip lines, keeps dust down, provides a safe, relatively clean walking surface, and looks better than bare ground. Mulches can prevent erosion on slopes, and organic mulches improve soil structure.

Saves Time and Money

One of the most important benefits of mulching is it saves time and money! By reducing weeds, especially annuals, by up to 90%, landscaping labor costs are reduced significantly. Mulching can reduce or even eliminate the need for costly and toxic herbicides. And mulch can significantly conserve soil moisture, reducing the cost of irrigation. Many California Coast gardens use surface-mounted drip irrigation and mulching serves to visually cover up and protect drip lines, which are vulnerable to damage and weathering, thus saving on costs to repair or replace.

Promotes Healthy Landscapes

Mulching promotes healthy plants and garden areas by reducing competition from weeds by preventing their germination. The decomposition of mulch also adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, improving soil by adding organic matter that feeds beneficial organisms. Mulching reduces soil compaction and insulates plants against temperature extremes. A 2-inch mulch layer can cut summer soil evaporation by 20% and lower temperatures in the top 4 inches of soil by 10 degrees. There is a notable improvement in establishing young plants and trees when mulch is used.

Reduces Soil Erosion

Another benefit of mulch is how it reduces soil erosion. Covering the soil simply helps keep soil in place when exposed to rain and wind. This is especially true on slopes, by deflecting the impact of raindrops, which in turn reduces stormwater runoff and creek erosion.

It Just Looks Good

Mulch is often the finishing touch for planting areas. In addition to the functional benefits, it just looks good! A clean, uniform mulch layer helps to really tie the garden together.

Mulching with a Multitude of Materials

There are a wide variety of materials that can be used for mulching. The style and design of your individual garden or landscape will inform as to which types might be best for you. Bark and wood products are the most common types of mulches on the Central Coast. But there are many others, such as stone – from colorful rocks and boulders down to a wide variety of gravel and even decomposed granite. An under-layer of sheet mulching can be employed using newspapers, cardboard and even plastic sheeting. Living mulches (e.g. Dutch white clover) are cover crops planted around crops or between crop rows, adding nitrogen to the soil while discouraging noxious weeds.

We want to call attention to Recycled Organic Mulches. These can include chipped or shredded wood chips, compost, simple fallen leaves or pine needles, or even grass clippings. We also favor chipper mulch from local tree trimming operations. Our endorsement of these recycled materials stems from the fact that these materials are not only potentially an attractive ground cover and mulch, but they are by-products that don’t have to be shipped long distances, and mulching with them contributes to maintaining their usefulness in another form (good for sustainability).

Consider Flammability

With all the benefits of mulching, also comes an issue of organic mulch’s combustibility and wildfire safety. In areas of many California communities, there is a real need to consider how to reduce hazardous conditions, and how mulching can play a useful role and not contribute to wildfire danger.

An in-depth study conducted at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension of landscape mulch types analyzed their relative combustibility, flame height, rate of spread, and temperatures. They demonstrated a wide range of variability in mulch type combustibility, suggesting the need to consider flammability when choosing mulches. In general, it is obvious that the least flammable mulch types should be used closest to vulnerable homes and structures, and the study recommends “not using any organic mulch within five feet of a house located in wildfire-prone areas.”

How Much Mulch?

Planting areas should be mulched as needed to maintain a 2- to 4-inch layer. Plan on refreshing your mulched areas periodically. An annual inspection usually keeps you apprised of how often additional mulching is needed. Keep mulch at least two to three inches away from the stems and trunks of plants to avoid moisture-related fungus and bacteria problems. When mulching individual trees planted in lawns, create a circle of mulch about 2 feet in diameter for each inch of trunk diameter, even out to the edge of the canopy of mature trees if possible. If irrigating mulched areas with overhead irrigation, make sure that the water penetrates the mulch layer. Mulch can absorb the water and prevent its ever reaching soil.

We Love Mulch!

Mulching covers and cools the soil, conserves moisture, suppresses weed growth, slows erosion and adds nutrients as it decomposes. It also hides and protects drip lines. Plus, it looks good. What’s not to love?

Learn more about our maintenance program. Have questions about our mulching services? Contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

The Essential Landscape Design Guide: How to Maximize a Residential Landscape

The Essential Landscape Design Guide: How to Maximize a Residential Landscape

Written by Daniel Mazawa, General Manager
Originally published in Living Lavishly

Transforming a landscape can be overwhelming—there are so many places to find inspiration, and there are drastically different styles to consider. It can be helpful to work with a professional—landscape designers are trained to see the big picture and identify opportunities that elude most homeowners. Here are a few steps homeowners can take to understand the design process and get a grasp of what they want from their landscape:

Analyze the Site

On the Central Coast, there are several different natural backdrops that most homes enjoy. Whether it is a distant view of rolling oak woodlands or a beachfront bluff experience, it is important to understand the setting of a place as influenced by the natural world. Take stock of existing trees or plants on site as well as sun and shade.
The architecture of the home and the neighborhood aesthetic may set the tone for the landscape design style. Consider the experience of driving up to the house and walking around the yard. A guest arriving at the home should know right where the front door is and where to park. The movement around the landscape should be functional and beautiful. Where are the areas of interest? What is the flow and the circulation? Identify the opportunities and constraints in a setting before figuring out what to do.

Establish the Functions

It is easy for someone who owns a home to identify what they want, but it can be a little more difficult to define what they need. Everything takes up space, so prioritizing functions is extremely important. Figure out how much usable space is needed for parking, outdoor entertaining, open utility areas, connecting pathways, and any other high-frequency functions. Pools, hot tubs, sport courts, outdoor kitchens, vegetable gardens, and other secondary functions can be fun additions to fold in.

Consider the best locations for all functions as far as convenience, sun exposure, views, and feel. For example, both an outdoor kitchen and a vegetable garden are convenient near an indoor kitchen, but the garden wants open sunshine and the outdoor kitchen benefits from shade or shelter. Also consider the indoor/outdoor connection as perceived through windows and doors from inside. A pergola can feel like an extension of an indoor room, or a distant view can be framed to be enjoyed from inside.

Define Design Style

A good first step is to decide whether a landscape is going to be geometric and calculated or free flowing and natural. A modern home may work better with a straight-lined landscape, but these forms can deconstruct as they move away from the structure. A natural setting such as a woodland can work well with curves and natural pathways especially if preserving existing trees.

People who like control, simple bold design, or tidy surroundings gravitate towards straight lines with geometric configurations. People who like tranquility, natural settings, or designing with nature gravitate towards flowing curves. Bold Modern style utilizes straight-line end of the spectrum and Natural Style falls on the curved line end. Mediterranean, Southwestern, Cottage, and Japanese gardens fall somewhere between. Having a clearly defined style that repeats and transitions smoothly will make a landscape feel complete.

Design Spaces Before Features

While design features are important, the spaces they create are more important to the user experience. For example, a tree may be a beautiful feature, but the shade and shelter a tree grove provides can create a comfortable room complete with walls and a ceiling. Comfortable spaces are often perceived as a bit wider than they are tall, or 1 to 1.618 height to width per the golden ratio. A pergola 16 feet wide by 10 feet tall is a good example. The same comfortable feeling can be achieved with shrubs and trees.

Conversely, putting too many plants next to a front door entry can make it feel tight and uninviting. Open it up and make the path wide, prominent and inviting. Wide open views will feel more comfortable when framed with trees or from a comfortable viewing patio. The psychology of spaces can be overwhelming, but it is obvious when a space feels right.

Work Out Transitions

Landscape is the glue that holds together spaces and structures. Transitions can be the most dynamic aspects of a landscape, or they can be eyesores. Complex hardscape features such as patios, retaining walls, fences, pergolas, outdoor kitchens, water features, and fire features will often intersect and connect with one another.

Figure out how connections will work to make a seamless transition point. Formal landscapes will often transition to a natural area. Utilize decorative bunch grasses on the edge of the landscape to blur the line between mulched landscapes and natural areas. When utilizing multiple design styles, create transitional landscapes to blend gradually. For example, a contemporary landscape may transition to a natural area going from straight lines to calculated arcs and then to a curved path.

Iron Out the Details

Details in the landscape should emphasize the overall design style and theme. In most cases, color themes should be complementary, so they don’t clash. Choose colors for concrete, stone, wood, paint, mulch, and plant material that paint a picture that goes together.

Textures should also be considered. Fine texture details such as exposed aggregate concrete, small ledge stone, or small plants can feel lost in a large space. Bold coarse texture details like large boulders or big leaved plants can feel overbearing in small spaces. Perennial plants provide color, texture, and movement.

Plants should fit the design style with color as well as layout. Bold masses of plants work well with contemporary landscapes, while multi-species combinations can work well with natural areas. Finishing details can make the difference between a hodge-podge yard and a cohesive landscape.

There is a lot to think about when trying to maximize a landscape. A professional can help. Landscape designers can take ideas and dreams and turn them into a buildable design. Knowing the process before starting design or construction can be invaluable to being able to communicate goals and expectations to create a successful landscape to enjoy for years to come.

Ready for a landscape design and not sure where to start? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.