There may not be free lunch, but there are lots of other freebies in the world. You just have to know where to look for them. Our water agencies have several very helpful tools and resources that are free for the asking.
Last year, the Santa Barbara County Water Agency in partnership with the region’s water districts launched an online information resource that helps gardeners choose plants that require little or no supplemental irrigation. There is a searchable plant database that has entries for more than 1,000 plants adapted to our climate. Each entry gives detailed information about the planting requirements for the species. Virtual tours, containing more than 300 photographs of different Santa Barbara gardens, will serve as inspiration for other gardeners and designers. The site also provides helpful and water-thrifty facts and tips. A comprehensive list of links to other gardening Web sites that stress sustainable water practices is included. Go to sbwater.org, or if you’d like these resources available offline, a limited number of CDs have also been created.
Other online resources include a watering calculator that allows you to determine, using a watering index for the county based on historic rainfall amounts, to better predict how much water a given type of landscape will require at any given time. Some irrigation controllers can even use this water index to automatically adjust the programming. Visit the Web site for a full explanation.
For more precise control of irrigation water, this fall, the City Water Resources Division is also offering free rain sensors for irrigation controllers. Not all controllers will be compatible with the sensors, but free is a good reason to check it out (or even a good reason to invest in a new controller that can accept the sensor). The sensors can override the automatic program of the irrigation controller by sensing the presence of water, in this case rainwater. Once the rainwater has evaporated, the device allows the controller to continue with its regular program. Since irrigation of planted spaces is the number-one use of residential water, shouldn’t we all do what we can to reduce the amount we spend on landscaping and save it for drinking and bathing? Much more pleasurable than walking across a soggy lawn, too.
Also free from your public servants in the water agencies: rebates available on 50 percent of the cost of irrigation equipment, smart irrigation controllers, water wise plants, and mulch! All projects need to be approved in advance, but this is definitely making the choice to reduce your landscape water uses a whole lot easier.
Confused or feel like you aren’t qualified to make any of these decisions? You can also call your water provider for a free water checkup. For help with any or all of these services and resources contact the Carpinteria Valley Water District, City of Lompoc, City of Santa Barbara, City of Santa Maria, Goleta Water District, Montecito Water District, or the Vandenberg Village Community Services District. For links and contact information, visit sbwater.org.
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Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to email@example.com.