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EL DORADO NURSERY Manager Chris Aycock spot waters petunias, a practice that helps the Shingle Springs business conserve water as opposed to overhead automated watering systems commonly used in larger nurseries. Democrat photos by Krysten Kellum


Garden woes: Nurseries offer tips during drought

By From page A1 | March 17, 2014

The neighborhood nursery industry has become a vanishing species due to the economy of the past few years. “It’s been brutal,” said Chris Aycock, manager for El Dorado Nursery. “I’ve never worked so hard for so little. There was a time when you couldn’t even give a tree away.”

With many losing their homes to foreclosure, few chose to continue to maintain their yards. So, local nurseries adapted.

“We cut back our landscaping crews and really expanded the nursery,” said Lexi High of Green Valley Nursery.

“The shift to growing edibles instead of landscaping was what got us through the economy,” said Wes Kohutek, manager of Front Yard Nursery. “Planting with a purpose.”

The current Stage 2 drought alert is yet another possible rootball, but one that the three nurseries are determined to survive — and they offer hope to gardeners who are worried that brown and dead will be the only words left to describe their gardens.

“Drought has happened before,” said Aycock. “It’s a cyclical event.”

El Dorado Nursery, off Highway 50 in Shingle Springs, is on a well system. “Our aquifer is deep, but if we were on EID water, we would probably be out of business,” said owner Juliet Voigtlander. “We water everything by hand so there is little runoff.”

At Green Valley Nursery, off Green Valley Road in El Dorado Hills, garden designer Sandy Hendricks uses deep trenching to retain moisture in the display gardens, decomposed granite pathways instead of lawn and integrates edibles into the landscaping. At Front Yard Nursery, on Mother Lode Drive in Placerville, they are already cutting back on watering, condensing plants into tighter groupings for more efficient watering and doing more hand watering.

“Most people water too much, anyway,” said Kristie Lamb, owner of Front Yard Nursery. “Water conservation was one of the big focuses of the classes and seminars we taught even before the ‘D’ word came out.”

The nurseries take water conservation seriously, offering classes and advice on how to water most efficiently, how to retain soil moisture and what kind of plants are best suited for a low water situation.

“Sometimes you may have to make a choice,” said Lamb. “If curbing the use of your household water will allow you to have a few tomato or squash plants, then that’s what you do; especially since the price of fresh vegetables may be more expensive in the stores.”

“If you have a dollar, spend 90 cents of it on soil,” said Hendricks. “Don’t skimp. You can do all kinds of things for moisture retention in good soil — polymers, mulch, compost.”
High said Green Valley offers high-quality soil with rice husks and sawdust added for moisture retention.

All three nurseries had the same advice: “Mulch, mulch, mulch,” said Aycock. “Put layers of newspaper between vegetables and lay grass clippings on top. It keeps the water in and the weeds out.”

“Every inch of mulch on top saves 10 percent of the water in your soil,” said Lamb.

“Give up your lawn,” said Voigtlander. “It’s the cheapest thing to replace and it uses the most water.”

“Only grow one zucchini, please,” said Hendricks, “and try planting winter squash in the summer. Most herbs, like lavender, oregano and thyme require little water. There are also a gazillion grasses to choose from and most need little water.”

Hendricks, who designed gardens at Narrowgate and in many Placerville public areas, also suggested grouping plants according to water needs. “Put the high-water needs close to the house and move the low- and no-water plants out further. Get efficient with how you water and pull up plants that aren’t growing well. If it hasn’t produced in three years, it’s not going to.”

“If you need a lawn, try planting one of the hybrid bermuda grasses — it uses less water and it’s much less work,” said Aycock. He also advised planting more Mediterranean, drought-resistant plants.

“Change out azaleas for blueberries and shrubs for citrus,” said Voigtlander.

Lamb and Kohutek  advised a good look at your sprinkler system. “Timers are very effective, so that you don’t let the water run,” said Lamb.

“Different sprinklers can be more water efficient,” said Kohutek. “We have an MP Rotor that puts out less water, but for longer, allowing the plants time to absorb it.”

Just as the three nurseries adapted to offering more edible plants and teaching people how to incorporate them into the landscape during the recession, they also survived by becoming solid parts of the community. Green Valley offers people free fruit and vegetables out of their display gardens and works with several school gardens. Front Yard offers classes, seminars and a newsletter to teach gardeners about being water wise and how to solve common garden problems. El Dorado offers clinics on different gardening aspects, including pruning and supports other community gardens.

“Come in and talk to us. Tell us what’s in your yard,” said Voigtlander. “We’ll help you get through this. Water should be spared everyday, not just during a drought.”

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

Wendy Schultz

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