Sustain Your Garden's Future

Originally published as "Sustain Your Garden's Future" by Heather Wehnau - This article is reprinted from Ironwood Vol 20, No 1; Spring 2012

March 25, 2014

By Heather Wehnau, SBBG Plant Propagation Manager

Sustainability has become a catch phrase in many realms of our lives. We are asked to look at short and long term affects of everything from our commute to how we run our businesses. When we look at current landscaping trends, sustainability is surely in our future. The question is: Are we getting there fast enough?

In Southern California 'drought tolerant' and 'low maintenance' are commonly used terms in landscaping. However, the dominant landscape feature in many neighborhoods and public spaces is still the lawn. In some areas this surfacing meets specific needs, however, in the average residential front yard, the expense and maintenance are not always sustainable for our future. According to local water districts, about 50% of residential potable water use is for lawns and landscaping. With resource conservation at the forefront of the sustainability movement, this leaves a huge opportunity for people to make a large collective difference with some simple improvements to their landscapes that can save time, money, and resources – now and in the future.

Sustainability does not mean you cannot have a lawn. Many homeowners will insist their lawn is used frequently and worth all the effort. In this situation, try to make the best choices for your family and the environment while still getting the space you need. One option for a manicured space is converting your lawn to drought tolerant native species like Carex pansa. If you don't need the mowed look, try native grasses that form clumps or mounds. If grass isn't needed at all try a wildflower meadow, or native annuals and perennials mixed with grasses. Keeping a lawn or garden healthy starts with the soil; switching to organic methods and having your soil tested allows you to provide your landscape with what it truly needs.

In many circumstances, we have spaces where lawn isn't needed at all, and is difficult to maintain. The residential parkway is a prime example. However you choose to dispatch your lawn, make sure to take time to plan your new landscape and make early decisions aimed at the future success of your garden. For low maintenance areas, natives are our obvious and enthusiastic recommendation. Fall through spring is the time to plant, since natives put on most of their growth during the winter and spring rains. Make sure to keep up on the watering until the plants are well established.

If you need more reward from your landscape, adding fruit trees, artichokes, or other edibles will leave you with a delicious and water savvy garden. Natives and fruit trees are a winning landscape combination. Natives attract and feed pollinators, provide year-round interest, and are willing to share available soil nutrients without being greedy. 

Water is a main input of most landscapes. Being thrifty with water is not only sustainable, but can save money as well. Nature graces us each winter with much needed rainwater; we have been trained to channel it away from our sites. Finding a way to slow, sink, clean, and retain water in the landscape can alleviate almost all winter watering reducing potable water use while encouraging healthy soils and plants.


Surfrider Foundation's new Ocean Friendly Garden Programcan provide some helpful tips for efficient use of water resources and reducing runoff.

If a healthy, more sustainable landscape isn't enough encouragement, the City of Santa Barbara continues to offer Smart Landscape rebates to City residents for converting to drought tolerant landscaping and efficient irrigation equipment. Also, visit, the water conservation website for Santa Barbara County! This website is one of many programs sponsored by the network of Santa Barbara County Water Providers. The network includes the Santa Barbara County Water Agency, cities that provide water within the county, as well as water districts and community service districts. Together, these agencies sponsor programs that promote water conservation and awareness.

If it's inspiration you seek, SBBG is holding its annual Cultivating the Wild - Native Gardens Tour 2014 on April 13th, where participants will have the opportunity to tour private native gardens and chat with homeowners and designers. Register for Cultivating the Wild - Native Gardens Tour 2014 online now

image of SBBG's Cultivating the Wild - Native Gardens Tour 2014 advertisement

Visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Gift Shop for books and resources to get started on your new landscape.