Nurseries offer drought-resistant alternatives

Drought-resistant plants are gaining in popularity as dry weather prevails around the West.

By JULIA HOLlISTER

For the Capital Press

Published on August 21, 2015 2:11PM

Julia Hollister/For the Capital Press
Geoffrey Coffey, general partner of Bay Natives in San Francisco, receives calls daily from people concerned about the lack of rain. He says drought-resistant plants are the answer.
 

Julia Hollister/For the Capital Press Geoffrey Coffey, general partner of Bay Natives in San Francisco, receives calls daily from people concerned about the lack of rain. He says drought-resistant plants are the answer.  

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SAN FRANCISCO — Parched by the 4-year-old drought, California gardeners are turning to nurseries for help in relieving their watering guilt.

One way is to replace thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant native plants.

“The Bay Area is one of only a few places on the planet with remarkably diverse native flora,” said Geoffrey Coffey, general partner of Bay Natives in San Francisco. “This is because of the Mediterranean climate — mild, wet winter, and nice, warm summer and fog. There are 7,000 different native species in California and 75 percent are drought tolerant — they only drink when it rains.”

In this dry period he said homeowners and gardeners don’t have to let their lawns die; they just have to re-think the word “lawn.”

The challenge, he said, is education. Lawns originally came from England, where it rains often and grass is a lush green. When the English settlers came to the Eastern United States, the climate supported lawns.

However, when settlers came to California they brought their mental baggage, too, Coffey said. Most of California is dry and lawns have never made sense.

“You can still have a lawn and a garden, just a different type with native grass that stays green because of its long tap roots,” he said. “Carex pausa is the most popular grass that thrives in sand dunes or just dirt.”

Coffey said he gets calls every day from people asking what they should do about the drought.

“It is a challenge for people to shift gears in their thinking,” he said. “The real work is to move past the panic and into new understanding into a different kind of gardening. My fear is there are more people who are not calling for advice, they are just not watering.”

California beach strawberries are another option for lawns, he said. “They are happy being dry.”

Drought tolerant plants are the same price as traditional plants, he said.

“It’s not a new idea but one whose time has come,” Coffey said.

Finding alternatives to traditional plants also is a major concern for the state’s nursery industry. Consumer calls have noticeably increased over the past two years.

“Drought is very serious, and we are taking a serious approach and providing the consumers with options and information,” said Chris Zanobini, president of the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers, a trade organization that promotes the state’s nursery industry.

The organization represents 300 nurseries statewide.

“There is no reason for someone to over water and there is no reason people cannot continue to enjoy the California lifestyle in their homes and yard,” Zanobini said. “We are presenting them with ways to use water more efficiently.”

Zanobini said drought-resistant plants have been in demand and sales for succulents and native plants are high. There is also an effort to utilize slow-release fertilizers that require less water. Using mulch around plants reduces evaporation, too.

“Consumers are coming to nurseries looking for options and asking questions,” he said.



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