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Six steps to a sustainable landscape

Water-saving succulants mimic an underwater seascape.


Does a beautiful, low-maintenance, cost-saving landscape that actually improves the environment sound like a dream? If so, wake up, and welcome to the world of sustainable landscaping. Sustainable landscaping combines planning and maintenance practices for a low-waste, low-environmental impact garden space. Sustainable Landscaping in California: How to Conserve Resources and Beautify your Home Landscape, a new free publication by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) demonstrates how creating a sustainable landscape is attainable. 

Below are six easy steps, drawn from the recommendations in the 21-page publication, to illustrate the core practices in building the landscape of your dreams.  

  1. Choose the right plant
    Selecting appropriate landscaping plants for your climate zone is the first step in practicing sustainable landscaping. If you live in the California desert growing tropical plants is probably not the most practical choice for your landscape needs. Visit the California Garden Web to learn more about your climate zone, and find resources for choosing the right plants for your garden.

  2. Water wisely
    A typical California household uses one-third to one-half of its water intake in outdoor irrigation. How can a homeowner reduce water use? The answer is simple – water less. Overwatering an established landscape is more common than underwatering. Well-established plants should not be watered every day, reduce water use with a deeper, less frequent irrigation method. 

  3. Prevent pests (safely)
    Put down the pesticide! Integrated Pest Management (IPM) offers solutions for managing insects, diseases, weeds and other organisms. IPM techniques include eliminating pest habitats, encouraging natural enemies (for example, ladybugs for an aphid infestation), hand-weeding and applying mulch to your landscape. Only use pesticides after all other options have been explored and in the smallest quantities possible.

  4. Get to know (and love) your soil
    Understanding what type of soil you have, its strengths and limitations is the first step toward a sustainable home landscape you can be proud of.  Take steps to show your soil love and improve it with compost, mulch, and aeration as needed. To amend soil mix with compost evenly and deeply to avoid a layered effect that inhibits proper plant growth.

  5. Sustainable Landscaping, by Janet Hartin, Pam Geisel, Ali Harivandi, and Rachel Elkins
    Welcome wildlife
    For a landscape to be truly sustainable it should provide a balanced ecosystem for a variety of plants and wildlife. Roll out the welcome mat in your landscape for birds, butterflies and other wildlife by providing access to food, water, and shelter.  

  6. Conserve energy
    Conserving energy in your landscape is easy. Retire power-tools and use hands tools like a shovel, rake or broom. Install light-emitting diodes (LED) lighting, which requires less energy to operate and lasts longer than traditional bulbs. Reduce energy use in your home by planting a shade tree which helps keep the home cooler during hot summer months.

The University of California Master Gardener Program extends to the public UC research-based information about home horticulture, sustainable landscaping and pest management. In exchange for the training and materials received from the University of California, Master Gardeners perform volunteer services in a myriad of venues. If you are interested in becoming a certified UC Master Gardener contact a local UC Cooperative Extension office in your county.

Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 9:53 AM

Can compost be an alternative to methyl bromide?

Writing on Earth Day, I am reminded of one of the world's major successes in environmental protection, the Montreal Protocol. Originally signed in 1987, it works to phase out ozone-depleting substanc

Strawberries growing near the Pacific Ocean.
es, including the soil fumigant methyl bromide, commonly used by strawberry growers.

Twenty-seven years later, the realities of enacting the Montreal Protocol are still taking shape, and strawberry growers are, with each harvest year, a step closer to a complete phase out of the fumigant and increased restrictions on alternative chemical fumigants used for disease suppression.

UC research has focused on how to make an economically viable and effective transition away from the soil fumigant. Initial alternatives include replacement chemical fumigants as well as biological fumigants such as anaerobic soil disinfection (such as putting tarps over fields to decrease oxygen), mustard seed meal amendment, or steam disinfestation.

But what if a practice many growers already use could also serve to suppress soil-borne diseases? What if growers could use a substance that provides multiple on-farm benefits?

Many conventional and organic growers alike use compost to boost soil fertility and organic matter. But compost's potential to serve other purposes, including suppressing disease, remain largely unexplored.

Ph.D. student Margaret Lloyd and Tom Gordon, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis, are hoping to close the gap in that knowledge. With a grant from the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, a program administered by University of Arkansas and funded by Walmart Foundation, and funding from UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Lloyd's research seeks to understand whether compost can contribute to disease suppression on a commercial scale, and how growers can best incorporate compost into their farm management to see its benefits.

“Compost is part of the production system that has potential as biological control,” says Lloyd. “Historically, we've only focused on it as a source of organic matter or soil nutrients. I'm trying to characterize its role in root health and soil health.”

The study evaluates the root health of strawberry plants, and compares plant yield and disease suppression across a number of research sites and compost types.

“In general, we talk about compost just as compost,” Lloyd said. “But it has drastically different qualities — soil fertility characteristics, physical properties, and microbial profiles. By focusing on different compost sources, the study will help growers better assess their available compost options to m

Compost trials field site. Photo Courtesy Margaret Lloyd
eet their farm needs.” Composts used in the study include worm compost, manure-based compost, spent mushroom compost, and municipal yard trimmings compost.

Alternatives to methyl bromide have been a long time coming. “The research suggests that it won't be one technology replacing another, but a package of tools to help growers manage disease suppression in the soil,”  Lloyd said. If some of those tools are already in a grower's tool kit, the transition away from fumigants will be that much smoother.

The research suggests a powerful Earth Day message for me: use what you have, but seek a deeper understanding of just how to use it.

Lloyd's research findings will be completed in 2014, with results available for growers in 2015. Visit the project's website for more information.

Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 9:40 AM

UC to host drought summit April 25 in Sacramento

Oak tree stressed by drought. Photo by Larry Costello
As Californians struggle through a third consecutive dry year, nearly 300 people are expected to attend the UC Drought Science, Policy and Management Summit on Friday, April 25, at the State Capitol.

In January, when California was facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought State of Emergency  and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages.

“While the water picture has improved since January, we are still experiencing severe drought conditions,” said Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute for Water Resources. “The drought summit will provide information about UC's contribution to drought solutions in both the near term and long term.”

The free public summit will bring together a wide range of experts in water sciences, water management and policymaking from UC campuses and other California institutions to discuss immediate and long-term water management strategies. They will cover topics ranging from agricultural production and employment to the California economy, energy production and use, fish and wildlife, water conservation, public health and wildfires. There will be water-saving advice for residents, farmers and business owners.

Barbara Allen-Diaz, UC vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Matthew St. Clair, UC sustainability manager, will open the event with a review of what UC is doing to conserve water.

“Given the UC's unique role and public service responsibility, we called for a summit of faculty from across our campuses and others to explore the best ways to mitigate effects of the current drought and prepare for future water shortages," UC President Janet Napolitano and UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said in a jointly signed statement.

“We expect the summit will spur collaborative problem-solving engagements that outlast the current drought,” said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis, which is organizing the summit.

The discussion panels and presentations will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Room 4202 of the Capitol, followed by a reception at the UC Center Sacramento. To see the agenda and to register, visit http://drought.ucdavis.edu/UC%20Drought%20Summit.html.

California Drought Resources

California Drought Watch

Drought Resources in Spanish

Posted on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 2:49 PM

Earth Day conservation tips come from UCCE

Substituting drought-tolerant plants and mulching the soil surface are other ways to conserve water.
Small changes in irrigation habits can result in big water savings said an Earth Day report in the Merced Sun-Star written by Thaddeus Miller.

The article focused on the Earth Day festivities at UC Merced, but the water-savings tips came from David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County. A large fraction of home water use happens in the yard. Doll said reducing lawn watering time and fixing broken sprinklers are important first steps to water conservation.

Grass lawn can use more water than many agricultural crops - including almonds, walnuts and tomatoes. Generally residents can cut back lawn irrigation and keep it green.

Doll shared a simple test to prevent excessive landscape irrigation. Pinch the soil between the thumb and index finger. If dirt crumbles and falls away, it needs water. But if it forms into a ribbon one-inch wide or longer, it can go another day or two without water, Miller reported.

Water conservation is part of the citizen science project being launched May 8 by UC Cooperative Extension to mark its 100th anniversary. On the Day of Science and Service all Californians are asked to report their water saving strategies. To participate, go to http://beascientist.ucanr.edu.

 

 

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 1:57 PM

The joy of eating green: Ten things you should know about saving money and eating healthier

Amy Block Joy (Photo by Fred Speiser)
You skipped breakfast and you're walking into the supermarket without a shopping list. Distracted by several two-legged and four-legged members of your household trying to compete for your attention, you left the list clipped to your refrigerator door.

You're famished. The potato chips look good. The glazed doughnuts look even better. And that chocolate candy bar? To die for.

Bring ‘em on!

No, wait a minute. Let's get real, let's get green and let's get healthy. And let's save some money.

Nutritionist Amy Block Joy,  Cooperative Extension specialist emeritus, teaches a University of California, Davis, freshman class on “Eating Green” and we asked her for the 10 best ways to save money and eat healthier.

Joy, who holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences from UC Berkeley, specializes in nutrition and health disparities of diverse populations and nutritional ecology, as well as workplace ethics.

 Her advice needs to be posted on every refrigerator in the country. (Along with that shopping list!)

  1. Shop with a list: Using a list will keep you focused on meal planning and reduce the temptation to buy unneeded items.

  2. Don't shop when you're hungry: Temptation is high when you're hungry. Eat first and you'll be less inclined to spend extra dollars on those food items placed near the check-out stand that are high in calories and fat and low in nutrition. That would be snacks! Try shopping after a meal and you will find yourself less tempted by those chocolate-covered pretzels!

  3. Please don't pass by the peas. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
    Read the nutrition facts label:
    When shopping for the healthiest foods, you should read the nutrition fact labels to check out fat, calories, fiber, carbohydrates and sodium. Aim for low-fat, high-fiber foods that have essential vitamins and minerals. For example, if you want the best source of fiber - buy fresh oranges and eat them raw rather than selecting orange juice. However, if you want juice, be sure that you are getting real juice. And, some juices are now fortified with calcium - a big plus for increasing your calcium intake if you are not drinking milk. 

  4. Read the ingredient lists: The ingredient list will provide important clues on products that you'll want to include in your diet. One of them is to look for whole grains. The information on the product may make you think the product is "natural" but what does that really mean? Not much because the phrase you want to look for is the "USDA organic" label. With so many choices of breads these days, you'll want to find ones that have whole grains and fiber. Find the information by reading the label (compare fiber amounts) and ingredients (look for "whole" grains).

  5. Asparagus is part of going green. There's also a white variety now. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
    Compare prices:
    Supermarkets provide price-comparison information located by their products. You can compare the "unit" costs so that you'll be able to determine the lowest cost of the product. Two words of caution: products "on sale" may not be the best bargains.

  6. Shop the perimeter of the store: Marketing experts have placed the healthiest foods at the farthest corners of the store so that the shopper has to stroll through the other items before finding fruits and vegetables, protein sources (poultry, meats), dairy products and cereal products. 

  7. Think protein: Buy meat and poultry on sale and use these foods to make stews, soups and chili. This way you can stretch these more expensive food sources. Beans are a great source of protein and are low fat and high in fiber. 

  8. Plan meals ahead: The best way to save money is to plan your meals in advance. Buying unprocessed foods will improve your health and also save money. It costs to add preservatives, food additives and packaging of products that you, the consumer, are paying for. It's much cheaper to buy rice in bulk rather than already prepared rice products. Brown rice contains more fiber than white rice.

  9. Cook! Your grandmother was right. Food prepared from scratch will taste better, be healthier and save money. Research has shown that cooking not only saves money but improves nutrition.  

  10. Enjoy! Food is meant to be a pleasant happy experience. Don't forget to enjoy it!

So, the next time you're racing out the door on your way to the supermarket, be sure to eat first so you're not tempted by foods that you know aren't good for you.

And that shopping list? You can also key that in on your cell phone so neither the list, nor your phone, will get left behind.

Meanwhile, we all ought to follow Amy Block Joy's great advice on saving money, eating green, and being healthier.  

As I wrote on one of my college essays, "We have a choice in the matter and it matters that we have a choice."

The produce aisle is a good place to
The produce aisle is a good place to "go green and eat healthier." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The produce aisle is a good place to "go green and eat healthier." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Grocery stores usually place fruits and vegetables around the perimeter. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Grocery stores usually place fruits and vegetables around the perimeter. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Grocery stores usually place fruits and vegetables around the perimeter. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Broccoli--a food everyone should love. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Broccoli--a food everyone should love. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Broccoli--a food everyone should love. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 12:54 PM

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