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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Sep 30

Designing with Native Plants

Posted on September 30, 2016 at 10:41 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

A friend called a week ago seeking ideas for converting his lawn-covered front yard into a habitat garden that would attract beneficial insects and birds to his home. His timing is perfect since the Marin Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) is hosting their annual fall plant sale on Saturday, October 15. This is a great opportunity for him to explore their large selection of native plants for just the right type of vegetation to meet his needs.

However, achieving a well-balanced and successful landscape requires more than purchasing an assortment of plants and plopping them haphazardly into the ground. First, consider exposure. Will the plant survive hot direct sun or does it require shade? Second, what is the condition of the soil, and will it support the plant's survival? Is the ground hardpan? Will it require drainage or amendments? 

The scale of the home and garden space is another important factor to consider, especially when choosing trees. For example, a two-story home would better balance a tree that can grow 40 to 50 feet tall. A single-story home would benefit by sporting a tree that grows no more than 25 feet tall. A Sequoia sempervirens (California redwood) would be a poor choice for a tiny landscaped area, even though it is indigenous to our area. On the other hand, Cercis occidentalis (redbud) would be a perfect fit in a small yard—especially if the winter sun would be welcome in the home. 

This brings up another point: Whether a tree is evergreen or deciduous must be considered. Evergreens are great for blocking sunlight or undesirable views year round, whereas deciduous trees provide shade in the summer and allow the sun to warm the house during winter months.

Why such a focus on trees? They are the "bones" of the garden. They support the landscape structure. And they take a very long time to grow to establish that support. Their placement can make or break the look and function you are attempting to achieve. Trees planted close to pavement could wreak havoc on hardscapes if the roots are shallow. Or spreading branches could impede passage to the front door if the tree grows too wide for the area. Tree removal is an expensive and painful loss of time, so it's important to carefully consider type and placement before planting.

When choosing perennials and shrubs, follow the same thought process as for trees. How big will the plants get? Will they block windows? Are they placed far enough apart to allow space to grow without crowding? Will the plant choices provide color or interest throughout the year? Can the same flower colors or plant varieties be carried throughout the garden to tie the landscape cohesively together? And even though we are talking about native plants, remember that native plants are not all water-conserving or xeric. Some of these plants are native to wetlands. Plan hydrozones accordingly to group plants with similar watering needs together. 

Will you attend the Marin County CNPS annual sale? If so, are you prepared with a plan or design? Given adequate time, I think my friend will be ready to shop.

Sep 28

Reservoirs in Good Shape as We Head Into Fall

Posted on September 28, 2016 at 4:31 PM by Ann Vallee

As we head into fall, we are pleased to report that our reservoirs continue to do well. Our current storage of 62,524 acre-feet is 114% of average for September 27. 

At the same time, we are still awaiting the first measurable rain of the season, and since we don't know what this rainfall year will bring, using water wisely is always important. Thank you for continuing to conserve.

Here are the latest water statistics:

Reservoir Levels: As of September 27, reservoir storage is 62,524 acre-feet,* or 79% of capacity. The average for this date is 54,910 acre-feet, or 69% of capacity.

Rainfall: Rainfall this year to date (July 1 - September 27, 2016) is 0.00 inches. Average for the same period is 0.62 inches; last year on this date we had 0.81 inches. 

Water Use: Water use for the week ending September 27 averaged 26.52 million gallons per day, compared to last year when water use for the week was 24.11 million gallons per day.

Creek Releases: During the month of August 2016 MMWD released 289 million gallons, or 887 acre-feet, into Lagunitas and Walker creeks in west Marin for habitat enhancement.

Visit our Water Watch webpage for daily updates.

*One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons 

Sep 23


Posted on September 23, 2016 at 11:09 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

bristlecone pine
 Bristlecone pine
Native plants are survivors for the most part, especially if the plant is indigenous to the region where it is growing. We often call a plant "native" if it is found in California. While that may be true, it doesn't mean it can thrive anywhere within California's borders. The term "native" in this case is a misnomer since the growing conditions are extremely different in various parts of this state. Consider high plains desert regions compared to the damp coastal vicinities along the Pacific Ocean. Or temperatures that dip below zero in the north compared to subtropical locales found in southern California. How many California native plants can survive these extreme conditions if not indigenous?

This past weekend I had the pleasure of studying what I consider the quintessential rugged indigenous survivor of Inyo National Forest: bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva). Many of these living ancient trees exceed 4,000 years of age. Methuselah is tagged at over 4,700 years. These trees survive the harshest elements found within our great state. The native trees grow in elevations surpassing 10,000 feet. What I found fascinating is their roots are firmly planted in dolomite—a chalk-like alkaline mineral that once layered the ocean floor years before dinosaurs walked this earth. The trees' growth patterns are gnarled and twisted, as if tattooed by all the harshness they have endured. These trees are a paradise for photographers trying to capture the intensity of life in the oldest living things on earth.

mat buckwheat
 Mat buckwheat
Other plants survive in the region as well. One of the plants I first came across looked surreal. It was a flat, white pancake succulent known as Eriogonum caespitosum (mat buckwheat). At first I thought it to be a type of lichen growing on a rock, but there wasn't a rock—only a root that I discovered as I slipped my hand gently under the plant. Another that surprised me was the beautiful Chamaebatiaria millefolium, a fern-like shrub commonly known as desert sweet, which seemed to thrive in these harsh elements. The same held true for the tiny-leafed Ribes cereum (wax currant). It was interesting that some plants seemed to eke out their existence and barely hang on, while others looked lush. Even a pollen-seeking insect searched out a flower barely surviving to find some sustenance for its own existence.

Native plants are fascinating, and the right ones can thrive in our gardens. We have the good fortune in Marin to have an active and knowledgeable chapter of the California Native Plant Society. They host their annual fall plant sale October 15 and are happy to talk about these survivors and what the plants need to survive in your garden. More information on the annual event will be in next week's blog.