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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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Mar 17

The Tropics

Posted on March 17, 2017 at 2:03 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi 

Earlier this week I returned from Jamaica to find birds chirping, daffodils showing off their bright yellow petals, sun shining and temperatures ranging close to 70 degrees. Quite the unexpected welcome home, since when I left Lassen, temperatures were dropping into the 30s and snow was on the ground while brisk winds were blowing.

Ixora coccinea
While home did its best to mimic the tropics, it was still a far cry from the white sandy beaches, lush tropical flowers and ocean filled with beautiful fish of brilliant colors, shapes and sizes. The people of Jamaica were equally amazing and went out of their way to make us feel at home. While walking through the resort gardens one day, I sought out one of the gardeners to ask the name of an unfamiliar plant. The gardener, Cher, stopped what she was doing, led me to several plants growing nearby and introduced me to the beautiful genus Ixora. She explained that it comes in different sizes and is used in various bordered areas throughout the resort. We then talked about other plants. When I mentioned my background, she asked if I had seen their nursery. She dropped what she was working on to walk some distance to the growing grounds and gave me a personal tour. I was truly touched by her outreach.

Several days later while attending a special dinner, I was seated next to the resort manager. I complimented him on his diving staff and also the gardener who so willingly gave of her time. At that point he asked if I had met the head gardener, Oshio, and arranged for me to take a private tour of the resort gardens the following day. Needless to say, this gardener couldn't have been more thrilled.

Oshio, the head gardener 
Oshio met me promptly at the appointed time and spent a few hours showing me around the grounds. He told me about various tropical plants that we temperate-climate dwellers know primarily as house plants, including various ficus, palms and orchids. As we walked, he snipped samples of tropical flowers including hibiscus, bougainvillea, datura, ginger, and the ever-so-sweet plumeria and night-blooming jasmine. He demonstrated palm tree pruning techniques and the importance of protecting the center frond—the heart of the plant—from damage. It was a lesson for me as I always managed to kill the Chamaedorea elegans that my grandmother grew in her home by inadvertently snipping out that dead-looking center frond. Little did I realize that that was the heart I was cutting away! After all these years, I'm still learning new lessons about pruning.

While in Jamaica, I also toured the Black River, named for the amount of peat that settles at the bottom giving the water a black appearance. Mangrove trees grew in abundance with roots extending from treetop down to the river to feed on the rich peat beneath. The trees also supported an abundance of captivating wildlife.

The tropics provide a perfect environment for lush plant growth. Daily rain showers keep the large leaves clean and allow the plants to accept maximum sunlight for optimal photosynthesis. Warm humid days and evenings supply just the right amount of heat and moisture without the need for irrigation. Here in Marin, our love of tropical plants is largely limited to houseplants, unless we are lucky to live in certain microclimates that support such beauty. Nonetheless, this gardener's passion for flowers was fulfilled.

Mar 09

The New Age of Irrigation

Posted on March 9, 2017 at 3:50 PM by Ann Vallee

by Christina Mountanos, Water Conservation Specialist

irrigation technologyOne thing that's fascinating about the irrigation world is that there's so much innovative technology out there, and it's constantly evolving, too. New weather-based controllers, for example, don't just vary their schedules based on the weather. Many have even more advanced and useful features now, like remote access to your controller over Wi-Fi and alerts for high flow rates (i.e., breaks or leaks in your irrigation system).

Another effective technology is the use of high-efficiency, multi-stream nozzles. Putting water out at a much slower rate than traditional spray nozzles (in thick streams versus finer water droplets), multi-stream nozzles can be a great way to reduce run-off, lessen the amount of water lost to wind and evaporation, help irrigate more irregularly shaped areas, and also help correct pressure problems that can result in poor coverage. 

So many products have been created to improve the efficiency of irrigation and to help people use less water. Even better news is that MMWD is currently offering an incentive to some of our commercial and multi-family customers to implement this new technology and make improvements to their current systems. Sites that have a dedicated landscape water service are eligible for the rebate, which is worth up to $1,500 per water meter. The rebate covers the cost of the above-mentioned equipment (smart controllers and high-efficiency nozzles), materials for converting spray areas to drip irrigation, hydrozoning, and the cost of other water-efficient appurtenances like check valves and flow sensors. 

I'm happy to report that many of the sites my co-workers and I have visited over the past year have taken advantage of efficient technologies like these. Since the program launched back in late 2015, we've already funded more than $55,000 in improvements at commercial sites, schools and HOAs. 

Making your irrigation more efficient doesn't have to be a huge undertaking. Smaller, simpler projects might include adding a rain sensor to your current controller (so it shuts off automatically in the rain without having to physically flip any switches), adding pressure-regulating equipment, or adding check valves to sprinkler heads in low places to stop water from seeping out after the system has finished running. We're here to help: As part of the rebate process, an MMWD Conservation Specialist will meet with you during a required "irrigation check-up" to determine your site's eligibility and work with you to best decide how to improve your current system. 

Check out our website at for the full details on the program, qualifying materials and the rebate process. 

Mar 02

March Madness

Posted on March 2, 2017 at 10:40 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

As gardeners, we never know what we'll face in March. This month can find us enjoying warm sunny days in the garden, or further confined indoors due to more rainy weather interspersed with cold frost. Yet, this uncertainty never seems to interfere with the avid gardener who works around weather challenges. Let's face it, some of us just like to have our hands in the dirt year-round and are willing to find any excuse despite barometric pressures or thermometer readings.

garden hoe in need of some TLC
Garden hoe in need of
some TLC

There are garden chores to keep one occupied all year, depending on your viewpoint. Some jobs are required maintenance, while others are more easily put off. For example: Garden tools are often neglected. For optimum performance, sharpen pruning shear blades and chainsaw chains before pruning. Shovels can be cleaned of caked-on soil and sharpened. Wooden handles will last longer if they are wiped down with a rag coated in oil to preserve the wood.

Some chores shouldn't be put off due to potential long-term ill effects. One of these is pruning trees and shrubs, which shouldn't be postponed much longer. The long wet winter may have curtailed this task, but it can still be accomplished this month. At the very least, remove all diseased, dead and dying branches. 

Weeding is another job that can cause hours of unnecessary work if not nipped in the bud early. The winter rains coupled with warm sunny days are a sure recipe for abundant weed growth. Sheet mulching is a simple technique to suppress weeds, as well as improve the health of your soil and reduce the need for irrigation. Proper sheet mulching will eliminate the light that weed seeds require for germination. In addition, some light garden hoeing can easily remove tiny seedlings from further development if caught early enough.

Checking the irrigation system this month can help ward off any surprise leaks, breaks or clogged nozzles that may have occurred over the winter months. Earwigs and other small insects are known to take up residence in the orifices of emitters and spray nozzles. Turn on the valves one at a time to quickly identify these intruders. While each station is on, walk around the irrigated areas to identify misdirected spray heads, popped emitters or worse, broken pipes. This head-start check-up will allow plenty of time for repairs before irrigation season is upon us. This is also a good time to check the batteries in your controller, if it is equipped with them. 

For this gardener, chores have been put on hold as the balmy days, beautiful flowers and warm sandy beaches of Jamaica are beckoning. In between scuba dives, I'll be gathering some botanical knowledge of the Caribbean tropics to share with you upon my return.