After a year, Laura Whitehouse is feeling good about putting a lot of tender loving care -- and muscle -- into a backyard makeover at her northeast Fresno home in preparation for city water meters.
"We're following the city's mandate to try to save water," she says.
Whitehouse, a member of the Fresno Utility Advisory Committee, was part of a pilot program to reduce water usage as the city prepares to switch over to water meters. Fresno residents have paid a bulk rate for the amount of water they use.
A year ago the Fresno Department of Public Utilities' water division sent a specialist to conduct a free audit of Whitehouse's landscaping and recommend new trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs and ground cover that would lower-water use.
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Whitehouse's family took the recommendations and did the work themselves, an attempt to cut costs.
The work has taken a year. And it cost more than Whitehouse expected, about $2,500 to $3,000. That may seem like a lot of money, but it still comes in under what many Valley professional landscapers charge for yard makeovers.
Working mainly weekends, Whitehouse hoped to redo the back and front yards, but just recently completed the backyard only. The front yard is on hold.
Here's what Whitehouse did in her backyard:
She ripped out all grass and ivy and removed two, 30-foot-tall Cottonwood trees, several shrubs and ferns -- all water-guzzlers. She added compost, then planted drought-tolerant plants, bushes and ground cover.
It's now a colorful mix of salmon-colored daylily, pink guara, orange kangaroo paw and yellow Angelina stonecrop and yarrow and others.
She also installed drip irrigation/spray emitters that provide less water than regular sprinklers, laid large stone pavers for walkways, set up a bird fountain and built two 12-foot-by-12-foot decks (one to house a covered table with chairs; the other to accommodate a hammock and lounge chairs).
It's unclear whether the changes have reduced water usage. The city has yet to begin metered water billings in Whitehouse's neighborhood. But local gardening experts believe the changes will make a difference.
Removing the turf was a major step.
Anne Clemons, board member of Clovis Botanical Garden, advises homeowners to remove turf if the only reason they step onto their lawns is "to mow or fertilize it." She also recommends drip irrigation systems and plants that are Central Valley friendly.
"There are lots of ways to save water; it mostly takes the will to do it," she says.
Calliope Correia, a Fresno State horticulture nursery technician, says people shouldn't feel intimidated with water-wise plants.
"There's a lot of rosemary, different types of salvias, butterfly bush and Myoporum ground cover," she says. "They're not just cactus."
Whitehouse says she has learned a lot. Here are her tips:
Plan, but don't feel you have to stick to timetables. Spread the work out.
"You can't have your family always working in the hot sun," she says.
Start a budget, but don't underestimate how much items cost. Shop the sales.
Don't underestimate necessary steps involved.
If you rip out a lawn, for example, you also need to rent a Roto-tiller, then add a layer of compost before planting the drought-tolerant plants.
"You'll have casualties," she says. "I probably replaced 10 plants that just didn't make it."