You've been watering your trees all wrong: A drought expert explains how to get it right


As the botanical information consultant at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanical Garden, Frank McDonough says it’s his job to introduce people to a variety of plants and solve their gardening dilemmas. On Saturday, McDonough will tackle Southern California's biggest dilemma of all -- how to save water during the drought -- as he shares water-saving strategies that you can implement at home. During the tour of the arboretum grounds, McDonough will highlight appropriate plants for the Southern California landscape, rain-capturing methods, irrigation systems and lawn replacements. "We'll walk around the arboretum and look at all the different ways to save water," says McDonough. "We have been on top of this since the '50s. We have a great collection of plants from South Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean." McDonough also plans to make a stop at the Inter City Cactus Show and Sale and offer some suggestions on plants to take home. And if it gets too hot, don’t worry. McDonough is prepared to hold class underneath a shady tree with his Android tablet. Here, he offers a preview of what to expect on Saturday:

What is the arboretum doing to save water?

We’ve always been saving water. Most of our South African and Australian plants get watered once a month. We’ve shrunk our lawn area and removed the lawns that are unnecessary. In 2001 we instituted a mulching program that has helped save a lot of water. It also saves pesticide use and has decreased our use of herbicides down to nothing. Weeds are big water wasters. Think about it: If you remove the weeds surrounding a tree, then you’re just watering the tree. Recycled rainwater is used to irrigate our vegetable garden. I will discuss the pros and cons of drip irrigation on the tour. There are instances where you can use a drip system and those where you can’t.

How much water do our gardens really need?

The typical Southern California landscape only requires watering once a week. People have been overwatering their landscape since the ‘60s. I think it’s because a lot of people aren't from here and they are used to compulsively watering their landscape. If people watered the way they should, we probably wouldn’t have the drought issues we have today.