California Drought Increases Demand for Drought Tolerant Plants

Water restrictions due to the extreme drought taking place in California is at the top of everyone’s minds.

When or when not to water. Brown lawns and drought tolerant plants. These are just a few of the things we seem to hear about so often on the news and other media outlets.

Some scientists believe that this could be the worst drought in over 1200 years. And, even worse, everyone is affected. Individuals, businesses, cities and the agriculture industry are all taking a hit due the drought and tightened water regulations.

The State Water Resources Control Board was told to crack down on illegal water diversions and “those engaging in the wasteful and unreasonable use of water.”

Help wasn’t seen from Mother Nature, either.

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is usually an essential source of water in the summer as it melts, has hit record lows this year following the driest winter since records have been kept.

In fact it is estimated that Californians get anywhere from 35-40 percent of our water from that snow pack every year. As of May 21, 2015, California was at a measly 2 percent of its average amount. The lowest we have ever seen.

David House, CEO of Village Nurseries, says the drought has presented a set of challenges as well as opportunities for landscapers and consumers alike. The Orange, California based wholesale grower has over 900 acres of growing facilities in Northern and Southern California, as well as four landscape centers for easier service for their landscape customers.

“It has forced us to think harder about our irrigation practices, even though the latest governor-mandated restrictions and cutbacks did not hit agriculture, we still take it very seriously and are continually looking for ways to reduce the water we use,” House says.

“Since the water cutbacks were mandated, it has been hurting demand at the retail level, so the end user has seen roughly a 15 percent softening of sales. People are concerned about spending their discretionary dollars on plants for two reasons: Will they live? And is it the right thing to do? That is why we are launching a ‘Save Water, Stay Green’ campaign, to get the message out that buying plants and having a beautiful landscape is still easy to do.”

Village Nurseries, however, is doing more than simply offering a wide variety of drought tolerant plants for consumers. They recently converted more of its acreage to drip irrigation systems, which greatly reduces the amount of water used versus overhead irrigation systems.

For the smaller plants that are more difficult to water with the drip system, Village Nurseries installed a suspended modular irrigation system. It uses fewer gallons per minute than the usual overhead irrigation, improving watering efficiency by 20 percent.

Nurseries in California have seen a major shift in the types of plants that consumers are requesting. This is reflected in the steady increase in the demand for drought tolerant plants. Specifically, plants from climates and locales that are similar to California such as South Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean have increased.

House says that though there has been a shift in demand for the drought-tolerant plants, it has not been immediate but rather gradual. Village Nurseries has been at the forefront of transitioning inventory to more succulents, which are very low water users, and more native California plants over the last 10-15 years.

Drought tolerant plants have become the biggest sellers and House is anticipating a shortage of these plants in months to come. However, one of House’s biggest goals is to help the consumers understand that they don’t need to restrict themselves to a narrow plant palette to be drought tolerant.

Last year, Los Angeles started offering a rebate of $3.75 on every square foot of grass homeowners tear up and replace with any kind of drought friendly landscape. Similar programs have taken off throughout the state through the local water agencies. The rebate programs have created a boom for growers that offer drought-tolerant plants and especially growers that sell to landscapers.

“The municipal rebates that were given back through counties and the different regional water districts and agencies to remove turf has created a real opportunity for us as far as increased plant sales,” House says.

“We are in an extreme drought right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of landscaping,” House says.

“The fact is, landscaping adds value to real estate. Whether you’re a homeowner, homebuilder or commercial real estate developer, you’re going to want to have a landscape and you’re going to want that landscape to look as nice as it possibly can, because it adds value and it’s good for the environment.” 

“We grow or bring in plant material that we know will do well in this environment,” he says. “And roughly 70 percent of what we’re growing does not require a lot of water to thrive. It really is all about the irrigation system and irrigation practices.”

In the midst of this record drought one thing remains evident. Limiting our water consumption in as many ways as possible is of the upmost importance.

For more information on drought tolerant plants explore our Plant Library or visit one of our California locations.