Drought Tolerant Landscaping in Santa Barbara

Drought Tolerant Landscaping in Santa Barbara

 Montecito landscaping (credit: Kate O'Malley, Flickr)

Montecito landscaping (credit: Kate O'Malley, Flickr)

As California embarks on it's FIFTH year of historic drought conditions, water conservation has become paramount.  Many people thought this year's El Nino would right the ship, but we are heading into yet another dry season without significant rainfall.

While it would be easier if Mother Nature solved our water woes with extreme amounts of rain, the only thing we can control is our use of water.  There are many areas where consumers can minimize water consumption inside the home, but I want to discuss what can be done outside the home.

Santa Barbara and Montecito are known for having some of the most extravagant landscapes in all of California.  Tens of thousands of gallons are using to keep local gardens in pristine condition, and it is having a severe impact on local water supplies.  Besides a common-sense plea for consumers to limit their water usage, local authorities have also begun implementing rate hikes.  Combine these two approaches with the groundswell of peer pressure from friends and neighbors, and water consumption has certainly declined.  But there is still more to be done...

Which is where my good friends at Allscape Design come in.  With over 20 years of experience, Nate and Ben specialize in sustainable and water wise landscaping.  They were kind enough to answer a few questions I had, with the goal of providing tips for home buyers and sellers.  In addition, they help demystify landscaping for people who aren't already experts.  Let's get to it!


Devin Wong: What motivated you two to start Allscape?

Nate Zacarias: Water, water, water.  I have always been in the landscaping business and living in California as a landscape designer/contractor you can clearly see our water levels diminish at a high rate .  Ben and I decided to be on the forefront of water wise landscapes at a residential level in Santa Barbara County to help people beautify their landscapes, gardens, etc. while reducing their water outputs.

DW: How is Allscape different from other landscaping companies?

NZ: AllScape focuses on all varieties of landscape but all revolving around saving water for the consumer and for California.  It comes down to gallons and cost savings.  I believe the combined experience and knowledge that Ben and I bring to the table and the relationships we hold with our subcontractors (stone masons, concrete contractors, electricians, plumbers), architects and local vendors help us stand out as a well rounded, experienced company.

DW: What are some of the unique challenges of landscaping in Santa Barbara?

NZ: The unique challenges in Santa Barbara County we have found are the variety of soil types, from hard clay to sandy silt type soils, to the amount of water we are allotted before fines from the city and/or county are incurred. Water will always be a challenge across the board in California. The key is to minimize water usage through reducing lawns, increasing hardscapes, and incorporating plant material that fits the true California native lifestyle.

DW: What tips should a homeowner keep in mind when landscaping prior to listing their home for sale?

NZ: I would not put too much cost in upgrading your property exterior if you are getting ready to sell.  I would push to create a clean, low water use environment (switching out high water use plants to low water use) and fix anything that may present itself as a safety hazard for pets, children, or in general.  Many people purchase a home and change their landscape to their own liking, so when investing in landscape upgrades pre-sell I recommend you keep them to a minimum.

DW: What tips should buyers keep in mind when giving their new home a landscaping facelift?

NZ: We recommend a one time clean.  Once you clean out the overgrown, aged debris, it will provide you with a better visual and it may spark new ideas for your landscape.  A facelift will depend on your living situation and whether you have pets, have children, are single, etc.  Privacy is an important attribute to many homeowners so creating privacy through plant material or structured material can be a quick and easy fix.  Switching out plant material to plant material that makes sense to your setting is advised.  For example: if you purchased a modern type home and have Juniper shrubs throughout your property, it may be time to remove and replace to make your modern theme.  Themes are important when landscaping, whether it's a color scheme, overall style (such as Mediterranean, English garden, Arizona xeriscape), or just a style you are accustomed to.  Expand your hardscape areas (concrete patios, decomposed granite pads, gravel sitting areas, etc) because they are more permanent, require less maintenance and no water, and add extra recreational area for your children, family, and guests.

DW: What are the biggest misconceptions about landscaping?

NZ: The biggest misconception in landscape across the board is that plants need overhead water and need to look wet in order for them to grow.  Too many people have the misconception that if their plants are not soaked, they are not getting enough water.  The truth is that you can kill a plant just as fast when you over-water as you can when you under-water.  Plants need very little water to thrive and can go many days without water.  This is why drip irrigation is so efficient: less water at the plant roots, minimizes drift, and minimizes water lost through misting/evaporation/runoff/etc.  The list goes on and on.

DW: Some people consider drought tolerant landscaping to be less kid-friendly than a large lawn...how do you address those concerns?

NZ: Lawns will always be the quintessential backyard play area for children and pets.  It is tough to move past the year round green lawn, although you can still bring grass into a landscape.  You just need to minimize the square footage and use a grass variety that uses less water.  There are plenty of lawn products that can substitute for the standard tall fescue that many people have in their landscapes.  Warm season grasses use less water, although go dormant in the winters (i.e. Bermudas, Zoysia, and St. Augustine)  And you can also use drought tolerant grasses such as Buffalo Grass.  Secondly, artificial grass materials and contractors that specialize in this sort of product are becoming more prevalent every day.  It's a great lawn substitute if you are prepared for the initial installation cost.  Lastly, drought tolerant landscapes have a bad wrap with the "kid-friendly" outlook.  People have the misconception that these types of landscapes are spiney, spikey, and dry. That is not the case at all.  There are so many native varieties that are soft, colorful and lush if you know the right plants for the right place.

DW: If a client thinks your bid is too expensive, what are some of the tweaks you typically make to reduce costs?

NZ: Reducing a bid cost is relatively easy.  The easiest way to reduce cost would be to either reduce plant quantities and spread out the material or reduce the can size.  For example: go from a 15 gallon plant to a 5 gallon plant; or go from a 24" box to a 15 gallon.  There is a big difference in cost between can sizes.  Another way to reduce cost is to try and incorporate existing landscaping with new landscaping/hardscaping. 

DW: What are your thoughts on artificial grass?

NZ: Artificial grass is a great product for its ultimate purpose.  Save on water, maintenance, fertilization, upkeep.  You will never get the true cooling effect from real grass or natural presence, but the products that manufacturer's have created in the past 10-15 years are rather impressive.  Just be very careful with heat and direct sunlight.  Most synthetic fabrics heat up quickly and retain high heat.  The main downside for artificial lawns is the heat radiation in direct sunlight. 

DW: If someone reading this wants to hire Allscape, how do they get in touch and what is the process?

NZ: The best way to get a hold of us is through email (nate@allscapedesign.com) and calling direct (805-441-9774).  We love to talk with potential clients and we respond to emails within a short period of time.  Clients can also visit our website (www.allscapedesign.com) to learn more about our company, our objectives, and our skill sets.


Thanks to Nate and Ben for taking the time to enlighten us!  Their knowledge and professionalism are unparalleled, and I recommend them for all your landscape/design needs.  Tell them I sent you!

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