Triple-digit heat and water restrictions push Bay Area gardeners to ditch their thirsty plants

An impending heatwave impacting parts of the East Bay, and mandatory water restrictions in Healdsburg and Santa Clara County are pushing Bay Area residents toward lawn conversion projects and away from water-thirsty foliage.

The National Weather Service forecasts temperatures over 100 degrees in Concord, Livermore, and other parts of the East Bay later in the week.

Healdsburg is the Bay Area's latest community to mandate water restrictions. Commercial customers need to cut back their water use by 40 percent. Residential customers are being told to use no more than 74  gallons of water per person per day. Sprinklers and all forms of irrigation are restricted over the summer.

Last Wednesday, Santa Clara Valley Water District, the largest water agency in Santa Clara County, approved mandatory 15 percent water reductions.

And in the greater Livermore area, the Tri-Valley Water Agencies are asking for voluntary reductions of 10 percent, noting that "the average homeowner uses 60-70 percent of their water on outdoor landscaping."

Now homeowners are turning to nurseries to change how they garden.

Jacquie Williams-Courtright's parents opened Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore in 1955. Williams-Courtright now owns and runs the nursery, and says after experiencing an estimated seven California droughts, this year the nursery is seeing a sharp rise in customers ready to swap out their lawns for less thirsty alternatives, such as mulch.

"A lot of people thought about it in past droughts, but the people that thought about it in past droughts are now believers. They say this is it," Williams-Courtright said, adding, "proper mulching, a good thick mulching around the plants will conserve 50 percent of the water," Williams-Courtright said.

She said in the last two weeks customers have been asking for lawn conversion advice multiple times a day. She also helps guide customers to consider succulents, cacti, native California, and Mediterranean plants that are considered "less thirsty" plants.

Zone 7 Water Agency serving Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin, and the San Ramon area offers 100% cost rebates on lawn conversion for pre-approved projects.  The East Bay Municipal Utility District and Santa Clara Valley Water District both pay up to $2,000 in rebates for homeowners who swap out their lawns.

Carol Massey, shopping in the nursery's succulents section on Sunday, said she is also thinking about removing her lawn, something she's helped other homeowners do in the past while in charge of her former townhouse association's landscaping projects. 

"We've had so many droughts it just doesn't make sense to have these green lush lawns," Massey said. "I wish it would because they're beautiful. But it makes more sense to have drought-tolerant types of gardening."