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Posts Tagged: Loren Oki

Your water-efficient landscape doesn’t have to be barren

Volunteers rate the landscape plants during the Fall Open House at the South Coast Research and Extension Center in August 2022. All photos by Saoimanu Sope.

UC climate-ready landscape trials identify low-water yet attractive plants

Good news: roses can be a part of your water-efficient landscape. Lorence Oki, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, identified rose cultivars that remain aesthetically pleasing with little water.  

Oki is the principal investigator of the Climate-Ready Landscape Plants project, which may be the largest irrigation trial in the western U.S., and the UC Plant Landscape Irrigation Trials (UCLPIT), the California component of that project. These projects evaluate landscape plants under varying irrigation levels to determine their optimal performance in regions requiring supplemental summer water.

“There are some assumptions that pretty plants use a lot of water, like roses,” Oki said. “Everyone thinks they need a lot of water, but we've found some that don't, and they still look great. A water-efficient landscape doesn't need to look like a Central Valley oak-grassland in the summer. It can look really attractive.”

In 2021, Oki's team at UC Davis identified Lomandra confertifolia ssp. pallida "Pom Pom" Shorty and Rosa "Sprogreatpink" Brick House® Pink as two of the best low-water plants in the trial. 

An Austin Pretty Limits® Oleander growing in the 3-meter spacing deficit irrigation plot in the 2022 landscape irrigation trial at the South Coast Research and Extension Center.

“The useful tip or information that is shared at the end of each trial is the selection and designation of plants as Blue Ribbon winners. These are the plants that looked good with an overall rating of 4 or higher throughout and were on the low (20%) water treatment,” said Natalie Levy, associate specialist for water resources, who manages the project at the UC ANR South Coast Research and Extension Center.

How plants earn a blue ribbon

Each trial year, the selection of new plants is based on research recommendations and donated submissions from the nursery industry. The landscape plants are trialed in full sun or 50% shade cover.

Irrigation treatments are based on the rate of evaporation and plant transpiration (evapotranspiration) measured through a local California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) weather station that provides a reference evapotranspiration (ETo) rate.

Three levels of irrigation are provided to the plants equal to 20%, 50%, and 80% of ETo. The volume of water applied is the same at each irrigation based on soil characteristics, but the interval between applications varies with weather and the treatment. Using this method, irrigations for the 20% treatment are less frequent than the 80% treatment.

“The 20% treatment during the 2022 trial was irrigated an average of once per month while the 80% treatment was irrigated weekly,” explained Levy.

During the deficit irrigation trial, monthly height and width measurements are taken to determine the plant growth index. Monthly qualitative aesthetic ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 are determined for foliage appearance, flowering abundance, pest tolerance, disease resistance, vigor and overall appearance.

A second round of flowering abundance and overall appearance measurements are also taken to capture more of the blooming period. For example, UCLPIT identified in the 2020 trial at South Coast REC that the "Apricot Drift" rose had a mean overall appearance score of 3.5 out of 5, deeming it “acceptable to very nice” and a low water use plant within the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species or WUCOLS guide.

Project expands options for landscape planting

Nathan Lo, staff research associate, and Natalie Levy take monthly plant growth measurements (length, width and height) of the Center Stage® Red Crapemyrtle.
While attending UC Davis as a master's student, Karrie Reid, retired UCCE environmental horticulture advisor for San Joaquin County, assisted Oki with landscape water conservation research. The landscape plant irrigation assessments were initiated at UC Davis in 2004 and the UCLPIT project, now in its 20th year, originated from her master's thesis project from 2005 to 2007. A CDFA grant supported duplicating these fields at the South Coast REC in 2017.

“(WUCOLS) only has 3,500 plants in it. There are guesses that there are close to 10,000 cultivars in urban landscapes in California, if not more,” said Oki. “WUCOLS also didn't have numerical ratings. Instead, you'll see verbal ratings like ‘low water use' or ‘high water use.'”

The UCLPIT project has not only developed numerical recommendations for irrigation, but it has also added new landscape plants that are compliant with California's Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. In fact, UCLPIT's data is one of the few sources that can be used to supplement WUCOLS.

Geographic diversity of trial sites adds to knowledge base

In addition to UC Davis and South Coast REC in Irvine, the trials have expanded beyond California as the Climate-Ready Landscape Plants project and is in progress at Oregon State University, University of Washington, University of Arizona and Utah State University thanks to a USDA/CDFA grant awarded in 2020.

Lloyd Nackley, associate professor of nursery production and greenhouse management at Oregon State University, is the principal investigator of the trial in the Portland metro area, which is entering its third year.

“People know that there are drought tolerant plants, but there are many. We're trying to highlight lesser known or newer varieties. And even though the trial is three years, most gardeners would hope that their garden lasts longer than that,” said Nackley.

One of the observations that Nackley recalls is of the Hibiscus Purple Pillar plant. Unlike the trial at South Coast, the Purple Pillar did not perform well in Oregon in the spring.

“It wasn't until August that we saw the plant bloom and begin to look like what we saw from South Coast in April,” Nackley said.

Jared Sisneroz, a research associate from UC Davis, uses a LI-COR instrument to measure the stomatal conductance of a leaf on an Oso Easy® Urban Legend® Rose plant.

Ursula Schuch, horticulture professor and principal investigator of the trial taking place at the University of Arizona, was also surprised at the range of performance among different plant types and the effects of irrigation, heat and temperature.

“This research will reassure green industry professionals that they can stretch their water budget to successfully cultivate more plants, watering them according to their needs instead of irrigating every plant according to the highest water-using plants,” said Schuch.

Although research is only conducted in the West, the hope is that there will be trials in other regions of U.S.

Doing so would yield comprehensive information about the plants and their performance in different climates. As extreme weather events persist in the U.S., disease pressure and risks do too. Trials throughout the country would provide location-specific data regarding disease susceptibility. 

To learn more about the UCLPIT research project, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/UCLPIT/

Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2023 at 11:18 AM
Tags: climate (13), climate-ready (1), drought (171), irrigation (23), Karrie Reid (5), landscape (13), Loren Oki (5), low (1), plants (43), sustainable (13), UC Davis (332), water (83), water-use (1)
Focus Area Tags: Environment, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

Adapting to drought by removing urban landscapes has unintended impacts

A Western scrub jay on a California lawn. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)
Removing landscaping in urban areas to adapt to the California drought carries a gamut of potential repercussions on wildlife and the environment, reported LA Weekly. Two of Gov. Brown's water conservation rules - withholding water from grassy road medians and encouraging residents to remove their lawns - are taking an unexpected toll.

The subject was raised recently by two University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) experts in a position paper they published on their website, the story said. Don Hodel, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in LA County, and Dennis Pittenger, UC ANR Cooperative Extension area environmental horticulturist at UC Riverside, said landscapes and turf offer tremendous benefits to residents, communities and the environment.

"Nobody thought this out," Hodel said. 

The LA Weekly article also quoted Loren Oki, the UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist for landscape horticulture based at UC Davis. Among the obvious problems created by California's turf-removal program, Oki said, is "encouraging people to plant during the heat of the summer, which is the worst time" for new plants to survive in the ground. He predicts many of the low-water plants will not survive the late-summer heat.

Another UC Davis scientist, biochemistry professor William Horwath, raised the potential for turf removal to kill the "decomposition community" that lives in soil.

When cities and homeowners remove vegetation from land, that diminishes the diversity of the soil biology, especially the larger fauna such as worms, which feed off of the droppings of leaves and other materials from plants.

"If you are not growing anything, just gravel or mulch, you'll be losing a lot of worms, and you will at the same time be losing a lot of carbon from under the soil back into the atmosphere," Horwath said.

Oki was one of the authors of a recent post on the UC ANR California Institute for Water Resources blog, The Confluence, that provides practical, well-thought-out advice on drought-tolerant landscaping in California.

"A variety of options exist for gardeners implementing landscaping changes," the article says. "Trading in your turf for concrete, rock, or artificial turf are options. However, none of these selections promote healthy soils and other ecosystem services. In fact, all of these options can be problematic because they create a heat island effect and may have water infiltration or runoff issues."

The story details seven strategies for conserving water while maintaining a living landscape.

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 12:07 PM

6 ways to reduce water use without killing your garden

Spray heads can get knocked out of alignment. Check all spray heads to ensure they are hitting the target.
To conserve water and meet California's new water-use restrictions, one place to start is literally in one's own backyard. More than half of all household water use is typically used outdoors on landscape, according to University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources experts.  

For homeowners, there are six key things to do to conserve landscape water, says Karrie Reid, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor, in San Joaquin County. Reid gives the following six tips:

  1. Tune up your irrigation system right away. When water is efficiently and accurately applied, less water is needed to keep plants healthy. Spray heads can get knocked out of alignment and end up spraying the sidewalk, street or driveway and running to the gutter. Check all spray heads to ensure they are hitting the target and twist those that aren't back into place. Some heads have adjustable angles of spray, which can be fixed with a tool available at a hardware store. Look for cocked heads, which spray water up into the air, and sprays blocked by grass or those that have sunk below grade. Make sure all spray heads are made by the same manufacturer and are from the same line so they deliver water at the same rate, otherwise they'll leave dry spots. Low-volume spray heads or rotators deliver water more efficiently.

  2. To check the watering depth, use a soil probe.
    Water the whole root zone. On allowed watering days, irrigate until the water reaches 12 inches deep for grass, 12 to 18 inches for shrub and perennials, and 12 to 24 inches for trees. This provides a greater reservoir of water for the plants to draw from, and many will be able to get by on weekly, twice-monthly or monthly irrigation if they are conditioned to send their roots deep. To check the watering depth, use a soil probe or push a long screwdriver into the ground. The depth it reaches easily indicates how deeply the water has infiltrated.
  3. Avoid wasting water to runoff. If water runs off before the watering cycle finishes, split the cycle time. Set the timer to water in two, three or even four cycles at least an hour apart to allow the water to soak in. To ensure water isn't flowing below the root zone, check the watering depth after each cycle.

    An irrigation scheduling worksheet created by Loren Oki, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, and Darren Haver, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in Orange County, helps fine tune irrigation timing. The worksheet is available for free online at the Center for Urban Horticulture website http://www.ccuh.ucdavis.edu.  

  4. Switch to inline drip tubing for beds.  Drip irrigation applies water where it is needed with less loss to the air. Be sure to lay tubing so water reaches plants' entire root zone.

  5. MULCH, MULCH, MULCH. Adding 3 or 4 inches of organic material such as wood chips, shredded bark or bark nuggets will improve soil health while retaining water and lowering stress on your plants. Place mulch away from the street curb to prevent heavy rains from washing it into the storm drains.

  6. Inline drip tubing applies water where it is needed.
    Replace water-needy plants with low water users in the fall. All plants use a lot of water to get established when they are planted in the spring and summer, and for about a year after. Trees may need extra water for several years until their roots have grown well into the surrounding soil. By waiting until temperatures cool in the fall to plant, it will be easier to abide by the water restrictions. It's also important to use hydrozoning, which means placing plants with the same water needs on the same valve.  Otherwise, irrigating to the thirstiest plants on that station will give other plants more water than they need.

WUCOLS IV provides an assessment of irrigation water needs for over 3,500 taxa. Photo by Ellen Zagory.
To find low-water use plants that are suitable for a specific location, check UCANR's online Water Use Classification of Landscape Species at http://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS. Click the Plant Search Database tab, enter the name of the city, then select the desired type of plants (shrubs, perennials, trees, etc.) and the preferred water category (low, moderate, high).  The application will generate a list of plants suitable to grow in a location that fit the specified criteria.

Posted on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 8:35 AM

Residential runoff still contains banned chemicals

Pesticides that have not been sold at the retail level for years are still regularly found in residential runoff water, according to research in Sacramento and Orange counties by UC scientists. So called “legacy pesticides” are probably old products that homeowners still have on their garage shelves and are still using to control pests.

An earlier study by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the UC Integrated Pest Management Program found that 60 percent of pesticides sold to consumers are for ant control. For that reason, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in landscape horticulture Loren Oki of UC Davis and UC Cooperative Extension water resources/water quality advisor Darren Haver focused on ant control pesticides in their residential runoff research project. The scientists collected 830 water samples from the storm drains in four Sacramento County neighborhoods and four Orange County neighborhoods between 2006 and 2010.

“In Sacramento County, we trained a team of about 25 volunteer UC Master Gardeners to collect the samples,” Oki said. Orange County samples were collected by Haver and his staff. All the samples were sent to UC Riverside for analysis.

“Pesticides that have been off the market since 2004 are still found in the water,” Oki said. “We found organophosphates – diazinon and chlorpyrifos – in differing amounts, typically more in Orange County than Sacramento County. We also found a fairly new pesticide, fipronil, in most of our water samples.”

The scientists also noted random spikes in the amount pesticides in runoff water, unconnected with storms or other conditions, which suggested that they were directly associated with particular pesticide applications in the neighborhoods.

There are several ways homeowners can help prevent contamination of the California water supply. For one, dispose of old pesticides properly. Most cities and counties have programs for disposal of household hazardous waste.

When using pesticides, Oki suggests residents carefully read the label and use common sense.

“Don’t put pesticides on impervious surfaces, like concrete walkways and driveways,” he said. “Don’t put pesticides in garden areas where runoff might be generated. That runoff will carry the pesticides with it.”

Residents can also minimize the amount of water runoff from the property. Oki suggests reducing irrigation and targeting the water application properly. In addition, promote soil infiltration by promoting soil health.

“If you don’t generate runoff, you won’t have pesticides running off too,” Oki said.

Residential runoff can convey pesticides into water supplies.
Residential runoff can convey pesticides into water supplies.

Posted on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 9:22 AM
Tags: Darren Haver (3), Loren Oki (5), pesticides (17)

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