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Environment & Science

Don't tear out your lawn NOW, and other counterintuitive drought advice




Frank McDonough, Botanical Information Consultant at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, and friend.
Frank McDonough, Botanical Information Consultant at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, and friend.
John Rabe

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It's Frank McDonough's job as "Botanical Information Consultant" at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden to field questions from residents, and he's getting three to five questions every day about the drought.

His answers may surprise you:

1. "I'm tearing my lawn out, what do I do?"

The answer is, don't tear your lawn out. Don't do anything ... yet. Now is the time to plan. It's too hot to plant most plants. It looks like we're having a really early hot spring. Trying to get a plant established right now you risk losing it. You most definitely have to water more frequently, and with the water restrictions that are on in some cities, that's not possible.

2. Should I use natives?

Natives aren't bad. There's a lot of great selections for natives, but the problem with natives here is that natives tend to be specific to microclimates in and around the area ... for instance, there's ceanothus that only grow on certain sides of hills; there's other plants that rather grow in mountains than flatlands, and vice versa. What it boils down to is, if you were to nativize your yard with the correct plants for that area, you wouldn't have a lot of choices.

Instead, McDonough says, consider plants from South Africa, Australia and the Canary Islands that are drought tolerant and work well in many more microclimates. Many of those are on display at the Arboretum, and have been since the late 1950s.

3. What about drip irrigation?

You have to be very careful with drip irrigation. The technology has been ramping up. It's getting better. But it does have a lot of problems. One of them is that the old-fashioned drip irrigation would rot out within two years from ultraviolet light. And in the old days, if you tried to bury it, the roots would go and block it up.

Instead, try copper-coated drip irrigation lines that keep out the roots.

There's much more in our interview, including a loud interruption by the peacock above, which McDonough says is one of the most prolific breeders of all known peacocks. 

Frank recommends Australian Attila for succulent advice

And at the end of June, McDonough is giving a walking tour of some of the weirdest plants at the Arboretum.



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