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ESD Extra: Native and Drought-Tolerant Plants Save Water, Generate Life

Post Date:04/10/2019 4:41 PM
Have you ever heard a hummingbird up close? San José resident Andy Pierce likens the sound to that of a gas-powered model airplane.

“I was out here walking around, enjoying the yard, I might have been pulling a weed or two, and I had what sounded like a locomotive come flying into my ear,” Pierce recalled on a recent sunny morning in the front yard of his Cambrian neighborhood home. “It was a hummingbird, I guess trying to get nectar out of my ear.”

Pierce was jolted, but pleased. It’s one of countless hummingbird encounters he’s had since replacing his front lawn with native and drought-tolerant plants. His yard, once sterile, now teems with life, particularly bees and butterflies.

“I used to see maybe one honeybee every now and then,” he said. “Now I come out here and I see honeybees all over the place – all kinds of bees, actually. It’s great – I got what I wanted and so did the bees.”

Pierce not only gets more enjoyment out of his yard but also saves money on his water bills and time on maintenance. (He hasn’t touched his lawn mower in two years.) He’s one of a growing number of San José residents who are embracing drought-tolerant landscaping to beautify their homes and reduce their water consumption.
Andy Pierce
Andy Pierce enjoys the yard of his Cambrian neighborhood home.

“It’s really taking off,” said Sherri Osaka, owner of San José-based Sustainable Landscape Designs, who points to our second most recent drought (2007 to 2009) as a tipping point in the movement toward native and drought-tolerant plants. “Before then, I was trying sneak native plants in. After that, people began asking for them.”

San Joséans reduced their water consumption 29 percent in 2016 compared to 2013, showing they are up to the challenge of improving water efficiency, which is a key element of Climate Smart San José, the City’s new sustainability plan.

With climate change diminishing the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides roughly a third of California’s drinking water, and the state’s population continuing to grow, communities are recognizing the need to be water-wise. Ensuring we have a long-term water supply means embracing our California climate, with its bone-dry summers. Since outdoor irrigation accounts for half of residential water use in San José, adopting a low-water landscape is an effective way to cut consumption dramatically.

“If you have a high-water landscape, or lawn, you’re watering about an inch a week,” said Osaka, whose home water consumption has dropped from 138,000 gallons a year to 38,000 gallons a year since she converted her lawn. “If you have drought-tolerant plants, you’re watering about a quarter of an inch per week.”

There are plenty of resources for those interested in low-water landscaping. The Santa Clara Valley Water District offers rebates for landscape conversions. The Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency and other organizations offer free classes taught by experts like Osaka. For a list of classes near you, visit

Pierce saved money on his project through the Lawn Busters pilot program, a 2015 partnership between the San José Environmental Services Department, Santa Clara Valley Water District and Our City Forest.

For Pierce, the benefits of low-water landscaping go beyond saving money or improving his quality of life. He’s thinking longer term.

“We only get one shot at this,” he said. “I have two kids. And I want to leave them and their kids a healthy environment with a plentiful clean water supply.”

To learn more about Climate Smart San José, including tips to save energy and water and improve quality of life, go to
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