THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT IN the past, landscape design and maintenance have been more about appearance than anything else. Today, however, landscape businesses have to offer their clients a great deal more than just a pretty yard. With water shortages and rationing already in force in many parts of the country, people are seeking ways to conserve yet maximize water use.

If you can find a way to minimize your clients’ water-guzzling landscapes into efficient, water-conserving powerhouses that will save owners money, you will have an endless stream of clients clamoring for your services. If you can make them also aesthetically pleasing, that’s just another plus.

One way to accomplish this is to become eco-friendly, using drought-tolerant and native plant material that thrives on less water.

Most of the time, it takes a great deal of expensive plans and many meetings to bring new ideas before a residential client or commercial property manager. But once in awhile, you’ll find a long-time client who is so passionate about water conservation, that she’ll actually approach you.

Such was the case with Kat Stimac, property manager for Mid Valley Properties, Inc., Calabasas Hills, California. The timing couldn’t have been better. Having just completed an interior renovation of a building at an industrial business park, the owners also wanted to renovate the landscaping for that building.

Built in 1979, the business park in Reseda, California, has nine buildings on the property. With a 30-year-old irrigation system and tired landscaping, the owners knew it was time for a face lift. Between rebate programs offered, new technology and the availability of sustainable plants, all the pieces were now starting to come together.

The owners would use one building as a test case, and put they put Stimac in charge of the project. Once the landscaping was completed, they would have a blueprint for the other eight buildings on-site.

Partnering with the owners was Dworsky Landscape Services, Gardena, California. Although the property had been well maintained for a number of years, not much had changed since the original installation. About a year ago, Dave Dworsky, CEO of Dworsky Landscape Services, acquired the company that was maintaining the the property. In addition to their normal landscape services, Dworky has a number of employees who are trained to work with native and drought-tolerant plant material. This crew has also become Irrigation Association-Certified Technicians.

Stimac contacted Dan Dworsky, regional manager of business development, and explained her ideas for the renovation. Dworsky was confident that they could meet the requirements. He assigned general manager Julio Lopez to start an assessment.

It was important for Stimac to be directly involved with the choices for the plant material. “I wanted to keep the number of plant types to a minimum and choose an analogous color scheme with cool overtones to play off the strong accent colors of the building. Also, I wanted a sense of whimsy and play.” With the overwhelming variety of plant material available and the need to keep project costs down, they decided the best way to make decisions was to take a field trip to the nursery together.

After completing his initial assessment, Lopez immediately noticed that the current irrigation system was old, inefficient and had only one zone covering both the plant and grass areas.

“That’s not the way it’s done anymore,” said Lopez. “Using the newest low-precipitation sprinkler heads, I knew we could accomplish significant water savings. The first thing we needed to do was split the area. In order to do that in an efficient way, we needed to take out the old system and re-wire everything.”

Another problem was that the water from the existing sprinkler heads were not properly aligned, causing overlapping, so some areas of turf were getting much more water than others. “Water was spraying everywhere,” Lopez said, “In addition, the plant material was definitely the wrong type, and installed incorrectly for our drought-plagued area.”

A thirty-year-old office park in California was in need of a renovation. The management decided that they wanted to be eco-friendly. The resulting retrofit has a low-carbon footprint, as well as eye appeal.

Once Dworsky got the green light for the plan, he sent a crew to remove a few trees that had overgrown and were now threatening the foundation of the building, and were keeping the sun from the plants. Then, they reconfigured the shape of the plant beds, removing some of the turf to create a more efficient design.

He showed Stimac that by removing some of the turf and making wider beds for plant material, the integrity of the landscape would not be compromised.

Old pipes and valves were replaced, and new MP rotators from Hunter were installed in the turf areas. By using low precipitation-rated sprinkler heads, Mid Valley was on its way to lower water bills.

Low-volume dripline was placed in the planter areas to deliver water directly to where the plants needed it: at the root-zone. This served to not only eliminate water waste, but also redirected the spray away from the impermeable pavement and windows surrounding the landscape.

To regulate the irrigation schedule, Lopez replaced the property’s old controller with a new two-wire ACC decoder smart controller and a state-of-the-art Solar-Sync weather station sensor. The weather station will measure rain levels and current temperature, then recalculate irrigation timing at each station in the complex, based on their specific conditions.

“We installed decoders in all valves, so we can have the capability of adding more valves to separate turf and planters. This will save the property owner money and save water by automatically calculating each plant’s watering needs,” Lopez said.

The planter area was tilled to ensure optimal water drainage of the soil. The field trip with Kat to the nursery was educational and yielded some great choices. Plant material was matched to the California climate and also to the plant’s ability to thrive in sun or shade.

By mixing a variety of native plants with drought-tolerant plants, Dworsky accomplished exactly what Stimac had envisioned. The new landscape not only reduced the water consumption, but also beautified the area as well.

The entire 2,100 square-foot project took a little less than three weeks to complete. Now, with a basic blueprint for the rest of the complex, Dworsky estimates that Mid Valley Properties can expect a 30 percent decrease in water costs and a reduction in potential costs from water damage to the buildings.

“We want to see how the new landscape holds up over several months,” said Stimac. “If this turns out as well as we think it will, we’ll start retrofitting the irrigation at the other eight buildings one-byone and replant as needed. Our goal is water reduction first. The longterm cost savings and a rebate help to justify the initial expense and frankly, it’s just smart.”