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Landscaper offers water-saving tips

April 27 Bay Friendly Garden Tour planned

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Landscaper Ben Penning stands amid drought-resistant plants he installed and maintains in front of a house on Mitchell Drive in St. Helena. The garden is one of 12 that will be featured in an April 27 tour of water-saving gardens from Napa to Calistoga, sponsored by the Resource Conservation District. Submitted photo

Although St. Helena has lifted its emergency water-use restrictions, the need to save water and reduce and cut water costs continues.

And, according to a Napa Valley landscaper who specializes in reducing water use and preventing leaks, conservation can be achieved easily and inexpensively.

Ben Penning, operations manager for Lou Penning Landscapes, offers several tips for home gardeners:

• Install a “smart” irrigation controller. “Smart irrigation controllers take daily weather readings and adjust your controller every day,” said Penning. “They will also turn your irrigation system off when it is raining and turn it back on when the sun comes back out. The City of St. Helena has a rebate for a smart irrigation controller.”

• Convert all overhead spray irrigation to drip irrigation. “Drip systems are much more efficient than sprays,” he said. “In some cases drip irrigation can reduce your water use by 75 percent.”

• Spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Penning said, “A thick layer of mulch will help keep moisture in the soil and prevent weed growth. Mulch gives your garden a fresh, new look and with many different types to choose from you can customize your garden and make it your own.”

• Install a separate water meter on the irrigation mainline. “This way we will know exactly how much water your landscape is using compared to your house. Also if there is a leak somewhere on the property, we can tell right away if it is inside, or in the landscape,” he added.

• Develop a water budget for your landscape. “Watering your landscape can be a bear to figure out and program perfectly. Let us show you how.”

• Set up a rainwater harvesting system. “Rainwater harvesting is not a new invention. People have been doing it for thousands of years on a small scale. It is possible to capture the rain off your roof and use it in your landscape, no matter what size roof or yard you have.”

• Set up a grey water system. California recently relaxed laws on using “grey water” from you house in your landscape. No, this doesn’t mean toilet water, it is water from your shower and clothes washer you can safely use in your landscape to water your thirsty plants,” Penning said.

• Install a master valve on your irrigation system. “Irrigation systems can leak or fail in many different ways,” said Penning. “The only way to ensure your irrigation system is not leaking when the system is not running is to install a master valve that will allow water to pass only when the irrigation controller is watering a valve.”

Lou Penning Landscapes has been tracking residential water use in St. Helena for the past four years. “We are irrigation experts, accredited by the Irrigation Association and certified with the Bay Friendly Coalition,” said Penning.

He invited residents to attend a Bay Friendly Garden Tour on Sunday, April 27, featuring 12 low-water-use and watershed-friendly landscapes, from Napa to Calistoga.

The 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tour will include six gardens in Napa and six gardens between Yountville and Calistoga, including drought-tolerant gardens with habitat, heritage oaks, chickens, honeybees, composting, orchards, vegetable beds, lawn-free entertaining spaces, rain barrels and information about “Beat the Drought” workshops.

Two of the gardens scheduled to be featured on the tour were installed by Lou Penning Landscapes and were designed by Kellie Carlin Landscape Design of St. Helena.

Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at or at the Resource Conservation District office, 1303 Jefferson St., Suite 500 B in Napa. On the day of the tour tickets can be purchased at 10 a.m. at the Yountville Community Center. Details are available from Frances Knapczyk at 252-4188, ext. 116, or Penning at 732-6457.

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