By Katie Hetrick
The change was gradual. The grass once blanketing the La Rue Road median between Russell Boulevard and Garrod Drive faded, then disappeared completely in the winter of 2011, leaving a large strip of bare earth exposed along the high-profile UC Davis campus beltway. The change left many wondering, “What’s going on there?”
Like many local residents forced to question the feasibility of managing their landscapes, UCD leaders were forced by budget cuts to get creative and transform high-water, high-maintenance lawns to attractive, low-water, easy-care landscapes to reduce operation and maintenance costs.
“For such a bland-looking landscape, the hours and resources spent caring for the median just didn’t make sense,” said Bob Segar, assistant vice chancellor of campus planning and community resources. “Regular maintenance like mowing required our teams to re-route traffic a couple of times a month, not to mention the amount of water required to keep the grass green and fuel to run the equipment.”
UCD will take on more of these types of landscape conversions as the result of a reorganization merging the campus’ professional outdoor design, care and operations staff from the Arboretum, Campus Planning & Landscape Architecture, Grounds and Landscape Services, Civil and Industrial Services and the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve and Campus Naturalized Land into the UCD Arboretum and Public Garden.
“Taking out turf and designing a landscape to take its place is not as easy as it may sound,” said Cary Avery, associate director of grounds and landscape services. “Just getting rid of the Bermuda grass took about a year — it’s tricky. Bermuda’s extensive root system and winter dormant period meant we had to give the grass at least two growing seasons followed quickly by herbicide application and removal. We didn’t want to risk it coming back to roost in our new landscape.”
After almost a year and a half of planning and preparation, teams from the Arboretum and Public Garden planted the first third of the almost 50,000-square-foot area, from Hutchison Drive to Garrod Drive, on Tuesday. Plants evaluated by staff horticulturists and landscape architects to be appropriate for this space and suitable for valley conditions were selected. Landscaping for the remainder of the median is scheduled for completion in early fall.
Andrew Fulks, director of the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve and campus naturalized lands, emphasized the water savings: “The shift from overhead pop-up spray irrigation to a sub-surface drip irrigation system will reduce our water use substantially. Once we have run the system for a few months in the summer we’ll know the exact amount of savings, which we can use to project future campus-wide efforts at water reduction.”
Ellen Zagory, director of horticulture for the Arboretum, selected the plant palette. “These plants demand little of our time yet offer a big return in form, color, flower and durability,” she said. “They’ll stand up and sparkle even with little irrigation in hot summer sun.”
Added Kathleen Socolofsky, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Arboretum and Public Garden, “Our goal is that this project will serve as a best-practice case study of lawn removal for institutional landscapes everywhere. We are documenting our process and will report back on our resource savings from less labor, fuel, emissions and water use, as the landscape matures.”
Home gardeners who are interested in transforming their lawns into more sustainable landscapes will find UCD Arboretum plant sales are a great resource. The sales feature a broad variety of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants and are staffed by expert volunteers and staff horticulturists who can help advise customers on landscaping projects.
The Friends of the UCD Arboretum member appreciation sale will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive across from the Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital.
“This sale is for Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum members, but anyone can join at the door,” said Suzanne Ullensvang, resource development manager for the Arboretum. “Members receive 10 percent off their plant sale purchases at all sales, an additional $10 off their purchase at the March 9 sale, free or discounted entry to hundreds of public gardens nationwide as well as discounts at local nurseries. The benefits far outweigh the cost. Members of the Davis Botanical Society are also welcome and receive the same discounts.”
Three additional public sales are planned this spring that are open to everyone regardless of membership. The sales will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 6; Sunday, April 28; and Saturday, May 18.
For more information, visit arboretum.ucdavis.edu, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-752-4880.