Drought Tolerant Landscape Design Plans
Image by June Hanabi from Pixabay
Landscape Design

Drought Tolerant Landscape Design Plans

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Our Sustainable 2nd Century vision: Ideas connecting water efficiency, hardy plants and smart landscape design are developed by UC Davis and demonstrated in our campus landscape.

A comprehensive draft UC Davis Drought Response Action Plan was posted on April 14.

Drought response

In early 2014, the state Department of Water Resources recognized that California was in a drought. California Governor Jerry Brown called on the state to reduce water use by 20%. UC Davis is responding to this call with a Drought Response Action Plan that outlines a set of actions that can be implemented to strive for a 20% reduction in water use from calendar year 2013, during the drought state of emergency. The actions cover operations, dining services, landscape management, research and agricultural water use, communication/behavior/education/outreach, utilities infrastructure, and new construction and renovations.

Investigate our actions for yourself in the . And, watch campus water use in real time at the UC Davis Water Dashboard. To help the campus save water, please report leaks, broken fixtures, irrigation malfunctions and other water waste to Facilities Management by calling (530) 752-1655, filing a work order (the online workorder requires a UC Davis login and password), or emailing To find out more about how you can take action to save water on campus and at home, please visit our Take Action Save Water page.

Drought-tolerant landscaping reduces water use.

Where we are

UC Davis is committed to fostering sustainable places that wisely steward our campus’s natural resources, while creating a healthy, enriching physical environment for learning and discovery. That commitment includes the outdoor campus landscape, gateways to the Davis community and a network of natural reserves elsewhere in California that UC Davis manages. Read UC Davis’ Integrated Pest Management Plan to learn about our environmentally sensitive pest management strategies for the campus landscape.

From the themed collections of plants in the UC Davis Arboretum to the choice of grass variety in some lawns, campus landscaping is designed to be a resource for education, research and enjoyment.

Daily grounds operations use mulching mowers, plant selectively to reduce waste and chip landscape waste to recycle as mulch.

Discovering and demonstrating new ways to manage water efficiently not only saves campus operating costs, but serves as a model for a water-strapped state.

Testing technology for cleaner water treatment

UC Davis generates more than 1.7 million gallons of wastewater each day. A sanitary sewer collection system carries wastewater from offices, housing buildings, laboratories, food service facilities and other support facilities to the wastewater treatment plant in south campus.

Built in 1999, the wastewater treatment plant uses mercury lamps to disinfect the water with UV rays, a state-of-the-art technology that has been adopted by only 25 percent of the country’s water treatment plants.

In 2009, a plan to purify wastewater with a new ultraviolet light technology won the Big Bang! business plan competition at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. The technology, developed by a UC Davis engineering professor, is an improvement to the mercury lamps, which are expensive to dispose of and require frequent cleaning. The new design uses xenon lamps that are less toxic and do not contact the water directly, thus requiring less cleaning.

The UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center and the Center for Entrepreneurship helped connect the professor’s scientific development with a Ph.D. student and two MBA candidates to bring the technology to market, forming a start-up company called UltraV.

The start-up company is currently testing the technology at the UC Davis wastewater treatment facility, with cooperation from the UC Davis Facilities Management and campus engineers.

UC Verde grass planted near the Graduate School of Management requires one fourth of the water other grass varieties need.

Saving water, mowing less

UC Verde grass needs only about 25 percent the amount of water used for other turf grasses. The grass was included in the landscaping of the new Maurice J. Gallagher Hall, home to the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, in part to meet the Gold-level certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED).

In addition to being water-efficient, UC Verde grass is also extremely tough and dense with strong disease and insect resistance, which reduces the need for chemical applications, weeding or other maintenance. Because the grass variety grows very slowly in comparison to other varieties, it also needs to be mowed far less frequently.

Responding to weather with smarter irrigation

UC Davis has automated and centralized its landscape irrigation control to meet the demands of campus weather. In the past, irrigation specialists manually adjusted the water system when it rained, amounting to more than 900 hours of work per year.

Computerized central controls have trans­formed campus water conservation, saving an estimated 49 million gallons of water per year, almost one-third of total utility water used on campus.

The new system functions so that each night a central weather station and controller sends updated data about soil, plant type, rainfall, temperature, wind speed and humidity to computerized water controllers across campus. Watering schedules are adjusted accordingly.

The UC Davis Arboretum has developed its “Arboretum All-Star” plants — drought-tolerant plants proven to do well in California’s Central Valley.

Demonstrating hardy plants for local climates

The UC Davis Arboretum includes 17 gardens covering 100 acres meandering through campus, a living museum with plant collections from throughout five continents. Highlighted among them are the Arboretum All-Stars, many of which are plants native to California and all of which are particularly well suited to Central Valley growing conditions.

The Arboretum All-Star plants are tested under different irrigation frequencies and in a variety of climate zones, as a cooperative effort between UC Davis horticulturists, Arboretum staff, California Center for Urban Horticulture, UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers and nursery industry partners.

The UC Davis Arboretum is committed to practicing, promoting and teaching Central Valley-wise gardening. This concept takes into consideration water-saving irrigation systems, mulching, companion plantings, biological pest control and other sustainable horticultural practices. In addition to hosting UC Davis classes, the Arboretum staff members also hold environmental education programs for elementary school students and community members.