Thinking of a yard redesign to save water?


With the current drought, combined with imposed restrictions, fines and rules, Canyon Lakers are faced with many decisions regarding their use of water. With landscaping usually requiring the most water in the average household, many residents are choosing to make changes to allow for more water conservation in their yards.

In a two-block stretch on Canyon Lake Dr. alone, one can see three houses in the midst of major renovations to their front yard landscaping.

The current drought in California has created noticeable changes around the community. The Golf Course has experienced a facelift with trees and grass replaced with drought-tolerant plants. Fountains have been (temporarily) turned off, medians are looking a bit tired and many parks appear more brown than green.

Many homes that were lush and tropical at the beginning of summer are looking more like desert landscapes. Some residents are trying to keep up with what they have lovingly nurtured all these years, while others have given up.

But many homeowners are working thard o create lovely new yards and gardens with the use of drought-tolerant plants and improved watering systems, as well as thoughtful planning with regard to sun, shade, plant location, mulch, walkways and hardscapes. Some are putting in artificial turf or even getting their dry grass painted green.

With the drought in its fourth year, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency requiring water reductions of 28 percent for the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District and its customers. In addition, a temporary drought surcharge is also being applied at Stage 3a through Stage 5c of water usage and, on July 23, the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District approved a 27 percent increase in customer costs for the coming fiscal year. According to the EVMWD, the decision was made after careful consideration for the costs associated with providing safe and reliable water service to residents and businesses. These costs include imported water rates that have more than doubled over the past 10 years and energy cost increases of 30 percent for the district. (Refer to “EVMWD Board raises rates, adds drought surcharge” from The Friday Flyer July 31, 2015 issue.)

For those reasons, many residents are searching for ways to reduce water usage and keep more money in their wallets.

Professional landscaper Rick Mackie has been a Canyon Lake resident for several decades. Rick says he has designed more than 100 yards in the community, both front and back, and is one of the best in California in designing rock walls, fountains and falls. Rick can be reached at Mackie’s Design Landscape, 951-244-2544, When asked for a single piece of advice for homeowners, Rick says to always consider the sun/shade location in yards for the best growth and water retention. He also advises using lots of mulch! (He reminds residents that red bark mulch can be toxic to pets.)

There are many ways for residents to reduce water usage in yards. Reducing the size and/or type of lawn is one of the best. Updating sprinklers and using mulch is another. Replacing water-loving plants with drought-tolerant plants is an excellent idea. So is adding hardscape, such as walkways or paths.

Homeowners George and Amy Gerrard took out about 75 square feet of grass and replaced it with stone to create a relaxing sitting area in front of their home. They did the entire job themselves, even building the Anarondak seating.

Homeowner Dave Coolidge had his back lawn removed (by Rick Mackie) and created a shady path with plants, shrubs, trees and a small patio over a water feature that doubles as a soaking area to cool off during the summer. “Not only does it use a lot less water, but it’s a great place to cool off after fishing and every night before bed!” says Dave. Now he has Rick redesigning his front yard too.

For residents who are considering changes to their yards, be sure to consult with Planning and Compliance at the POA for guidelines regarding the percentage of hardscape versus softscape, required number of trees and other rules for landscaping yards within the community.

To help decide what drought-tolerant plants to use, residents can check with local nurseries or neighbors. Drive around the community and take photos of favorite plants, then check online for their tolerance. Professional landscapers are another good resource, especially for those with “brown thumbs” or large projects, as well as those who don’t enjoy or have time to do the job.

To further help residents with their decisions, Rick Mackie provided the following lists with some of his favorite drought-tolerant trees and plants.

Rick’s favorite trees are: Acaia, Albizia Julibrissia (Mimosa), CedrusDeodara, Melaleuca, Eucalyptus, Koelreuteria Paniculata (Goldenrain Tree), most pine trees, Quercus (Oak), Schinus Molle (Pepper), Trisstania Conferta.

Rick’s favorite plant choices are, Prosopis Glandulosa (Mesquite), and the Lagerstroemia Indca (Crape Myrtle).

His favorite plant choices are: Bougainvillea , Ceanothus (Wild Lilac), Catha Edulis, Catlaranthus Roseus (Madagascar Periwinkle), Citus (Rockrose), Conuoluulus (Bush Morning Glory), Cotoneaster, Crassula Succulents, Dedonaea Viscosa (Hopseed), Escollonia, Grevillea, Myoporum, Photina, Plumbago, Prunus Caroliniana (Carolina Cherry), Prunus Illicifolia (Hollyleaf Cherry), Prunus Lyoni (Catalina Cherry), Punica (Pomegranate), Pyracantha, Rosmarinus (Rosemary), Salvia, Trichostema, Xylosma Congestum and Xylosma.

Pancho Norcutt, who has lived in Canyon Lake for 25 years, just opened “Water Wise Yard Design and Decor” in Murrieta. Pancho says they are “the whole package” with everything from plants and grasses to rocks and fountains, even yard art. Pancho can be reached at 951-698-6767.

Those who would rather not work with concrete can contact Bob Perkins of Sun Aqua Pool & Spa at 951-674-5200. Bob’s specialty is pools, but he can help start the hardscape, so the homeowner can finish with the plants.

The Riverside County Master Gardeners have a helpful website through the University of California. Get up-to-date drought information and gardening tips at

Because Canyon Lakers enjoy a “water lifestyle” that includes swimming, fishing, floating, boating and playing on the lake, it can be difficult to imagine water being in short supply. But it is. In fact, even when this drought ends, the shortage will remain (and another drought is just a matter of time).

The website lists these gardening tips for September:

  • As days shorten, reduce irrigation times.
  • Continue to deep water your established trees.
  • Compost disease-free annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.
  • Cultivate and add compost to the soil for fall/winter vegetables and annuals.
  • Dig, divide and replant overgrown perennials as they finish blooming.

As more and more people move to Southern California (which is essentially a desert), the demand for water will increase. Many experts agree that this is just the beginning of a very long battle. Why wait to begin conserving water, saving money and doing one’s fair share? The sooner changes are made, the sooner benefits will be reaped. So why wait?


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