Soil and water

WATER MISFORTUNE – Los Angeles Business Journal

Business slowed at C&S Nursery Inc. in Baldwin Hills.
Cristian Rosales, who owns the business with his brother Santiago, said the slowdown this summer was due to customers’ reluctance to buy new plants.

“With the (watering) restrictions, they don’t want to risk the plant dying on them if they can’t water it properly,” Rosales said.

Strict restrictions on outdoor watering have severely pruned business at Los Angeles-area nurseries, with one owner saying sales were down 90% in August. They agree that their future may lie in native California plants and growing material that uses less water.

The water restrictions come from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which in April asked its member water agencies to follow a one-day-a-week watering schedule or establish a water budget – establishment of volumetric limits on the quantity of water. used. The new requirements started on June 1.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) announced on May 10 that it would opt for the water budget option and allow twice-weekly watering.
For all LADWP customers whose addresses end in odd numbers, watering will be limited to Mondays and Fridays. For customers whose addresses end in even numbers, watering will be limited to Thursdays and Sundays. The new bylaw also came into effect on June 1.

City of Los Angeles regulations differ from MWD regulations in that the city allows residents to water twice a week, as opposed to the once-a-week watering schedule commanded by MWD.

The changes are in addition to existing watering restrictions, which state that customers watering with sprinklers are limited to eight minutes per use; sprinkler irrigation using water-saving nozzles is limited to 15 minutes; and watering between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. is prohibited, regardless of the watering day. The existing regulations were imposed by the LADWP last year.

“We are exempt because we fall under the agricultural umbrella,” Rosales said. “We need to keep our factories alive so we can stay in business.”
The exemption under which Rosales operates is stipulated by the LADWP and allows him to continue watering without restriction. However, this is not the case everywhere.

Martin Badilla waters the plants in the greenhouse at C&S Nursery Inc. in Los Angeles. (Photo by Ringo Chiu)

Not alone

In Agoura Hills, which is served by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, water consumption has been limited to once a week for residential and commercial customers.
This includes the Colorful Garden Center.

Center owner Bharat Shah said business was down around 40% in July, while in August it was down almost 90%.
Shah said that in 2014 and 2015 his business was down 30-40%, but everyone reduced their water use by 20-25%.

“It wasn’t like that,” he added of the conditions he now faces.
Shah said he started Colorful Garden over 30 years ago; the company sells flowers, trees, bushes, fruit trees, soil and indoor plants.

“We do very good business here,” he added. “We make over a million dollars a year. It’s only been a year. Next year will be normal because we will have an El Nino year and we will have so much rain next year or the year after.

Colorful Garden only breaks even during years of extreme drought, Shah continued.
“Then we start getting a lot of rain and people start forgetting about the drought,” he said.

native plants

Bob Sussman founded Matilija Nursery in Moorpark over 25 years ago. It was a career change for Sussman, who had been in banking. But he was tired of commuting to downtown Los Angeles and didn’t want to wear a tie anymore.

His nursery primarily sells native California plants – iris, sage, lilac, buckwheat, manzanita and the flower that gave his business its name – the Matilija poppy.
“They are the largest of the poppy family,” Sussman explained. “It’s (a) large white flower about 6 inches in diameter with a big orange ball in the middle, like the size of a golf ball.”

With the summer months being slower in terms of plant sales, it’s too early to tell if the water restrictions are having a big impact on the business.
But there is an upturn in business, Sussman said.

“If you don’t do a lot in the summer and you do a little, that’s a big percentage increase and that’s an improvement,” he added.
Greg Kuga, the manager of Sunset Blvd. Silver Lake Nursery, said the nursery has been reducing water usage for many years as it transitions to drought-tolerant plants. Vegetable and bedding plants are watered approximately every two days, while the rest of the stock sold by the nursery is watered once every four or five days, sometimes even once a week.

“It’s been a weird few years,” Kuga said. “Since the start of the pandemic, the nursery industry has been crazy. There was a huge demand for lots of vegetables and herbs because people were staying home and growing their own food.
Over the past six months or so, the number of sales has been on a downward trend and is back to where it was before the pandemic.

“It went up and then down and is now on a normal basis compared to what it was before,” Kuga said.
He had never seen business boom as much as during the pandemic as sales doubled or tripled, he continued.

At the height of the pandemic, 1,000 people passed through the crèche during the day. Now that amounts to a few hundred people during the week, with more on weekends, Kuga said.
“All nurseries were thriving during the pandemic, and that has now stabilized,” he added.

To look forward

Ask a nurseryman where the industry will be in five years in California and the answer will only be for drought-tolerant plants.
“The long-term trend has been to move away from plants that use more water. I expect that to continue,” said Sussman, of Matilija Nursery. “It could be more Mediterranean, more desert, more indigenous, more luscious, things like that.”

Unfortunately, he added, that also means more concrete, more fake grass and more rocks in place of green lawns.
“I guess it’s a little awkward, but I’m not sure you would call it the landscape industry,” Sussman said.

Rosales, of C&S Nursery, also foresees a future of aquatic plants.
“It will be the norm for Los Angeles to be water wise,” Rosales said. “I think most people are on board. If you look at most people’s landscapes, they bring in Australian natives and succulents, and California natives and combine them so they don’t have to spend so much on lawns or water loving plants . I think it will continue on this path.

At Sunset Blvd. Nursery, the business has always evolved based on what customers are looking to buy, said Kuga, whose father, Dennis Kuga, owns the business.
During the pandemic, houseplants, vegetables and herbs were popular. Today, it is drought-resistant plants that are popular with customers. The nursery sells a lot of cacti, succulents and California native-style plants, Kuga said.

“Five years from now it will be very different from what we are now,” he added.