The drought gives and the drought takes away, at least for the state's multibillion dollar landscaping, gardening and nursing industry.
Many consumers are postponing or canceling planting or landscaping changes because of worries over water shortages and drought-based water rates. Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered a moratorium on nonessential new landscaping on or along state freeways, highways, and buildings.
But other consumers see this as the time to overhaul yards, landscape with drought-resistant plants and add efficient irrigation. And many water agencies are paying bounties to customers who jettison lawns.
Landscaper Roxy Wolosenko is benefiting from both sides of the coin.
"People are definitely landscaping," said the owner of Roxy Designs in Pleasant Hill, "and they're hiring me to take out a lot of lawns." She said she averages five to six calls a week from people who want to replace lawns with drought tolerant plants and ground cover.
Experts say it is still hard to predict how the industry will fare this year, but many are optimistic.
"This drought is a huge opportunity for people to make horticultural changes that can save money and water," said Jon Singley, founder of Blue Spruce Landscaping and Construction in Campbell. "I think a green industry professional who is well educated and appreciates using the appropriate material on the right site is going to come out of this fine."
He and other landscapers say their business is anything but drying up as people plan landscaping and irrigation changes to reduce outdoor watering -- which consumes more than half of the water used at the typical California home. Of course, in the Bay Area's microclimates, water use -- and availability -- can vary significantly from place to place.
"People are keenly aware of their water bills and what they could become this year," Singley said.
The horticulture industry -- ornamental plant, seed and sod sellers, nurseries, gardeners, landscapers, equipment suppliers -- is big in California. It generated some $17.2 billion in direct annual sales, 101,000 full-time jobs and 170,600 part-time jobs in 2007, according to the most recent report commissioned by the California Landscape Contractors Association.
In the East Bay, landscaper Peter Rosen says his Dynamic Designs company in Castro Valley is getting plenty of calls from owners who want Mediterranean plants and more-efficient irrigation systems, such as drip.
Changes like these can help a homeowner reduce outdoor water use by as much as a half or two-thirds.
"I don't think a lot of people are going to give up on their landscaping and let it die, because it's tied to the value of their home," Rosen said.
Although sales of some traditional plantings may slide, customers seeking drought-tolerant yards generate business when they buy mulch, new plants, new drip or low-flow water systems.
Michael Johnson of Lafayette is one of those buyers, purchasing drought-tolerant plants, rocks for a rock creek bed, and an irrigation system to replace his front lawn. He says it's worth it.
"I've been thinking about it for years, but the drought kind of kicked me into doing it," said Johnson, a retired dentist.
But not all are swearing off grass purchases,
Orders for sod from Delta Bluegrass, a company that grows at numerous Delta locations, are running on par with last year for regular turf varieties, and ahead of last year for low-water-using native meadow grasses, said Ed Zuckerman, a company owner and executive.
Erin Gil of the Grass Farm company in Morgan Hill said it's too early to predict sod sales for the year -- especially when most water districts haven't decided yet if they will adopt water use restrictions or drought rates.
"It's going to be a challenging year," he said.
Many homeowners, Gil said, could cut consumption significantly by calculating their lawn water needs accurately and irrigating grass two or three times weekly in summer, not daily.
The nursery industry has a similar drought message. "People don't have to stop enjoying their plants and ground covering if they water efficiently," said Chris Zanobini, president of the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers.
Environmental Protection Agency watering tips: http://www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoor/watering_tips.html
UC Davis lawn watering tips and a calculator, visit http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8044.pdf