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You can't always tell by looking at your plants whether you are overwatering or underwatering. Photo: Water Authority

Does Your Landscaping Need Water?

Before adding irrigation to landscaping, make sure it’s needed. Appearances can be misleading, and cause water to be used unnecessarily. 

First, use “digital” technology. Because soil may appear dry on the surface, stick your finger into the soil and see if the soil is wet beneath the surface. If the soil is moist up to your second knuckle, it doesn’t need any more water. Wait for another 24 to 48 hours, and check the soil again. 

As an alternative, use a soil probe and measure the moisture in the soil to determine whether the soil needs more water.  

Another strategy is to assess plant health. How vibrant are they? This can be tricky, because sometimes the signs of overwatering and underwatering will produce similar results in plants.  

Underwatering symptoms include: 

  • Soil is bone dry 
  • Older leaves turn yellow or brown, and drop off 
  • Leaves are wilted 
  • Leaves curl and become brittle 
  • Stunted plant growth

Overwatering symptoms include: 

  • Soil is constantly saturated and soggy 
  • Leaves turn a lighter shade of green, or turn yellow 
  • Younger plant shoots wilt 
  • Leaves are green and brittle 
  • Algae and mushrooms are in the soil 
  • Growth is excessive 

Since the symptoms at both extremes can be similar, it’s best to rely on objective measurements rather than observations. Using simple measurement tools can help ensure the correct amount of irrigation takes place without withholding needed moisture, but without overwatering and wasting resources.  


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at 



Farm Bill Offers A Chance At Salton Sea Funding

With the passage of the Federal Farm Bill by both the Senate and House (December 12 and 13 respectively) and hopefully a signature of support to come from the White House soon, another opportunity has arisen to help fund restoration efforts at the Salton Sea. After the failure of Prop. 3 during the November election, which amounts to a $200 million loss for the sea, a spark of positive funding news is good to hear. While there is no guarantee of funding for the sea in the Farm Bill (nor is the sea even mentioned) there is a provision for environmental projects for which the sea could qualify for funding.

Deal Could Avoid Shutdown, But California Wildfire And Water Measures Have To Wait

Congressional leaders reached a short-term spending deal Wednesday that effectively punts most of the contentious funding decisions into the new year. That includes the question of whether to extend a federal law designed to deliver more Northern California water south, which has become a factor in the Delta water-sharing agreement reached earlier this month. Congressional aides said federal wildfire recovery funding will have to wait until the new year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday morning that the Senate would vote on a “simple measure that will continue government funding into February.” More precisely, the spending bill will fund the government through Feb. 8.

OPINION: Peace In California’s Water Wars Is Within Grasp

Dare we say it? The outlines of a truce in California’s unending water battles began to come into focus last week, though not everyone is willing to sign the treaty. The State Water Board adopted the first phase of a far-reaching revision to the Water Quality Control Plan for the Sacramento‒San Joaquin Delta and its watershed. This first phase, which has been many years in the making, focuses on the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, and would allocate a greater share of water to the environment.

Orange County Water Study Updated, Poseidon Desalination Plant Still Scores Low

South Orange County is far more at risk for future water shortages than the rest of the county, according to the final draft of a water-needs forecast received Wednesday by the Municipal Water District of Orange County’s board. The Poseidon desalination plant planned for Huntington Beach continues to rank lowest in cost effectiveness, with questions also raised about the need for the $1 billion project. The 261-page report updates MWDOC’s 2016 forecast, reflecting the increased likelihood that the California WaterFix tunnels will improve the reliability of flows imported from northern California.

Lawsuits Await After California Water Board Adopts Flows Plan, CFBF Reports

 Irrigation districts along three Central California rivers say they will be suing the state of California and—simultaneously, in some cases—negotiating with it, now that the State Water Resources Control Board has voted to redirect significant flows along the rivers in an effort to improve fish populations. The state water board voted 4-1 last week to adopt the first phase of its disputed Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, which requires districts along the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers to leave 30 to 50 percent of “unimpaired flows” in the San Joaquin River tributaries to help fish.

Wide Fluctuation In October Water Conservation Numbers

Water conservation numbers for October were announced last week by the Water Resources Control Board, and the savings were all over the place. Statewide, urban water use was down 13.4 percent compared to October 2013, the pre-drought benchmark year. That was down from 14.6 percent in September, but the conservation rate has been pretty static since July. However the Sacramento River watershed, usually one of the more thrifty regions, had savings of just 12.1 percent in October. The conservation rates were higher on the South Coast, 13.1 percent, and in the Bay Area, 14.0 percent.