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Most native Southern California plants do well in hotter temperatures, so summer plant care is easy with a little planning. Photo: Annie Spratt/Pixabay

Find the Right Plant for Your Landscape Plans Online

If you’re looking to upgrade your landscape or just love gardens, it can be challenging to choose the right plant that will thrive within your WaterSmart Living landscape plans for your specific conditions.

The online plant finder WaterSmart Landscaping in San Diego County can assist you through a comprehensive database of choices well suited to this region’s Mediterranean climate.

Pollinators and birds are attracted to native plants like this Stonecrop (Crassulae). Photo: City of Escondido

Pollinators and birds are attracted to native plants like this Stonecrop (Crassulae). Photo: City of Escondido

This interactive gardening tool has thousands of pictures of plants and garden designs. Take visual tours of beautiful, water-efficient landscapes through photographs that include hotlinks to plant information screens.

Photos are organized by landscape category to make them easy to find. Explore galleries of ideas for back yards, front yards, hillsides, patios, planters, and other outdoor living areas.

If you’re simply looking at plants, the online guide offers more than 1,000 plants and search tools that make plants easy to find.

Online guide features specialty plant sections

right plant

Beach strawberry makes an attractive lawn substitute. Photo: Flickr

Specialty sections include:

  • Lawn alternatives: Create non-traditional lawn space without thirsty turf.
  • Pollinator attracting plants: Pollinator gardens with flowers that provide pollen and nectar for pollinating insects provide vital nutrients to support the pollinator population, and preserve agriculture, ecosystems, and biodiversity.
  • Plants for fire safety: trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines, and perennials that can help reduce fire intensity and do not contribute significantly to fuel the fire due to moisture or chemical content, or total volume.
  • California natives: Because native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions, they require far less water. They also provide vital habitat for birds and other wildlife and preserve biodiversity.you’re exploring, save plant and garden images you like to your plant list, then print reports about them before you shop.
Most native Southern California plants do well in hotter temperatures, so summer plant care is easy with a little planning. Photo: Annie Spratt/Pixabay

Most native Southern California plants do well in hotter temperatures, so summer plant care is easy with a little planning. Photo: Annie Spratt/Pixabay

Go to the website to get started

Click through the navigation bar to see the lists and available resources.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

WaterSmart-The Bucks' winning landscape design includes beautiful outdoor living areas. Photo: OMWD

WaterSmart Living Landscapes Come in Many Styles

Using water efficiently is a way of life and an important responsibility in a beautiful, Mediterranean climate like San Diego County. WaterSmart landscaping is all about rethinking the way limited water resources are applied and making smart choices to reduce outdoor water use.

Saving water isn’t the only reason for a WaterSmart garden. WaterSmart landscapes are attractive and in balance with our environment and climate. They incorporate elements of sustainable landscaping such as healthy, living soils, climate-appropriate plants, high-efficiency irrigation and rainwater harvesting, and generate many environmental and community benefits.

Working within the WaterSmart Matrix, you have lots of flexibility when selecting the combination of plants and irrigation to meet your water efficiency goals. Whether you want to create space for entertaining, limit landscape maintenance, or maintain some turf for children and pets, you can reach your water-saving goals and create an outdoor space to live in without resorting to gravel, concrete, or artificial turf.

These three models can help you get started. You can swap plants within the same usage categories, as long as the percentage mix of low, moderate, and high water use plants remain the same.

Mediterranean Effect: Low to Moderate Water Use Planting

The Bucks' winning landscape design includes beautiful outdoor living areas. Photo: OMWD

The Bucks’ winning landscape design includes beautiful outdoor living areas. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Low water-use plants: 45%.

Moderate water-use plants: 45%

High water-use plants: 10%

In this style, small areas of turf in the high water use category are balanced by beautiful trees, flowering shrubs, and groundcover choices which thrive in our San Diego-style Mediterranean climate. This is a landscape perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Contemporary Effect: Low Water Use Planting

Turf rebates-after-November 2020-fall planting

This homeowner took advantage of turf rebates to transform the front yard with climate-appropriate plants. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority.

Low water-use plants: 90%.

High water-use plants: 10%

For even greater water savings, shrubs that thrive in our San Diego-style Mediterranean climate take center stage along with smart choices of drought-tolerant trees and minimal turf for a lush landscape look full of texture and color.

Native Garden Effect: Very Low Water Use Planting

Native plants-drought-City of Escondido-Landscape Makeover

The Everetts’ winning landscape provides a native habitat and saves water. Photo: City of Escondido

Very low water-use plants: 50%.

Low water-use plants: 50%

California native plants and succulents thrive in our environments. They have adapted over thousands of years to survive on limited natural rainfall. Using natives to create natural habitat is the ultimate accomplishment in WaterSmart landscaping design.

Refer to the plant lists in A Homeowner’s Guide to a WaterSmart Landscape, or ask a local nursery professional for help choosing your landscape plants from the appropriate categories.

WaterSmart landscapes are an upgrade, not a compromise. Creating a yard that loves San Diego as much as you do also creates a sustainable habitat that also preserves our native environment. It can save you maintenance time and costs and conserves our most valuable community resource: water.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

High quality landscape soil will support your WaterSmart landscape design. Photo: Lisa Fotios/Pexels healthy soil

Getting the Dirt on Healthy Landscape Soil

Soil is essential to a healthy landscape and efficient water use. Learn about your soil’s characteristics and how to care for it. The results include easier maintenance, a healthier environment, and a more beautiful landscape.

Here are some simple tests to help you evaluate your soil.

Soil Drainage Assessment

Evaluate your results based on the drainage rate. First, dig a hole 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Set aside the soil for additional tests.

A simple, quick test will tel you how well your soil drains. Photo: Greywater.org landscape soil

A simple, quick test will tell you how well your soil drains. Photo: Greywater.org

Next, fill the hole with water. Let it drain overnight. Then fill the hole with water a second time. Set a stick in the hole so water just reaches the top. In one hour, measure the drop in water from the top of the stick in inches.

Drainage less than one inch per hour: Poor Drainage. This may be due to high clay content or soil compaction. Add compost to the soil before planting to improve soil aggregation and water infiltration. Select plants that can tolerate poor drainage or consider using raised beds or mounds. Regular surface applications of shredded mulch may be helpful for long-term management. Irrigation should be scheduled for short cycles and long soak periods to meet plant water demand and avoid runoff.

Drainage is between one to three inches per hour: Acceptable Drainage.

Drainage more than three inches per hour: Water moves too quickly through your soil. Add compost before planting to hold the water in the root zone longer and select plants tolerant of fast drainage. Regular surface applications of shredded mulch may be helpful for long term management. Irrigation scheduling may require longer watering times to ensure plants have enough available water at the root zone.

The Worm Test is another method of providing insight into the health of your soil biology. Sift through the soil removed to perform the drainage test. If you can’t find at least ten earthworms, your soil is low on organics and will benefit from the addition of compost when planting. Use shredded mulch after planting to continue to feed the beneficial organisms. Worms help reduce soil compaction, allowing water and air to move into the soil to provide healthy growing conditions and maximize efficient water usage.

Determine Your Landscape Soil Type: Squeeze It and Jar It

The Squeeze Test can help you determine the texture of your soil. Start by taking a handful of moistened (but not wet) soil and squeeze it firmly. Open your hand and determine which of the following it most resembles.

This soil isn’t retaining enough moisture. Photo: UC Santa Cruz

High sand content soil. A ball of soil falls apart when you open your hand.

This soil retains too much moisture. Photo: UC Santa Cruz

This soil retains the correct and healthy amount of moisture. Photo: UC Santa Cruz

Loamy soil. The ball of soil holds its shape but crumbles when you poke it lightly.

This soil retains too much moisture. Photo: UC Santa Cruz

This soil retains too much moisture. Photo: UC Santa Cruz

High clay content soil. Holds its shape and does not crumble when you poke it lightly. Sand is quick draining but has a limited ability to retain nutrients and moisture. Sandy soils often benefit from the addition of organic matter.

Loam is generally considered ideal soil because it retains moisture and nutrients but doesn’t stay soggy. Clay is typically nutrient-rich but has poor drainage. Drainage can sometimes be improved by deep cultivation which breaks up the hard layer of soil

Use this graphic as an example to compare your jar to. Aim to get the most even distribution, as shown with the loam jar. Image: Water Authority

Use this graphic as an example. Aim to get the most even distribution, as shown with the loam jar. Image: San Diego County Water Authority

For the Jar Test, use a one-quart size glass container, such as a Mason Jar. Add one cup of soil from the garden. Add three cups of distilled water. Close and shake the jar until all solids are suspended in water.

Place the container on a shelf and wait 24 hours. If the container is cloudy, then wait another 24 hours. After 48 hours, the layers should be settled with sand on the bottom, silt in the middle, and clay on top.

Measure the layers in proportion to each other. Refer to the graphic to determine your soil type based on the proportions of sand, silt, and clay. Refer to the USDA soil triangle with the soil separation percentages to determine your soil texture.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Even the strictest drought restrictions allow for watering trees on residential and commercial properties. Photo: Helix Water District landscape trees

Make Landscape Trees a Priority During Drought

As the unprecedented drought continues to affect California and the San Diego region, homeowners can still balance the need to conserve water as efficiently as possible while preserving valuable landscaping, including trees.

Trees can be maintained while following California’s water guidelines. Trees are among the most valuable investment in San Diego County’s landscape – including your own WaterSmart landscaping. No other landscape plant offers more significant benefits to your landscape and the environment. Trees provide much-needed shade and cooling to increasingly hot neighborhoods and cities and are among the most efficient natural ways to remove harmful carbon dioxide fueling global warming.

When mature trees die due to lack of irrigation, they become a dangerous fire hazard. They are expensive to remove. Young replacement trees take many years to provide the benefits of mature trees. Taking care of your trees during drought ensures a tremendous return on this investment.

Long, deep soaks maximize irrigation use

Even when not in an acute drought, trees planted in a Mediterranean climate often need some additional water. Mimic the way Mother Nature provides water for the most effective irrigation.

Healthy tree roots reach three to four feet deep at the outer edge of a tree’s branches, where rainfall would naturally run off leaves. This area at the edge of the tree canopy is called the drip line.

Prolonged, slow soaking

When it does rain, Mother Nature’s rainfall is primarily steady, slow, and spread out. Follow this method to deliver a prolonged, slow soaking. Trees prefer infrequent deep watering. During drought, slow watering every two or three weeks for more established trees is sufficient. Avoid runoff with multiple cycles to allow water to soak deeply. Irrigate early in the morning to minimize evaporation.

Keep in mind turf competes with your trees for water. Even if you want to retain some lawn, it’s smart to remove the lawn immediately around your trees and replace it with WaterSmart landscaping.

Protecting trees from climate change

Carefully selected trees are the most valuable addition to your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Helix Water District landscape trees

Carefully selected trees are the most valuable addition to your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Helix Water District

Drought is a reality in the San Diego region as average temperatures increase. As summer months become hotter, soils dry out. Trees must be deep watered to supply their roots and preserve their health.

San Diego forestry and landscaping professionals are working with the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to help protect our region’s trees while also conserving water. Find more resources and learn more at drought.katestrees.org.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org. The Helix Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

The Montgomerys' new design incorporates a variety of native and low water use plants. Photo: Helix Water District landscape professional

Do It Yourself or Hire a Landscape Professional?

If you choose to design, implement and maintain a new WaterSmart landscape yourself, you can follow the Homeowner’s Guide to a WaterSmart Landscape to help you plan, prepare, and work through each step. Free classes and online videos can help.

If you’re interested in hiring a landscape professional, the WaterSmart Landscape guide is also helpful as a reference to help you understand the steps involved. You will be better equipped to work through the project with the help of a landscape professional.

Options for working with a landscape professional

Efficient irrigation-landscaping-Conservation Corner aspects of sustainable landscaping can help you ensure the success of your project. Photo: Water Authority landscape professional

Professionals trained in different aspects of sustainable landscaping can help you ensure the success of your project. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Landscape Architect. A professional licensed by the State of California who can design and develop detailed construction plans and specifications. A Landscape Architect is not licensed to provide installation/construction services. For more information, visit the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) San Diego Chapter website and the State Licensing Board website.

Landscape Designer. A person who provides landscape design and horticulture services, such as design concepts, planting plans, and selection of materials. For more information, visit the California Association of Professional Landscape Designers website.

Landscape Contractor. A professional licensed by the State of California to install/construct, and maintain landscapes. If a Landscape Contractor installs a project, they can also design it. For more information, visit the California Contractors Association website and the State Licensing Board website.

QWEL (Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper) Trained in water-wise landscape practices, including plant selection, irrigation system design, and water management, a QWEL graduate will help meet your landscape needs while keeping your outdoor water use in check.

Irrigation Designer. A person who provides irrigation design services. Irrigation designers may achieve certification with the Irrigation Association. Visit its website for more information.

For more tips on hiring a professional to help you create a WaterSmart Landscape, refer to the eGuide to a WaterSmart Lifestyle for additional information at WaterSmartSD.org.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

WaterSmart homeowner Jeff Moore's back yard zen garden featuring his landscape work fit beautifully into his area's climate zone. Photo: Water Authority caring for

Caring For Your WaterSmart Living Landscape

Whether you install a new WaterSmart Living landscape or are just looking for tips on how to conserve water in your existing landscape, the following section can help you make an immediate impact on your landscape water savings.

View these tips, and follow the guidelines below

Plan ahead. Keep a copy of the plant legend, irrigation plan, and runtime schedule to make it easy to buy replacement plants and parts. This will also help locate and troubleshoot pipes to make repairs or adjustments if needed in the future.

Monitor and minimize watering. When set up correctly, your smart controller will automatically adjust watering times to respond to changes in weather. To maximize water savings, program your controller to apply only the amount of water needed for each zone. A good rule of thumb is to water only when the top inch of soil is dry. If you see runoff before the end of the irrigation cycle, adjust the schedule to more often for a shorter duration each time.

To schedule your irrigation correctly, you must know your equipment type, plant water use, soil texture, and watering zone. Use the Watering Calculator on bewaterwise.com to create a basic watering schedule for your property. Adjust as needed for optimum plant growth and water efficiency.

Water at appropriate times. If possible, schedule your irrigation system to run in the early morning. It is best to avoid watering at night to prevent fungus and mildew problems from night time watering. Avoid watering midday to eliminate excessive evaporation.

Managing irrigation schedules is a key part of caring for your WaterSmart Living landscaping. Photo: Irrigation Association

Managing irrigation schedules is crucial to caring for your WaterSmart Living landscaping. Photo: Irrigation Association

Check irrigation equipment. You may not witness the system running in the early morning hours. Be sure to manually turn the system on seasonally and after severe weather changes to catch potential problems. Check drip systems to ensure emitters are working and clean out filters as needed. Over time, drip emitter locations may need to be relocated as your plants grow. Adjust spray sprinklers to prevent overspray and runoff.

Fertilizing tips. Use an organic fertilizer or compost. Compost can be made from garden waste and some kitchen waste to continually enrich your soil. For more information and recipes for do-it-yourself compost, see the Water Authority’s eGuide to a WaterSmart Lifestyle.

Weed control. Weed naturally whenever possible. Using herbicides can be costly and, if not correctly applied, can damage the environment. Designing and maintaining a healthy landscape can be the best defense against weeds. Hand pull any weeds that come up in your garden every few weeks. Pull them before they go to seed.

Manage pests. The key to controlling pests and diseases is to maintain healthy soil and select plant species that are not prone to pest problems. Consider following Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. Use chemical control only as a last resort. Try spraying pests with a blast of water, release beneficial bugs (ladybugs and lacewings), spray insecticidal soap, or use compost tea. Consider replacing pest-prone plants. See our eGuide for more information on natural pest control and compost tea. When using chemical control, always follow the manufacturer’s dosage, application and safety information.

Maintain a two-to-three-inch layer of mulch. Replace the mulch as needed.

Use a broom or blower to clean driveways and sidewalks instead of a hose.

Make a plant maintenance checklist. Keep a copy of your plant list and make a checklist of maintenance requirements for each plant.

Monitor your monthly costs and water use on an ongoing basis.

Enjoy the peace of mind from knowing you did your part to protect our natural resources and the environment.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Native plant-sustainability-garden-landscapetracting pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. Image: Water Authority plant installation

Plant Installation Brings Your New WaterSmart Landscape to Life

With your new WaterSmart landscaping plans complete, demolition and turf removal done, and your new irrigation system in place, it’s time to get started on the plant installation. For most homeowners, this is the most rewarding part of the process seeing your new landscaping come to life.

Review the following tips to help you through the plant installation and placement process

Step 1: Use a garden hose to outline groundcover areas to help you visualize the design before you start the installation.

Step 2: Set the plants while still in their containers, in their approximate location per your planting design plan. Take a step back and review. View your plant placements from various angles. Make any adjustments to the design now to avoid having to dig up and relocate any plants.

Be aware many drought-tolerant landscapes look sparse for the first few years. As your plants reach their mature size, they will fill in over time. Be sure to allow proper spacing to allow each plant to grow to its full size.

Step 3: Dig plant holes twice the width of the plant root ball and just deep enough to bury the roots. Water the hole before placing the plant. When planted, the top of the root ball should be even with or slightly above soil level.

Colorful, water-wise plants replaced a thirsty, labor intensive front lawn in Deborah Brant's winning 2019 landscape makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Colorful, water-wise plants replaced a thirsty, labor intensive front lawn in Deborah Brant’s winning 2019 landscape makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Step 4: Once in the hole, the plant should be packed firmly into place with the original, compost-amended soil from the hole. Extra dirt can create a berm around the plant to hold water.

Step 5: Cover the planting area with a two- to three-inch-deep layer of mulch. Keep mulch a few inches away around the plant stems to prevent rot. Using mulch has many benefits. It can help suppress weeds, enrich the soils, protect plant roots from compaction, provide a finished look to your garden, and mulch conserves water.

Step 6: Monitor your garden to ensure your plants are getting adequate water. Even native plant species and drought-tolerant plants need water to get established. This can take a year. To minimize your watering needs while your plants are getting established, install your landscape in the fall months before the months of most significant rainfall in San Diego, generally December through March.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Take time to learn about your possibleWaterSmart Living irrigation choices. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Installing WaterSmart Living Irrigation

Successfully installing WaterSmart Living irrigation starts long before you get out your tools. You need to complete an assessment of your landscape plan’s specific water needs, draw a complete plan showing the layout, then select your irrigation and purchase your irrigation equipment. If your soil needs amendments (and it almost certainly does), you must get this done first. With all of this important prep work complete, you can start to implement the design.

Five key steps to success

Be sure your irrigation plan considers hills and slopes to prevent waste and erosion. Photo: Pixabay

Step 1: Read the instructions from the manufacturer and familiarize yourself with all the parts of your new irrigation system. Often the manufacturer will provide YouTube video demonstrations which can be extremely helpful.

Step 2: Starting from the main connection to the water line, dig trenches for all the pipes according to your irrigation plan. Ideally, the main connection to the water line will be downstream of the water meter and upstream of the connection to the house.

If you tie into a rear yard hose bib, be aware that the water pressure will be lower because the water for your house is regulated by a separate pressure regulator.

Step 3: Lay an extra pipe sleeve or two under any new hardscape elements. This allows you to add pipes or wires in the future. Be sure to cover the ends of the pipe with duct tape before covering and mark the location on your landscape plan.

Step 4: If you are using drip irrigation, you may want to hold off installing your drip emitters until after planting is complete. With your new plants in the ground, you can place the emitters precisely where the water best irrigates your new plants. Be sure to place them at least six inches away from the plant’s stem to prevent rot.

Step 5: Consult your local irrigation supply store or the major irrigation manufacturers if you need more detailed installation guides or help with troubleshooting. Manufacturers offer toll-free customer service phone help, online chats, and email.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Removing your turf is water smart, but there is a right approach to take. Photo: MK Digital Products remove backyard turf turf removal

Best Options For Turf Removal

Once you’ve finalized your landscaping plans, you’ll have some demolition work ahead of you, including the existing turf you plan to remove or replace. Removing turf presents choices about the best way to accomplish this task. Learn more about turf removal options and understand the steps before you begin.

Start here with this video demonstrating your turf removal options

Reclaiming an area of unwanted turf requires diligence. No matter what method of turf removal is used, plan on routine maintenance, including weeding or herbicide application, as often as every two weeks for the first three months after your take your turf out. Some tenacious warm-season grasses might give you a battle for even longer.

Options for Turf Removal

Natural turf removal. A natural way to remove turf and preserve the soil’s ecology is to strip the turf and water the area for the next two weeks to encourage grass to re-sprout and hand pull all new growth.

Sheet mulching. Rather than removing turf and taking it to the landfill, you can compost it in place. First, remove several inches of turf and soil from the edges near your hardscape. Wet the turf area and cover it with several layers of newspaper. Water again and cover with cardboard. Water again and cover with three inches of shredded mulch.

If you can invest the time, allow several months for the soil microbes to decompose the turf and turn it into friable soil for plants.

Solarization. Another alternative is solarization. This works best in the spring or summer. Turf areas are covered with rolls of plastic. Sun exposure heats the soil and kills the turf and weed seeds. The cover must be airtight with no holes and left in place for six to eight weeks. However, this method will also kill beneficial soil microbes. Using this method, you must follow up and apply compost or other soil amendments to restore the soil’s healthy biology.

Turf removal with herbicide. If you choose to use an herbicide, consult with your local landscape supply store and read the manufacturers’ label for best use practices and safety considerations. Since Bermuda grass and some other grasses are dormant in the winter, they must be treated when actively growing in the remainder of the year (May to October).

Grading. When the turf is removed, you need to grade your property. Set the soil level to direct water away from the house. To help slow down water runoff from your garden, try creating small depressions away from structures, walls, or paving where water is allowed to pool and slowly percolate into the soil. The more you slow the water down or hold it on site, the more you improve water quality in your area and downstream at local beaches.

Reduce runoff. Runoff carries with it soil particles and pollutants. Reduce runoff by using mulch.

Prep For Success

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: Anna Shvets / Pexels

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: Anna Shvets / Pexels

Now that you have removed unwanted turf and other plants, it is time to condition your soil.

Soil amendments should be selected based on your soil analysis recommendations. Till them into the top layer of soil. Compost (15-30% by volume), gypsum, and fertilizer are typical amendments in arid climates like San Diego County.

The goal is to achieve healthy soil containing microbes which feed plants, improve drainage, and increase the natural water holding capacity of the soil.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Inspect your sprinkler heads regularly to make sure they are not obstructed or watering onto pavement or other hardscapes. Photo: Irrigation Association

Irrigate Your WaterSmart Landscape Like a Pro

Irrigation is an essential part of any good landscape design. It ensures plants and trees get the water they need to thrive without wasting a drop. Once you know how much water your landscape plants require, it’s time to take a closer look at your irrigation system.

Whether you are working with a professional designer or are doing the project yourself, the following checklist will help you keep track of the main design decisions involved in irrigation design.

Start with this informational video about WaterSmart Living Landscape irrigation

Evaluate your existing irrigation system and determine if it can be maintained in its current condition or if you need to upgrade it. Some irrigation systems can be upgraded by changing nozzles, converting to drip emitters, or adding a smart controller, while others may need to be completely redesigned.

Irrigation options fall into categories

High-efficiency irrigation is the most efficient method to deliver water to plants is low-flow irrigation. It delivers water from the valve through a filter and then through a network of lateral pipes and sometimes flexible tubing, to the individual emission devices such as drip emitters, in-line drip emitters, or bubblers. Pressure compensating devices are always the most efficient option.

Low flow irrigation is a good choice for trees and shrub areas and should be used in any landscaped areas next to hardscape and in areas less than eight feet wide to prevent runoff from overspray. When using drip emitters, reduce maintenance and ensure long-term durability by selecting good quality tubing and designing for at least two emitters per shrub.

Moderate efficiency irrigation is the next most efficient types of irrigation include rotating or low precipitation (typically for spaces eight to 30 feet in size). These nozzles are a better choice than conventional spray heads for watering turf because they have a lower application rate – they water slowly. Your watering times will increase, but these sprinklers do not produce mist, and they apply water at a rate turf can absorb it, reducing runoff.

Low-efficiency irrigation. The least efficient types of automatic irrigation include conventional spray irrigation and impact rotors. These types of high precipitation irrigation distribution systems generally apply water faster than the soil can absorb. Installing a new system with low-efficiency irrigation is not recommended. If you have an existing conventional spray system, you can easily retrofit it with new low precipitation nozzles.

Get smart with a smart controller

Landscape Makeover Contest-Otay Water District-drought

This new landscape includes a drip-irrigation system, rotating nozzles, and a smart irrigation controller to schedule efficient water use. Photo: Otay Water District

Upgrade to a smart controller, an automatic controller (also called a timer or clock) is either weather-based or has historical weather data included as a reference. Some systems allow for adding a weather sensor or moisture detection system that automatically adjusts your watering schedule in response to current weather or soil moisture level.

Smart controllers can turn off your sprinklers when it rains and increase the frequency and/or duration of watering in hotter weather. Locate the controller in a place that is easy for you to access, such as the garage.

Verify your new landscape water use

WaterSmart landscape irrigation aims to apply water as efficiently as possible. This means using low flow drip or bubblers whenever possible and in areas with overhead sprays, providing the correct pressure and equipment layout to ensure even coverage to maximize efficiency.

Once you have determined what type of irrigation you would like to use, divide your yard into zones and note what kind of irrigation you plan to use in each zone. Contact some of the major irrigation manufacturers to obtain an irrigation design guide to help you with the specifics of your irrigation layout. Some irrigation manufacturers even offer free irrigation design services.

It is important to double-check to make sure your design meets the target landscape water use after installation. You may need to adjust the design to meet your target to maximize water savings.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)