Irrigation Sprinkler HeadGardeners, Do You Know Your ETo?

Gardeners, Do You Know Your ETo?

People around the world know San Diego for its beautiful, sunny and mild weather. San Diego residents know our daily weather has more variety than visitors might imagine.

Climate is defined as the average weather conditions in an area over a long period, generally 30 years or more. German climate scientist Wladimir Koppen first divided the world’s climate into six regions in the early 1900s.

Since then, U.S. climate zones have been defined in more detail. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines climate zones according to the lowest average temperate in the region. You may also be familiar with the 24 climate zones identified in Sunset Magazine’s iconic Sunset Western Garden Book.

Focusing on the critically important water management aspect of climate, the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) has also identified 24 climate zones.

Evaporation + Transpiration = Evapotranspiration

Depending on the amount of rainfall, temperature, humidity, wind, shade, and the nature of the soil, water in the ground evaporates at different rates. When evaporation is higher, the soil becomes dry more quickly.

Evapotranspiration (ET) is the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces, and by transpiration from plants.

Reference Evapotranspiration (ETo) is a baseline formula. All your plant water needs are measured against this baseline in a complex series of measurements and calculations.

Why Is Understanding Evapotranspiration Important?

In metropolitan San Diego County, our annual ETo rate increases as you move inland, meaning the soil becomes dry more quickly.

Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about making these calculations on our own. CIMIS maintains a statewide system of weather stations and reference plots. From these, it has identified the six main ET Zones in San Diego County.

Understanding your ETo zone and gardening climate zone are important first steps toward deciding how much water your landscaping will need. Working against the ETo and gardening climate zones can greatly increase your need for irrigation.

Learn more about the specifics of your ETo climate zone and gardening microclimate on the California Irrigation Management Information System website, and the Sunset Western Garden Book website.

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at Hardcopies are available free of charge at the Water Authority’s headquarters, 4677 Overland Ave., Kearny Mesa. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at