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Sustainable Landscaping Project Checklist for Success

When you’re beginning a sustainable landscaping project, it can be challenging to remember all the things you need to research, measure, and decide along the way. But it’s not a good idea to overlook these details. They all contribute to the success of your new sustainable landscaping project.

WaterSmart San Diego’s Sustainable Landscaping Guide has a helpful Project Checklist to help guide your effort, allows you to stay on track, and make good decisions to achieve your goals.

This beautiful landscape makeover winner from the 2021 Otay Water District content can help guide your own efforts. Photo: Otay Water District checklist for success

This beautiful landscape makeover winner from the 2021 Otay Water District content can help guide your own efforts. Photo: Otay Water District

Important considerations for a successful landscape makeover include:

Taking the steps you need to prepare your property.

Making all your plans before you start digging.

Choosing your plant palate and creating your plant design.

Beginning your project installation including your new plants.

Updating and adjusting your new irrigation system

Establishing and stewarding your new landscaping.

And most of all, taking time to admire and enjoy your new yard. You’ve worked hard to accomplish your goals and should celebrate your success.

Instructional videos on demand are available on the WaterSmartSD website. The example below explains how to shape your space.

Many home landscapers also return for refresher sessions by returning to WaterSmart Landscape Makeover classes. You can also consult local gardening organizations for help, or visit the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon for inspiration, like many of the winners in annual regional landscape makeover contests.

The Water Conservation Garden in Rancho San Diego can help provide inspiration and advice for your landscaping plans. Photo: Water Conservation Garden checklist for success

The Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon can help provide inspiration and advice for your landscaping plans. Photo: Water Conservation Garden

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org. 

 

Trio of Waterwise Landscapes Win Vista 2021 Contest

Three homeowners in the Vista Irrigation District won recognition recently from the VID board of directors in its 2021 WaterSmart Landscape Contest.

The annual contest recognizes outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on overall attractiveness, appropriate plant selection, design, appropriate maintenance, and efficient irrigation methods.

Setting Objectives for Waterwise Landscaping Success

It takes time to learn about the concepts behind the watershed approach to creating a healthy and sustainable landscape. Once you have these concepts mastered, the most important step of all comes next.  Consider the goals you want to achieve in your garden for landscaping success.

It might be difficult to know where to start. Many people accept an ocean of green but thirsty lawn and never give much thought to landscaping goals. Consider one of these worthy objectives.

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

Setting Objectives for Waterwise Landscaping Success

It takes time to learn about the concepts behind the watershed approach to creating a healthy and sustainable landscape. Once you have these concepts mastered, the most important step of all comes next.  Consider the goals you want to achieve in your garden for landscaping success.

It might be difficult to know where to start. Many people accept an ocean of green but thirsty lawn and never give much thought to landscaping goals. Consider one of these worthy objectives.

Waving goodbye to grass

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

  • Removing a thirsty lawn without using any chemicals, in a way that preserves the healthy soil microbes
  • Planting local California native plants that will attract birds, butterflies, and bees for pollination
  • Creating a child or pet-friendly garden without thorns or sticky grass seed heads
  • Planting fruit trees, edible vines, and shrubs, or vegetable gardens

Using irrigation efficiently

Well designed and operated irrigation systems can reliably deliver the water your landscaping needs without waste or excess. Photo: AxxLC/Pixabay

Well designed and operated irrigation systems can reliably deliver the water your landscaping needs without waste or excess. Photo: AxxLC/Pixabay

Building healthy living soil that will act like a sponge, even if it rains a lot

Capturing all the rainwater from the roof and re-routing downspouts to fill rain barrels instead of running onto hardscaping

Converting spray irrigation to micro or drip irrigation, with the intention of turning it off after establishing your waterwise landscaping

Making pathways and driveways more permeable

Making your landscaping an art project

San Marcos resident Jeff Moore's landscape makeover won recognition in the 2018 Landscape Makeover Contest. Photo: Water Authority

San Marcos resident Jeff Moore’s landscape makeover including artistic touches won recognition in the 2018 Landscape Makeover Contest. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Making room for a small patio with room for an outdoor table or seating

Adding pathways, Zen gardens, and interesting materials and patterns

Integrating beautiful objects such as an art piece, interesting container collection, or items like sundials

One goal we can all support: creating a beautiful sustainable landscape that reduces your water use by 70 percent or more. We can all agree on this definition of landscaping success no matter your individual goals.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Padre Dam Municipal Water District-Landscape Makeover Winner-WaterSmartSD-drought

Hard Work Pays Off for Padre Dam Landscape Makeover Winner

Frank Edward’s Santee home is bursting with bright colors and textures. Vibrant yellow, orange, red, green, and purple flowers, and drought-tolerant, native plants spring to life where there was once just dry and patchy grass.

“It was a lot of hard work but it was also a lot of fun,” said Edward. “It was great to see all of my labor come to fruition.”

The transformation from high maintenance lawn to vibrant design is the winner of the 2021 Padre Dam Municipal Water District Landscape Makeover Contest.

Before transformation

Frank Edward'a home before his award-winning landscape. Photo: Padre Dam Landscape Makeover

Frank Edward’s home before his award-winning landscape redesign. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

After transformation

The results of Frank Edward's hard work. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

The results of Frank Edward’s hard work. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Edward began his water-efficient landscape journey in 2018 when he attended a three-hour WaterSmart Landscape Workshop at Padre Dam’s customer service Center. He was tired of his high maintenance, drought-bleached lawn and wanted his landscape to add to the overall attractiveness of his home.

During the workshop, he learned about the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series, a four-class series that helped him through the process of preparing his space, designing his landscape, selecting plants, and irrigation planning. Edward used a kidney bean shaped planter as a starting point and designed his landscape around this feature.

“Hard work but a lot of fun” to complete landscape makeover

Frank Edwards had a complete plan after attending the Water Authority's WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series. Photo: Frank Edwards Padre Dam Landscape Makeover

Frank Edwards had a complete plan after attending the San Diego County Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series. Photo: Frank Edwards

Edward had a fully designed layout ready to be implemented by the end of the class series. He set to work removing his old turf and installing his new landscape in the spring of 2019 and did all of the removal, designing, and planting himself. He even constructed a small barn that acts as a shed and a footbridge over his riverbed to add unique and functional design elements. The work took about a year to complete. Water storage features including a small pond and rock river bed, which add depth and shape to the contoured yard.

The new yard has places to sit and enjoy the flowers, pollinators, and bird. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

The new yard has places to sit and enjoy the flowers, pollinators, and birds. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Edward installed piping to collect water off his roof, collected in a rain barrel, and diverts it to the landscape’s rock river bed. Additionally, he created a pond that can hold several hundred gallons of water. This collected rainwater helps to irrigate the plants by replenishing the soil’s moisture for a period after it rains. Edward also installed a smart controller that waters the plants based on hydrozones and local weather through a drip irrigation system.

Neighbors compliment Frank Edward on his efforts. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Edward now spends time relaxing and listening to birds in his front yard. He enjoys the peaceful atmosphere and the satisfaction he gets when neighbors and passersby compliment his landscape. He recommends that others looking to plant a water-smart landscape put in the time to research and plan in order to create an environment and design that will work for their lifestyle.

“Hard work and a well-thought-out plan certainly paid positive results,” said Edward. “It was a great success.”

(Editor’s note: The Padre Dam Municipal Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Contouring Tips Help You Make the Grade

Moving both irrigation and our limited natural rainfall through your yard into storage areas via the use of various landscaping features borrow Mother Nature’s engineering. This is especially important during hot, dry summer months. If your yard is perfectly flat, you must move soil and features around to create more water-retaining contour areas.

Landscape Makeover-Sweetwater Authority-Water Conservation-native plants

Contouring Tips Help You Make the Grade

Moving both irrigation and our limited natural rainfall through your yard into storage areas via the use of various landscaping features borrow Mother Nature’s engineering. This is especially important during hot, dry summer months. If your yard is perfectly flat, you must move soil and features around to create more water-retaining contour areas.

First, complete a Percolation Test. This will provide critically important information about your landscape soil’s specific capacity to drain and to absorb water. Prep your soil as needed to turn it into a water-retaining sponge as much as possible before getting to work on rainwater capture plans.

NOTE: If you are working with existing hillsides, it’s best to get professional advice before grading or other significant changes. Before any digging, call Dig Alert 8-1-1 or digalert.org

Adding basins and swales

Channels can be planted or lined with rocks and small boulders to resemble natural creek beds.

Channels can be planted or lined with rocks and small boulders to resemble natural creek beds. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Basins and swales are shallow depressions or channels no more than 12 to 24 inches deep, on gently sloped or nearly flat landscapes. Basins and swales move water over short distances. The plants in and around the depressions capture and sink small volumes of surface water.

Small, shallow depressions work best in clay soil areas, while sandy soils may accommodate the deeper depressions up to two feet. Channels can be planted or lined with rocks and small boulders to resemble natural creek beds.

Building berms

Berms are mounds of raised soil, usually planted, that can border basins and swales or be used alone. Berms help contain and move water around, increasing the holding capacity of basins and swales

Placing boulders

Boulders can add points of interest and slow down water runoff in your landscaping. Photo: Water Authority

Boulders can add points of interest and slow down water runoff in your landscaping. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Boulders are useful to retain small berms or the edges of swales. They also create points of interest in your landscaping.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Provide Room to Grow in Your Sustainable Landscape Plan

Note the height and width of plant species when they mature when choosing plants for new sustainable landscapes. Proper plant placement, taking into account the mature plant’s size, will limit the need for regular pruning, and reduce the amount of maintenance required over time.

While regular pruning and removal of dead plant materials is vital in our region for wildfire prevention, overly aggressive pruning harms plant health and doesn’t allow natural shapes to emerge.

Native plants-New landscaping-room to grow-plants-Conservation Corner

Provide Room to Grow in Your Sustainable Landscape Plan

Note the height and width of plant species when they mature when choosing plants for new sustainable landscapes. Proper plant placement, taking into account the mature plant’s size, will limit the need for regular pruning, and reduce the amount of maintenance required over time.

While regular pruning and removal of dead plant materials is vital in our region for wildfire prevention, overly aggressive pruning harms plant health and doesn’t allow natural shapes to emerge.

Use the following spacing chart to help you figure out how many plants you need per square foot, based on the mature size of the plants.

Space plants on your landscaping plan at their full mature size, not the size when you first plant them. Graphic: Water Authority

Space plants on your landscaping plan at their full mature size, not the size when you first plant them. Graphic: San Diego County Water Authority

Scale your plants at maturity

On your landscaping plan, use circles to note the size of every plant at maturity using a one-inch to four-foot scale. Use colored pencils to denote different water needs of the plants selected. It will make it easier to group plants into their proper irrigation zones (hydrozones).

Wide canopy trees that grow to 20 or 30 feet in diameter will significantly change the landscaping over time. Will this change the microclimates in the future? Consider whether a tree will cover a large section of landscaping with shade that is currently getting full sun. If plants that thrive in full sun are eventually covered in shade, the landscaping may need to be updated in time.

Small but mighty

Planning for the amount of space your new plants will need when fully grown will help your landscape thrive. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Planning for the amount of space your new plants will need when fully grown will help your landscape thrive. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Select the smallest, healthiest plants possible, especially when choosing native plants. Once they are planted in properly prepared soil and watered wisely, small plants establish themselves more vigorously than plants raised in larger containers. Do not plant more than the space allows when the plants mature.

Root depth matters

Take note of the root depth of plants when they are placed into the landscaping. Note the root depth on the plan. Trees will be irrigated less frequently, but for a longer period of time. Groundcovers with shallower roots require more frequent, shorter periods of irrigation. Keep these types of plants on separate hydrozones. Learn more about hydrozones

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Native Plant Communities in Sustainable Landscaping

Plants growing wild naturally arrange themselves into communities with other plant varieties based on their shared characteristics such as water and nutrient needs. This natural selection extends to interactions with each other, and with other species such as insects, birds, and other animals.