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

Make Space for New Plants

When choosing new plants for your landscape this fall, be sure to account for the space each plant will need as it matures. This will help avoid overcrowding in your landscape.

Proper plant placement, while predicting the mature plant’s size, also should limit the need for future pruning. This can help reduce the amount of maintenance required in the long run.

The spacing chart below helps to judge how many plants are needed per square foot, based on the mature size of the plants.

Plan for space needed at maturity

On your landscaping plan, use circles to note the size of every plant at maturity using a scale in which one inch equals four feet. Use colored pencils to note different water needs of each plant. That 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. Consider whether a tree will cover a large section of landscaping with shade that is currently getting full sun. Be sure to avoid placing plants that will need full sun underneath these trees.

Small but mighty

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 will allow for when the plants are fully grown.

Root depth matters

Take note of the root depth of plants when you place them. Note root depths on your landscape 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 in separate hydrozones.

Did you know that fall is the prime time for plant sales in San Diego County? Check out your nearest nursery or farmers market for native plants to help grow your landscape!

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

Butterflies and hummingbirds aren't just visually appealing; they also provide a service to your landscape by pollinating plants. Photo: GeorgeB2/Pixabay

Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds

Witnessing the quick burst of color that often accompanies a butterfly or hummingbird’s flight is always exciting. It’s even more exciting when you see them in your own garden. Aside from being visually appealing, butterflies and hummingbirds also provide a service to your landscape by helping to pollinate plants. In doing so, they ensure seeds for future generations of plants.

How do you attract these beautiful garden pollinators?

Colorful, tube-shaped flowers located in sunny areas will attract hummingbirds in search of nectar. In Southern California, these tiny pollinators can stay year-round with a steady food supply. To provide this supply, try selecting a variety of plants that will bloom at different intervals throughout the year.

Hummingbirds also like shrubs and trees that provide shade where they can rest or find materials to build nests. Those cool areas are also where they can hunt insects. This can be helpful to your garden as they may eat insects harmful to other plants.

Similarly, butterflies also rely on flowers that provide nectar. They need host plants, which California native plants often are, where they can lay eggs. These eggs will hatch caterpillars, which will need to feed on nearby leaves. If you are concerned about leaves with lots of holes from hungry caterpillars, try strategically placing these plants behind other plants or in the back of your garden.

A good way to plan out where to put certain plants is by mirroring native plant communities.

Some native California plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds:

  • California Fuchsia
  • Manzanitas
  • Chaparral Currant
  • Narrowleaf Milkweed
  • Sticky Monkeyflower
  • Coyote Mint

By selecting the right types of native plants, your landscape will burst into color!

The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including tips for sustainable landscaping best practices at and free WaterSmart classes at

School Programs Are Cultivating Interest in Gardening

Children and gardens have been a common theme throughout literature. From “Jack and the Beanstalk” to “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Secret Garden” to “The Lorax,” our storytellers have found beautiful and fantastical ways of emphasizing the connection between children and things that grow.

In a more real way, strengthening that connection between youngsters and the green world continues today in the blank spaces of school play yards that have been turned into school gardens.

How to Compost the Right Way

You can make composting on-site a goal for your sustainable landscape maintenance to reduce waste and help the soil thrive. You’ll know when the compost is ready to use when it has an earthy smell, has cooled off, and doesn’t reheat when stirred. Next, look for a uniformly dark brown or even black color. You shouldn’t be able to identify any of the original particles.

Spread compost directly on the soil surface to use it as mulch. That can prevent erosion and help plants and soil filter pollution, such as hydrocarbons and metals from road surfaces. Most greenwaste-based composts can be applied to a depth of three inches. Use up to two inches of bio-solids.

If you don’t produce your own compost on site, get it from a reputable source that guarantees high quality. Commercially produced quality can vary significantly due to the diverse nature of feedstock, processes, and maturation standards.

Use compost to make healthier soil

For native plants in your sustainable landscaping, use roughly 15 percent compost by volume to repair disturbed or damaged soils.

Clay-based soil amended with compost leads to more productive and healthy plant growth at a lower cost than amending the same soil with the necessary 45 percent sand. Therefore, you can mix poor soils that are compacted, lifeless, or subsoils with about three to six cubic yards of high quality compost per 1,000 square feet to improve the soil structure.

If your compost is based on bio-solids, it can be high in ammonium nitrogen. Use this type of compost sparingly.  When using bio-solids, be sure you know exactly where they came from.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Composting With Biosolids: What Are Biosolids And What Are They Used For

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

Setting Your Landscaping Objectives for Success

When you’ve taken the time to learn about the concepts behind the watershed approach to creating a healthy and sustainable landscape, you should step back and consider the goals you want to achieve in your garden.

If you’re facing an ocean of grass lawn and you’ve never given much thought to landscaping goals, it might be difficult to know where to start. Here are a few ideas.

Saying goodbye to grass

Remove a thirsty lawn without using any chemicals, in a way that preserves the healthy soil microbes.

Plant local California native plants that will attract birds, butterflies, and bees for pollination.

Create a child or pet friendly garden without thorns or sticky grass seed heads.

Plant fruit trees, edible vines and shrubs, or vegetable gardens.

Using water efficiently

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

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

Convert spray irrigation to micro or drip irrigation, with the intention of turning it off after establishing low-water use landscaping.

Make pathways and driveways more permeable.

Create a garden as a personal art gallery

Make room for a small patio with room for an outdoor table or seating.

Add pathways, Zen gardens, and interesting materials and patterns.

Integrate 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.

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

The 2017 Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival at The Water Conservation Garden. Photo: Water Conservation Garden

Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival Returns to Cuyamaca College, Water Conservation Garden

Butterfly releases, thousands of landscape and garden plants for sale, and museum tours are among the activities at the Spring Garden & Butterfly Festival at Cuyamaca College on April 27.

Several thousand visitors from throughout the region and beyond are expected to visit the college, which houses The Water Conservation Garden and the Heritage of the Americas Museum. All three institutions have planned an array of family-friendly events. Admission is free.

The Cuyamaca College Ornamental Horticulture Department will hold its largest plant sale of the year. Old Town Trolley Tours of San Diego will provide free, narrated rides to and from the garden, the museum and the college.

Water Conservation Garden celebrates 20th anniversary

The Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival is one of the most popular events in East San Diego County.

The Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival is one of the most popular events in East San Diego County. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

This year’s festival is especially noteworthy because Cuyamaca College is celebrating its 40th anniversary and The Water Conservation Garden is celebrating its 20th. Both will be hosting displays celebrating their histories.

“The Spring Garden & Butterfly Festival is among the most popular events in San Diego’s East County region, and for good reason,” said Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes. “Not only is the plant sale a major fundraiser for our award-winning Ornamental Horticulture Department, this festival also allows our college, The Water Conservation Garden and the Heritage of the Americas Museum to showcase an impressive array of innovative programs we offer to the community.”

The annual event has its roots in the annual Spring Garden Festival plant sale benefiting the Ornamental Horticulture program. The event combined forces with the annual Butterfly Festival at The Water Conservation Garden in 2017.

For more details go to:




Planting Materials: a Dizzying Array of Choices

Gardening has a vocabulary all its own, especially when it comes to the materials we use for planting and growing plants: dirt, soil, potting mix, planter mix, mulch, compost and many more. It can be pretty confusing, even for experienced green thumbs. To help, here’s a breakdown of some of the most common terms you’ll encounter along your gardening odysseys: Dirt is what you sweep out of your house or clean off the soles of your shoes. Soil is a complex mixture of minerals, organic matter (see definition below), water, air, living organisms including tiny insects and animals, bacteria, fungi, etc.