50 Tasks to Tackle in the August Garden, From Frequent Harvesting to Thoughtful Watering

It’s summer! This is the garden’s harshest and most challenging season of the year, Southern California’s gardening equivalent to winter in most parts of the country.

Pay close attention to how much, how long and how often to water different kinds of plants in your garden.

Your goal is to water just right — not too much, not too little — for each.

How (and When) To Plant a Winter Garden During the Worsening Drought

When Yvonne Savio talks, savvy SoCal gardeners listen. And her message for fall is big: Despite a long tradition of planting during the “mild” days of September, her counsel this week is to put off any planting — even starting seeds — until late October or November, because folks, it’s just too darn hot these days, especially with the drought-induced restrictions on outdoor watering.

“We may or may not have enough water to keep them sufficiently watered to thrive. I’m talking thrive, not survive,” said Savio about cool-season plants, such as leafy greens, arugula, broccoli and peas. “It’s basically a waste for you to start seeds this month or next month, since you can’t put them outside, so I’m giving you a good excuse to put it off until November.”

California DWR-Phillips Station-Water Conservation-snowpack survey-drought

California Drought Demands Statewide Water Conservation Effort

California is in the third year of drought and water agencies and officials statewide are urging residents and businesses to increase their water conservation.

April 1 is typically when the snowpack is at its highest, however the statewide snowpack likely peaked in early-March this year and the Northern Sierra snowpack peaked in mid-January, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

“The conditions we are seeing today speak to how severe our drought remains,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth on April 1. “DWR has been planning for the reality of a third dry year since the start of the water year on October 1. While DWR has made significant investments in forecasting technology and other tools to ensure we make the most out of the snowmelt we do receive, water conservation will remain our best tool in the face of this ongoing drought and the statewide impacts of a warming climate. All Californians must focus on conserving water now.”

Water conservation critical

While the state continues to take necessary actions to help extend the state’s existing water supply, state agencies are asking all Californians to do their part now to conserve as much water as possible to make it last. Governor Gavin Newsom has also called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15% with simple measures to protect water reserves.

WaterSmart moves to make now

Typical gardening activities such as landscaping, irrigation, and use of fertilizers and pesticides, can lead to stormwater pollution if not done properly. Pollutants such as garden chemicals, soil and sediment, and yard waste can be carried to storm drains by rain and irrigation runoff and end up in our local waterways and ocean without being treated.

Here are some earth-friendly guidelines for WaterSmart gardening and a pollution-free environment.

Plan and Plant Wisely

When planning your landscape, design your landscape to capture water and minimize run-off. Install rain gardens or dry creek beds; use permeable surfaces to allow water to soak into the soil; and direct water from downspouts to landscaped areas. Get planting ideas by checking the California Native Plant Society of San Diego website. When planting, use drought-tolerant or native plants to reduce the amount of water, fertilizers, and pesticides needed and group plants with similar water, sun, and soil needs. Check out the San Diego Water Authority’s Nifty 50 Plants for WaterSmart Landscapes for plants best suited for our climate as well as helpful water-savings tips.

Mulch/Compost Liberally

Use mulch to reduce the need for fertilizers, hold water in the soil, and prevent erosion of exposed soil patches. Sediment is a common pollutant in our waterways and comes from eroded soils. Opt for healthy compost to add nutrients to your soil and further lock in moisture and reduce waste.

Water Smartly

Avoid water waste by repairing leaking or broken sprinklers, adjusting misdirected sprinklers so water does not spray on driveways or sidewalks, and using irrigation methods such as drip irrigation and soaker hoses. Water in short cycles to allow water to infiltrate into the ground, and in the early morning or late evening when it’s cooler outside to reduce water loss due to evaporation.

Learn how much water your lawn and garden actually needs by observing an entire watering cycle (watering guide) or sign up for a free WaterSmart Checkup to receive water-saving recommendations. Rebates may be available to help you prevent over irrigation.

Apply Fertilizers/Pesticides Sparingly

Be sure to read labels and follow directions to avoid improper use and application of fertilizers and pesticides which can lead to stormwater pollution and contribute to toxic harmful algal blooms in both fresh and coastal waters. Only apply chemicals when it is not windy and more than 48-hours from a rainstorm. When possible, use organic or slow-release fertilizers to minimize leaching.

Clean Up Thoroughly

Sweep up spills from fertilizers and pesticides immediately. Blow, rake, or sweep up leaves and debris into a pile for proper disposal into a green waste container with a lid. To make clean up easier and prevent stormwater pollution, protect stockpiles and materials from wind and rain by storing them under tarps or secured plastic sheeting.

Learn more about WaterSmart and sustainable landscaping practices by reviewing the WaterSmart Landscaping Watering Guide in San Diego County and San Diego Sustainable Landscaping Guidelines. Explore even more by participating in the numerous Earth Day/Pollution Prevention events offered throughout San Diego County during the month of April.

Banking on Water That Never Came

Nestled below rocky outcroppings dotted with junipers on the eastern shore of old Tule Lake, John Prosser’s 97-acre homestead at Bloody Point is a haven amidst the chaos of the Klamath Basin water crisis.

Prosser, a history buff, purchased the property last fall, its fields having sat largely fallow for years despite the presence of a private irrigation well. By August, the field’s newly planted stand of alfalfa was busy rebounding after its first cutting — a rare sight of green in the Klamath Project this year.

The Importance Of Planting Drought-Tolerant California Native Plants In Your Garden

Nurseries made record sales during the coronavirus pandemic as many people looked to pick up gardening as a new hobby.

However, most plants people grow come from outside of California and can be harmful to nature, especially monarch butterflies. Many people don’t realize that California native plants can bring their yards to life, with butterflies, hummingbirds and more.

The Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley is leading the movement to transform the state’s landscape by promoting drought-friendly plants that will still thrive in people’s yards. It’s a unique nursery in that all its plants are native to California.

Develop a Mulch Master Plan

How much mulch does your landscaping plan need? To develop your mulch master plan and answer this question, you first need to understand the job it will perform in different areas of your watersmart landscaping plan.

Conservation Corner-mulch-landcape-WaterSmartill you need? It depends on how you'll be using it in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr-Creative Commons License mulch master plan

Develop a Mulch Master Plan

How much mulch does your landscaping plan need? To develop your mulch master plan and answer this question, you first need to understand the job it will perform in different areas of your watersmart landscaping plan.

  • If you want to hold in moisture and keep down weeds: Use three to six inches of mulch on top of the soil
  • If you want to maintain your planting beds: Maintain two to four inches of mulch on beds at all times

Master Tip: Keep mulch one to six inches away from plant stems. When mulch crowds them, it can cause plants to rot due to moisture.

How much mulch do you need?

How much mulch do you need? First, decide how it will be used in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Water Authority Different types of mulch

How much mulch do you need? First, decide how it will be used in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

For accurate results, check these numbers:

  • Square footage of your landscaping
  • Thickness of your mulch cover in inches

Take your square footage, multiplied by mulch thickness, and divide this number by 12. The result is the amount of mulch you need in cubic feet.

Example: 891 square feet of land, multiplied by one inch of mulch, divided by 12 = 74.25 cubic feet of mulch.

Avoid these mulch types around plants

Inorganic mulches don’t decompose to feed your soil microbes and keep your plants and garden healthy and thriving. There are also some organic mulches containing dyes or other chemicals. Others such as shredded redwood take a very long time to break down.

Master Tip – These are the types of mulches you should use only in areas without plants:

  • Shredded redwood
  • Dyed wood mulch
  • Decomposed granite
  • Gravel
  • Rubber pellets

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

Match Your Climate Zone to Your Landscaping Plan

Making smart decisions about your landscape design and your plant choices relies in large part on your climate zone. San Diego County’s six different climate zones vary in their average conditions. By choosing wisely, you can minimize the need for artificial irrigation and still create a beautiful, sustainable landscape. The California Irrigation Management Information System divides San Diego County into these six climate zones: Coastal, Coastal Inland, Upland Central, Transition, Mountain, and Desert.

It’s Not Too Late for Last-Minute Fall Gardening

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a record number of people to try gardening for the first time this year. Many of them were concerned about possible shortages and had a desire to avoid shopping and crowds.

For others, a home garden has always been part of their yearly routines.

Mission Beach Architect Raising Endangered Joshua Trees for Gardens, Landscaping

In Bob Craig’s Mission Beach house, small spiked succulents line his home, garden, and porch. During his work as an architect each day, he leaves his computer to water and check on the tiny plants that he describes as “fragile” in their first year. Looking at the diminutive plants, it is difficult to imagine that in 60 years, they will be the towering trees that make Joshua Tree National Park’s landscape stunning and otherworldly.