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Set yourself up for landscaping success by building the best foundation in your soil structure. Photo: walkersalmanac/Pixabay

Take a Test to Determine Your Soil Type

If you put a shovel into the ground in San Diego County, you are likely to encounter the region’s impermeable soil structure. Impermeable soils are defined by poor infiltration areas. This means water doesn’t flow through the soil to replenish groundwater, because the soil is too dense.

Having impermeable soil also means water does not soak evenly into the ground or flow through living soil to plants in a healthy way. No matter where you plan your landscape, you should concentrate on improving your soil structure. That will help you irrigate more efficiently and cost-effectively, and your plants will receive the nutrients and water they need to flourish. It is relatively easy to improve your soil structure, but first you need to determine what kind of soil you have.

Particle size matters

The three basic types of soil are:

Clay: Soil made up of the smallest particles
Silt: Soil made up of a mixture of particle sizes
Sand: Soil made up of the largest particles

In general, sandy soils drain faster than clay soils, because there is more space between the larger particles. Soil structure also influences the quality of the soil. Lifeless, compacted, sandy soil will not absorb water, while healthy clay soil will be more sponge-like, holding and releasing water. The “best” soil – an even blend of sand, silt and clay – is called loam.

Find your soil structure by testing your soil

Some tests can be done onsite to figure out what kind of soil you have. Others might require lab analysis. Certain other conditions require specialized tests, such as soil used for food production or soil receiving a lot of storm water.

You can test your home landscaping soil yourself using a “Jar Test.” This is a fun project to do with kids or as a family.

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 with which to compare your jar. Try to get the most even distribution, as shown with the loam jar. Image: San Diego County Water Authority

How to do the “Jar Test”

  • Use a one-quart glass container.
  • Add one cup of soil from the garden. You can select one area or take samples from several areas and blend them together.
  • Add three cups of distilled water.
  • Close the jar and shake it until all the soil solids are suspended in water. Put the jar on a shelf and wait 24 hours.
  • If the container is still cloudy, wait another 24 hours. After 48 hours, the soil layers should be settled on the bottom.
  • Measure the layers in proportion to each other, with the total adding up to 100%. Sand will be on the bottom, silt in the middle, and clay on top.
  • Refer to the graphic to determine your soil type, based on the proportions of sand, silt, and clay. Which jar does your home sample look most like?

Now you can work to improve your soil condition, providing the best possible foundation for your landscaping plants and the most efficient irrigation.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Even in our arid climate, the first rainfall can add up to a lot of water runoff - save as much as possible in your landscape. Photo: Denis Doukhan/Pixabay

Prepare Your Landscape for the First Rain

After a dry spell, the first rainfall is the most important water to capture for your landscape. This is called the “first flush.”

In arid regions like San Diego County, this happens every year because there is a long stretch of dry weather in between rainy seasons.

Why is the first rainfall so important?

It washes away pollutants that have collected since the last rain. This water needs to be filtered as much as possible by landscaping before it goes anywhere else. Usually the next stop for this water is storm drains that empty into oceans. So your landscape can be a very important tool in preventing the buildup of pollutants in local water supplies.

In addition, the first rain in the fall is very important for your plants. New or established plants will want to grow deep roots in the fall and winter, and the additional water is essential. Capturing the rain with your landscape reduces the need for increasing irrigation.

How much water comes off your roof?

Measure the size of your roof to determine how much water will come off it. The shape of your roof doesn’t matter in this instance. The same amount of water falls on the roof whether it is sloped or flat. You can measure a sloped roof either using an aerial view or from the ground without worrying about the slope itself. Just measure the outside edges the same way you would if it was flat and calculate the square footage.

Flat roofs covering a building in one contiguous shape are easier to measure. Some roofs are more complicated. You can divide this type of roof into individual squares or triangles. Then, measure each one at a time and add the figures together for your total roof area.

Calculate your potential water capture

Once you know the total roof area, you can determine the amount of rainfall it generates in gallons, then use the following formula to convert square feet to gallons.

Formula: Rainfall in Inches x Total Square Feet x 0.62 = Gallons of Rainwater from the Roof

Here’s an example using a 1,000 square foot roof: 1 inch of rain x 1000 x 0.62 = 620 gallons.

Even in a dry climate, this rainfall adds up to a lot of water runoff. It’s easy to see how important it is to save as much of this water as possible in a landscape designed to be a sponge instead of a brick. Take the watershed approach to designing your landscape, and you can use the first flush of rain to your advantage.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its partners also offer other resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Members of the Water Authority at the San Diego Press Club Journalism Awards (L to R): Denise Vedder, Litsa Tzotzolis, Gayle Falkenthal, Ed Joyce, Kristiene Gong. Photo: Water Authority

Water Authority’s Public Outreach Efforts Honored

For the second consecutive year, the San Diego County Water Authority received two first place awards from the San Diego Press Club for its public outreach and education work. The awards were presented at the 2019 San Diego Press Club 46th Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards October 29 at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation’s Joe and Vi Jacobs Community Center.

San Diego’s finest reporters, photographers, writers, artists, and communicators were honored with the region’s top awards in one of the largest annual competitions in the United States.

The Water Authority received the following Press Club awards:

Websites, Public Service or Consumer Advocacy Site: First place, Water News Network

Public Relations, Public Information and Trade Publications, Special interest on one-time publications: “San Diego County Water Authority: 75 Years and Counting

The Water News Network has proven to be a valuable source of water news and information for the San Diego region since it started in May 2018. This is the second consecutive year the Water News Network website has won first place in this category.

“Traditional news organizations face increasingly limited resources, but our constituents still have the need for accurate information about water issues and efforts by the Water Authority and its member agencies to secure a safe and reliable water supply for the San Diego region,” said Denise Vedder, public outreach and conservation director for the San Diego County Water Authority. “The Water News Network is an effort to provide this information. It has also become a tip sheet for regional news media to follow water issues and generate their own independent reporting, which has been a welcome additional benefit.”

San Diego County Water Authority: 75 Years and Counting

San Diego County Water Authority: 75 Years and Counting,” explored San Diego’s water history, needs and the 24 member agencies that serve the region. The one-time publication was a special section supplement within the Sunday, June 9, 2019 San Diego Union-Tribune, honoring the founding of the organization on June 9, 1944.

“The San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism awards shows that solid research, writing, reporting and photography matter more than ever,” said Karyl Carmignani, 2019 Press Club president. “I’m proud our organization honors student and professional journalists and public relations professionals in San Diego.”

This year’s Journalism Awards program drew more than 950 entries across multiple media categories. Judges included members of press clubs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Rochester (New York), Florida, Cleveland, Orange County, Milwaukee, Tulsa, and Alaska.