WaterSmart homeowner Jeff Moore's back yard zen garden featuring his landscape work fit beautifully into his area's climate zone. Photo: Water Authority caring for

Caring For Your WaterSmart Living Landscape

Whether you install a new WaterSmart Living landscape or are just looking for tips on how to conserve water in your existing landscape, the following section can help you make an immediate impact on your landscape water savings.

View these tips, and follow the guidelines below

Plan ahead. Keep a copy of the plant legend, irrigation plan, and runtime schedule to make it easy to buy replacement plants and parts. This will also help locate and troubleshoot pipes to make repairs or adjustments if needed in the future.

Monitor and minimize watering. When set up correctly, your smart controller will automatically adjust watering times to respond to changes in weather. To maximize water savings, program your controller to apply only the amount of water needed for each zone. A good rule of thumb is to water only when the top inch of soil is dry. If you see runoff before the end of the irrigation cycle, adjust the schedule to more often for a shorter duration each time.

To schedule your irrigation correctly, you must know your equipment type, plant water use, soil texture, and watering zone. Use the Watering Calculator on to create a basic watering schedule for your property. Adjust as needed for optimum plant growth and water efficiency.

Water at appropriate times. If possible, schedule your irrigation system to run in the early morning. It is best to avoid watering at night to prevent fungus and mildew problems from night time watering. Avoid watering midday to eliminate excessive evaporation.

Managing irrigation schedules is a key part of caring for your WaterSmart Living landscaping. Photo: Irrigation Association

Managing irrigation schedules is crucial to caring for your WaterSmart Living landscaping. Photo: Irrigation Association

Check irrigation equipment. You may not witness the system running in the early morning hours. Be sure to manually turn the system on seasonally and after severe weather changes to catch potential problems. Check drip systems to ensure emitters are working and clean out filters as needed. Over time, drip emitter locations may need to be relocated as your plants grow. Adjust spray sprinklers to prevent overspray and runoff.

Fertilizing tips. Use an organic fertilizer or compost. Compost can be made from garden waste and some kitchen waste to continually enrich your soil. For more information and recipes for do-it-yourself compost, see the Water Authority’s eGuide to a WaterSmart Lifestyle.

Weed control. Weed naturally whenever possible. Using herbicides can be costly and, if not correctly applied, can damage the environment. Designing and maintaining a healthy landscape can be the best defense against weeds. Hand pull any weeds that come up in your garden every few weeks. Pull them before they go to seed.

Manage pests. The key to controlling pests and diseases is to maintain healthy soil and select plant species that are not prone to pest problems. Consider following Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. Use chemical control only as a last resort. Try spraying pests with a blast of water, release beneficial bugs (ladybugs and lacewings), spray insecticidal soap, or use compost tea. Consider replacing pest-prone plants. See our eGuide for more information on natural pest control and compost tea. When using chemical control, always follow the manufacturer’s dosage, application and safety information.

Maintain a two-to-three-inch layer of mulch. Replace the mulch as needed.

Use a broom or blower to clean driveways and sidewalks instead of a hose.

Make a plant maintenance checklist. Keep a copy of your plant list and make a checklist of maintenance requirements for each plant.

Monitor your monthly costs and water use on an ongoing basis.

Enjoy the peace of mind from knowing you did your part to protect our natural resources and the environment.


WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to

Rocks and small boulders are both aesthetically pleasing and useful in your landscape. Photo: Otay Water District

Contour Your Landscape

When planning your landscape, look first at the terrain you’re working with. You can use the contours of your existing land – depressions and slopes – for guidance when planning your landscape grading. If your yard is flat, you’ll need to move soil and features around to create more rain-holding contour areas.

A soil percolation test can be very helpful in preparing your soil. You want to make it as much of a water-retaining sponge as possible before getting to work on rainwater capture plans.

NOTE: If you have 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 visit to be sure you won’t hit any underground utility lines.

Move water with gravity

Basins and swales are shallow depressions or channels no more than 24 inches deep on gently sloped or nearly flat landscapes. Basins and swales move water over short distances. With these contours, gravity will move water around to where you want it.

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

Use rainwater to your advantage

By planning your landscape so that you don’t have low spots with no plants, you prevent wasting rainwater through runoff. You can also avoid fungus and rot from standing water. Plants in and around the depressions capture and sink small volumes of surface water so that all the rainwater you capture can be used.

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

Boulders can add points of interest and slow down water runoff in your landscaping. Boulders also are useful to retain small berms or the edges of swales.

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

Trees are the most valuable players in your landscape design, and you can keep them healthy by using proper pruning techniques. Photo: Benjamin Balazs/Pixabay

Take Good Care of Your Landscaping Trees

Trees are the most valuable players in your landscape design. They benefit both the environment and the communities in which they are planted. They save energy and clean the air we breathe. They help counteract the urban heat island effect and combat climate change. Trees provide protection from the elements, and even support healing. Invest in tree maintenance to promote their ongoing health.

When to prune your trees

First, for corrective or preventive measures. Second, to remove dead, crowded, or poorly angled branches or to reduce potential hazards. Third, to increase light and air penetration for healthy growth.

Routine thinning does not always improve the health of a tree. Removing large amounts of foliage all at once can reduce growth and stored energy reserves, resulting in stressed trees whose grow stalls.

Pruning should be performed in the best season for the tree to avoid potential disease, and avoid pruning just after the spring growth flush.

Use proper technique to promote healthy trees

There should be a purpose for each cut, as each cut into a tree has the potential to change the growth of the tree for many years to come.

Proper tree pruning technique is essential. Improper or careless pruning can cause damage that extends over the life of the tree. It is important to know where and how to make cuts before beginning the process.

Trees don’t “heal” the same way people do when we sustain a cut or a wound. When a tree is wounded, it compartmentalizes the wound to protect itself. A small cut does less damage than a large cut. Waiting to prune a tree until it is mature can create the need for large cuts that cannot be easily compartmentalized. This can threaten the life of the entire tree. Ongoing and regular maintenance is a must.

Ask for professional assistance

Call on a certified arborist to maintain your trees in optimal health. Arborists are specialists trained in the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees. They can identify and treat diseases before they spread to other trees. Find qualified professionals at the International Society of Arboriculture and the American Society of Consulting Arborists.

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