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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 digalert.org 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 WaterSmartSD.org.

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