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How to Properly Install Irrigation for a New Water-Saving Home Landscape

Successfully installing water-saving irrigation starts long before you get out your tools. You need to complete an assessment of your landscape plan’s specific water needs, draw a complete plan showing the layout, then select your irrigation and purchase your irrigation equipment. If your soil needs amendments (and it almost certainly does), you must get this done first. With all of this important prep work complete, you can start to implement the design.

Water-Use Efficiency Rebates for Businesses

As extreme drought grips the Southwest, businesses across California are taking a variety of water-saving actions. The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer business rebates and other incentives to help businesses save money while saving water.

Jeanne Reutunger transformed a neglected front yard into a beautiful native garden and the winner of the 2022 City of Escondido Landscape Makeover Contest. Photo: City of Escondido

Escondido Landscape Makeover Winner Goes from Weeds to Wow

When Jeanne Reutlinger moved to her Escondido home in 2019, the neglected front yard was full of weeds, baked by the sun, and car exhausts from the street. Three years later, Reutlinger’s vision and hard work for a natural low maintenance habitat created a pollinator’s paradise full of native plants. Her efforts won the 2022 City of Escondido’s Landscape Makeover Contest.

When Jeanne Reutlinger moved to her Escondido home in 2019, the neglected front yard was full of weeds, baked by the sun and car exhausts from the street. Photo: City of Escondido

When Jeanne Reutlinger moved to her Escondido home in 2019, the neglected front yard was full of weeds, baked by the sun and car exhausts from the street. Photo: City of Escondido

“I wanted to do my own planting and create a colorful water-wise garden to attract butterflies and small birds,” says Reutlinger. At age 84, she got a helping hand transforming the “forlorn lawn” full of weeds, ruts, and dead tree roots from her grandson, John, who helped with extensive plantings. He also assisted his grandmother in creating a natural bird bath from an old tree stump that the birds love.

Creativity, ingenuity, and patience pay off

The award-winning design used plant cuttings and other cost-saving measures. Photo: City of Escondido

“I did the flower, succulent, small shrub and ground cover planting myself over the past three years. It has been a continual work in progress,” said Reutlinger. “I planted colorful heat tolerant plants and clippings from friends and neighbors that require little water and thrive in the heat. I collected rocks and cast-off bricks to make several different beds for my plantings. I dig around each plant and make a berm of soil to hold the water in to prevent runoff.”

Reutlinger said the cost for the makeover was minimal due to her creativity and by tackling the work herself. “It is easy to start plants from cuttings and saves money if one is patient to nurture the little cuttings,” said Reutlinger.

Native garden nurtures pollinators

The native plant garden attracts pollinators including endangered Monarch butterfliest. Photo: City of Escondido landscape makeover

The native plant garden attracts pollinators, including endangered Monarch butterflies. Photo: City of Escondido

The yard is filled with California Poppies, giant Gazania Daisies (which reseed themselves constantly), and marigolds which Reutlinger replants each year with seeds from the previous year’s flowers. Reutlinger planted bougainvillea, rosemary, sea lavender, lantana, succulents, and multiple milkweed varieties. Reutlinger adds seasonal colorful nursery flowers in the spring to enjoy during cooler, rainier weather.

“The many birds with their cheerful songs that enjoy my birdbath in the mornings are a delight,” said Reutlinger. “It is a joy to see the many Monarch butterflies that have made their home in my yard with the various milkweed plantings in my garden. I have been able to watch the full life cycle of the Monarch from egg to growing caterpillar to chrysalis to beautiful adult butterfly right in my own yard.”

Colorful yard draws compliments

The results of Jeanne Reutlinger’s hard work benefit her entire neighborhood. Photo: City of Escondido

Reutlinger says she gets compliments from her neighbors, who enjoy the beauty and color her yard adds to the neighborhood. “It was once a bleak and barren corner and has now been transformed with a lot of love and enjoyment over the years into a water-wise habitat for birds and butterflies and it gives smiles to all who pass by,” she said.

Reutlinger chooses to hand water her plants, allowing her to control the amount of water each plant receives. She also relishes what she calls sunshine therapy. “Hand watering gets me out of the house every day to enjoy my garden and soak up the vitamin D and get the exercise and movement that my 84-year-old self needs,” said Reutlinger.

Up to 80% of local household water consumption is outdoors. The annual Landscape Makeover Contest aims to inspire residents to consider a landscape makeover by showcasing the beauty and variety of water-efficient landscapes.

Interested residents can learn more about WaterSmart Living, including the 2023 contest and classes on the WaterSmartSD website.

(Editor’s note: The City of Escondido is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Plant Installation Brings Your New WaterSmart Landscape to Life

With your new WaterSmart landscaping plans complete, demolition and turf removal done, and your new irrigation system in place, it’s time to get started on the plant installation. For most homeowners, this is the most rewarding part of the process seeing your new landscaping come to life.

Native plant-sustainability-garden-landscapetracting pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. Image: Water Authority plant installation

Plant Installation Brings Your New WaterSmart Landscape to Life

With your new WaterSmart landscaping plans complete, demolition and turf removal done, and your new irrigation system in place, it’s time to get started on the plant installation. For most homeowners, this is the most rewarding part of the process seeing your new landscaping come to life.

Review the following tips to help you through the plant installation and placement process

Step 1: Use a garden hose to outline groundcover areas to help you visualize the design before you start the installation.

Step 2: Set the plants while still in their containers, in their approximate location per your planting design plan. Take a step back and review. View your plant placements from various angles. Make any adjustments to the design now to avoid having to dig up and relocate any plants.

Be aware many drought-tolerant landscapes look sparse for the first few years. As your plants reach their mature size, they will fill in over time. Be sure to allow proper spacing to allow each plant to grow to its full size.

Step 3: Dig plant holes twice the width of the plant root ball and just deep enough to bury the roots. Water the hole before placing the plant. When planted, the top of the root ball should be even with or slightly above soil level.

Colorful, water-wise plants replaced a thirsty, labor intensive front lawn in Deborah Brant's winning 2019 landscape makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Colorful, water-wise plants replaced a thirsty, labor intensive front lawn in Deborah Brant’s winning 2019 landscape makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Step 4: Once in the hole, the plant should be packed firmly into place with the original, compost-amended soil from the hole. Extra dirt can create a berm around the plant to hold water.

Step 5: Cover the planting area with a two- to three-inch-deep layer of mulch. Keep mulch a few inches away around the plant stems to prevent rot. Using mulch has many benefits. It can help suppress weeds, enrich the soils, protect plant roots from compaction, provide a finished look to your garden, and mulch conserves water.

Step 6: Monitor your garden to ensure your plants are getting adequate water. Even native plant species and drought-tolerant plants need water to get established. This can take a year. To minimize your watering needs while your plants are getting established, install your landscape in the fall months before the months of most significant rainfall in San Diego, generally December through March.

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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 WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Installing WaterSmart Living Irrigation

Successfully installing WaterSmart Living irrigation starts long before you get out your tools. You need to complete an assessment of your landscape plan’s specific water needs, draw a complete plan showing the layout, then select your irrigation and purchase your irrigation equipment. If your soil needs amendments (and it almost certainly does), you must get this done first. With all of this important prep work complete, you can start to implement the design.

Take time to learn about your possibleWaterSmart Living irrigation choices. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Installing WaterSmart Living Irrigation

Successfully installing WaterSmart Living irrigation starts long before you get out your tools. You need to complete an assessment of your landscape plan’s specific water needs, draw a complete plan showing the layout, then select your irrigation and purchase your irrigation equipment. If your soil needs amendments (and it almost certainly does), you must get this done first. With all of this important prep work complete, you can start to implement the design.

Five key steps to success

Be sure your irrigation plan considers hills and slopes to prevent waste and erosion. Photo: Pixabay

Step 1: Read the instructions from the manufacturer and familiarize yourself with all the parts of your new irrigation system. Often the manufacturer will provide YouTube video demonstrations which can be extremely helpful.

Step 2: Starting from the main connection to the water line, dig trenches for all the pipes according to your irrigation plan. Ideally, the main connection to the water line will be downstream of the water meter and upstream of the connection to the house.

If you tie into a rear yard hose bib, be aware that the water pressure will be lower because the water for your house is regulated by a separate pressure regulator.

Step 3: Lay an extra pipe sleeve or two under any new hardscape elements. This allows you to add pipes or wires in the future. Be sure to cover the ends of the pipe with duct tape before covering and mark the location on your landscape plan.

Step 4: If you are using drip irrigation, you may want to hold off installing your drip emitters until after planting is complete. With your new plants in the ground, you can place the emitters precisely where the water best irrigates your new plants. Be sure to place them at least six inches away from the plant’s stem to prevent rot.

Step 5: Consult your local irrigation supply store or the major irrigation manufacturers if you need more detailed installation guides or help with troubleshooting. Manufacturers offer toll-free customer service phone help, online chats, and email.

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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 WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Best Options For Turf Removal

Once you’ve finalized your landscaping plans, you’ll have some demolition work ahead of you, including the existing turf you plan to remove or replace. Removing turf presents choices about the best way to accomplish this task. Learn more about turf removal options and understand the steps before you begin.

Removing your turf is water smart, but there is a right approach to take. Photo: MK Digital Products remove backyard turf turf removal

Best Options For Turf Removal

Once you’ve finalized your landscaping plans, you’ll have some demolition work ahead of you, including the existing turf you plan to remove or replace. Removing turf presents choices about the best way to accomplish this task. Learn more about turf removal options and understand the steps before you begin.

Start here with this video demonstrating your turf removal options

Reclaiming an area of unwanted turf requires diligence. No matter what method of turf removal is used, plan on routine maintenance, including weeding or herbicide application, as often as every two weeks for the first three months after your take your turf out. Some tenacious warm-season grasses might give you a battle for even longer.

Options for Turf Removal

Natural turf removal. A natural way to remove turf and preserve the soil’s ecology is to strip the turf and water the area for the next two weeks to encourage grass to re-sprout and hand pull all new growth.

Sheet mulching. Rather than removing turf and taking it to the landfill, you can compost it in place. First, remove several inches of turf and soil from the edges near your hardscape. Wet the turf area and cover it with several layers of newspaper. Water again and cover with cardboard. Water again and cover with three inches of shredded mulch.

If you can invest the time, allow several months for the soil microbes to decompose the turf and turn it into friable soil for plants.

Solarization. Another alternative is solarization. This works best in the spring or summer. Turf areas are covered with rolls of plastic. Sun exposure heats the soil and kills the turf and weed seeds. The cover must be airtight with no holes and left in place for six to eight weeks. However, this method will also kill beneficial soil microbes. Using this method, you must follow up and apply compost or other soil amendments to restore the soil’s healthy biology.

Turf removal with herbicide. If you choose to use an herbicide, consult with your local landscape supply store and read the manufacturers’ label for best use practices and safety considerations. Since Bermuda grass and some other grasses are dormant in the winter, they must be treated when actively growing in the remainder of the year (May to October).

Grading. When the turf is removed, you need to grade your property. Set the soil level to direct water away from the house. To help slow down water runoff from your garden, try creating small depressions away from structures, walls, or paving where water is allowed to pool and slowly percolate into the soil. The more you slow the water down or hold it on site, the more you improve water quality in your area and downstream at local beaches.

Reduce runoff. Runoff carries with it soil particles and pollutants. Reduce runoff by using mulch.

Prep For Success

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: Anna Shvets / Pexels

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: Anna Shvets / Pexels

Now that you have removed unwanted turf and other plants, it is time to condition your soil.

Soil amendments should be selected based on your soil analysis recommendations. Till them into the top layer of soil. Compost (15-30% by volume), gypsum, and fertilizer are typical amendments in arid climates like San Diego County.

The goal is to achieve healthy soil containing microbes which feed plants, improve drainage, and increase the natural water holding capacity of the soil.

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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 WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Compost and Mulch Build a Sustainable, Drought-Resistant Landscape

When undertaking a water-saving landscape renovation, strive to continuously feed as much organic matter as possible to the landscape soil to keep it healthy. Start with compost and mulch to jump-start the process. Eventually, your plants will feed themselves with their own leaf litter.