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Person holding organic mulch

Mulching for Water-Use Efficiency

Even though temperatures rarely drop below freezing in most parts of Southern California, many people overlook winter when it comes to caring for their native plants and traditional landscapes. There are many things that can help keep landscapes healthy and water-efficient, especially during the winter months when there is more natural rainfall. One of these things is to use a layer of mulch to prevent water loss and insulate landscapes during colder times.

Mulch types

For maximum sustainability and to support plant health, use a locally sourced and blended organic mulch. If the goal is to create a walking trail or other area that is not intended to grow plants, consider a longer lasting wood mulch or inorganic mulch. Organic mulch may be available at low cost from local landfill recycling centers. For optimum soil and plant health, look for a mulch that has a blend of leaves, stems and woody portions of the plants. This type of blended mulch will break down over time and add organic matter to the soil to support natural biological processes, prevent erosion, maintain soil moisture and support water infiltration into the landscape. In addition, composted blended mulch has gone through a natural maturation process that kills weed seeds and pathogens.

Mulching tips

Apply a layer of mulch three to four inches deep and remember to keep it at least four to six inches away from plant stems to avoid creating a condition that is prone to disease. In areas where the goal is to build the health of the soil, avoid using weed guard type fabrics. Pulling weeds and clearing debris also helps to increase the efficiency of mulch and removes hiding places for pests.

Reduce irrigation costs

With a layer of mulch on your landscape, you can conserve water because the layer of mulch will help keep moisture in the soil – this is especially important because most plants grow deeper roots in the fall and early winter. Be sure to also manage your irrigation by setting your irrigation schedule seasonally, controlling overspray and fixing any other problems promptly.

Winter Landscape Tip: Tell your landscaper about FREE training. Webinars in English and Spanish include sustainable landscape principles and irrigation essentials. Learn more: https://qwel.watersmartsd.org.

Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper training is made possible by the San Diego County Water Authority, its member agencies and the County of San Diego.

Want more tips for water-use efficiency and maintaining your sustainable landscapes? Check the free WaterSmart education classes and on-demand videos: WaterSmartSD.org.

Water Authority Wins National 2019 WaterSense Excellence Award

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the San Diego County Water Authority with a 2019 WaterSense Excellence Award for advancing water efficiency through its Qualified Water Efficient Landscape program, known as QWEL. The Water Authority received one of 25 WaterSense awards at the national WaterSmart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas.

EPA WaterSense Excellence Award to San Diego County Water Authority for QWEL program.

Water Authority Wins National 2019 WaterSense Excellence Award

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today recognized the San Diego County Water Authority with a 2019 WaterSense Excellence Award for advancing water efficiency through its Qualified Water Efficient Landscape program, known as QWEL.

The Water Authority received one of 25 WaterSense awards at the national WaterSmart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas.

Water Authority wins second consecutive EPA award for QWEL program

This is the second consecutive year the Water Authority has achieved the Excellence Award for the QWEL program, which is certified by EPA to significantly increase water management skills and knowledge among landscape professionals. Program curriculum includes 20 hours of classroom and hands-on training on principles of plant care, irrigation system design, maintenance, programming, operations and troubleshooting.

“Partnering with EPA has helped the Water Authority promote water efficiency by training hundreds of landscape professionals each year to adopt best practices,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “This approach helps to ensure that water-saving measures embraced by homes and businesses can be supported and sustained over the long term.”

San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Specialist Efren Lopez accepted 2019 EPA WaterSense Excellence Award in Certification Program Growth.

San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Specialist Efren Lopez (holding award) accepted the 2019 EPA WaterSense Excellence Award in Certification Program Growth on October 3 in Las Vegas. Photo: EPA

As one of the first QWEL providers in Southern California, the Water Authority has helped to expand the program’s branded outreach and educational outcomes. Since the January 2016 launch of QWEL, more than 1,000 San Diego landscape professionals have participated, making the region’s program one of the largest in the nation. More than 690 landscape professionals have earned QWEL certificates in the San Diego region over the past four years by passing a rigorous national test.

Water Authority Wins 2019 EPA WaterSense Excellence Award

The San Diego County Water Authority’s QWEL program is certified by the EPA and significantly increases water management skills among landscape professionals.

Water Authority’s landscape water efficiency classes

The Water Authority promotes English and Spanish QWEL training in collaboration with trade associations, faith-based organizations, English-as-a-Second-Language programs, community colleges and Master Gardeners associations. Nearly all (99%) program participants surveyed said the class would help them better manage landscape water efficiency, and 98% rated the class good or excellent.

San Diego County Water Authority Wins 2019 EPA WaterrSense Excellence Award

QWEL program curriculum includes 20 hours of classroom and hands-on training on principles of plant care, irrigation system design, maintenance, programming, operations and troubleshooting. Photo: Water Authority

Since 2006, the Water Authority and more than 2,000 other WaterSense partners nationwide have helped consumers save more than 3.4 trillion gallons of water. That’s enough water to supply the nation’s households for four months. In addition to water savings, WaterSense-labeled products and homes have helped reduce the amount of energy needed to heat, pump, and treat water by 462.5 billion kilowatt hours – enough to power more than 44.4 million homes for a year – and save $84.2 billion in water and energy bills, according to EPA.

“Our partners have made water-saving products, homes, and programs accessible across the nation and have educated millions on the importance of water conservation,” said Veronica Blette, chief of the EPA WaterSense branch. “These WaterSense award winners are leading the fight against water waste to save our most precious resource.”

The QWEL program is made possible in part from grants funds provided from voter-approved Proposition 84. The grant funds are administered by the California Department of Water Resources.