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Native plants-New landscaping-room to grow-plants-Conservation Corner

Provide Room to Grow in Your Sustainable Landscape Plan

Note the height and width of plant species when they mature when choosing plants for new sustainable landscapes. Proper plant placement, taking into account the mature plant’s size, will limit the need for regular pruning, and reduce the amount of maintenance required over time.

While regular pruning and removal of dead plant materials is vital in our region for wildfire prevention, overly aggressive pruning harms plant health and doesn’t allow natural shapes to emerge.

Use the following spacing chart to help you figure out how many plants you need per square foot, based on the mature size of the plants.

Space plants on your landscaping plan at their full mature size, not the size when you first plant them. Graphic: Water Authority

Space plants on your landscaping plan at their full mature size, not the size when you first plant them. Graphic: San Diego County Water Authority

Scale your plants at maturity

On your landscaping plan, use circles to note the size of every plant at maturity using a one-inch to four-foot scale. Use colored pencils to denote different water needs of the plants selected. It will make it easier to group plants into their proper irrigation zones (hydrozones).

Wide canopy trees that grow to 20 or 30 feet in diameter will significantly change the landscaping over time. Will this change the microclimates in the future? Consider whether a tree will cover a large section of landscaping with shade that is currently getting full sun. If plants that thrive in full sun are eventually covered in shade, the landscaping may need to be updated in time.

Small but mighty

Planning for the amount of space your new plants will need when fully grown will help your landscape thrive. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Planning for the amount of space your new plants will need when fully grown will help your landscape thrive. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Select the smallest, healthiest plants possible, especially when choosing native plants. Once they are planted in properly prepared soil and watered wisely, small plants establish themselves more vigorously than plants raised in larger containers. Do not plant more than the space allows when the plants mature.

Root depth matters

Take note of the root depth of plants when they are placed into the landscaping. Note the root depth on the plan. Trees will be irrigated less frequently, but for a longer period of time. Groundcovers with shallower roots require more frequent, shorter periods of irrigation. Keep these types of plants on separate hydrozones. Learn more about hydrozones

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Fire-adapted, drought deciduous plants flourish in California coastal sage scrub. Photo: Couleur/Pixabay Native plant communities

Native Plant Communities in Sustainable Landscaping

Plants growing wild naturally arrange themselves into communities with other plant varieties based on their shared characteristics such as water and nutrient needs. This natural selection extends to interactions with each other, and with other species such as insects, birds, and other animals.

As a result, we see the same plant communities occurring repeatedly in natural landscapes under similar conditions.

Local native plant communities evolve together over a long period of time.  These plants work together to compete for nutrients, sunlight, and other resources.  They flourish together, to the point of “rejecting” non-native plant varieties attempting to establish themselves. While non-native plants may be equally adapted as native plants to the climate conditions of a particular area, they are at a disadvantage.

By learning about the San Diego region’s native plant communities, and selecting plants that like to live together in communities for sustainable landscaping, homeowners can take advantage of these strengths and the resulting hardiness.

Three examples of San Diego region plant communities

California Coastal Prairie Community

Perennial flowers outnumber the native grass species in California coastal prairies. Photo: Lloyd Waters / Pixabay Native plant communities

Perennial flowers outnumber the native grass species in California coastal prairies. Photo: Lloyd Waters / Pixabay

California’s coastal prairies are North America’s most diverse grasslands. Perennial flowers outnumber the native grass species. Plants include: California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium), Fern Leaf Yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’), Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus), and Cliff Buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium).

California Coastal Sage Scrub Community

Fire-adapted, drought deciduous plants flourish in California coastal sage scrub. Photo: Couleur/Pixabay Native plant communities

Fire-adapted, drought deciduous plants flourish in California coastal sage scrub. Photo: Couleur/Pixabay

Fire-adapted, drought-deciduous plants flourish in California coastal sage scrub.  This habitat is rapidly disappearing due to urbanization in southern California. Fortunately, some areas, including the San Diego Safari Park Biodiversity Reserve, have been conserved. Plants include Grey Musk Sage (Salvia Pozo Blue), Sticky Monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiaus), San Diego Sage (Salvia munzia), Fuschia Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), and Woolly Bluecurls (Trichostema lanatum).

California Chaparral Community

California chaparral is adapted to heat and dust. Photo: Kim R. Hunter / Pixabay

California chaparral is adapted to heat and dust. Photo: Kim R. Hunter / Pixabay

Chaparral exists in many coastal ranges and on the western and eastern slopes of the southern California mountains. It is ‘hard’ brush that doesn’t rely as much on summer fog drip that the Coastal Sage Scrub does, and it is adapted to heat and drought. Plants include Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), Bent Grass (Agorstis pailens), San Diego Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus minutiflorus), Bush Poppy (Dendromeconi riguda), and Clumping Wild Rye (Leymus condensatus).

This article is part of a year-long series 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.

Successful Sustainable Landscaping a Click Away for Helix, Padre Dam Customers

No matter whether their landscaping is just a few square feet alongside a front porch or estate acreage, thousands of San Diego County residents have learned to embrace sustainability as a central principle for creating and renovating their landscapes.

Thanks to financial incentives and educational resources offered by the San Diego County Water Authority to customers in La Mesa, Lemon Grove and El Cajon, a sustainable and beautiful yard is more attainable than ever before.

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.