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Saving water-water bank-Conservation Cornerrainy day can be used later. Photo": Werner Jukel / Pixabay Bank your water savings

Bank Your Water Savings for the Future

Using landscape irrigation efficiently can significantly reduce overall household water consumption while leaving adequate water in the ground to cover your plants’ needs. One tool that can help is to build up your water savings when rainfall is available.

Approximately half of the water spent by average California homes is used outdoors, mostly for irrigation. Unfortunately, up to half of commercial and residential irrigation water is squandered by evaporation, wind, improper system design, or overwatering, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

During the winter in metropolitan San Diego County, healthy soil can absorb water in surprisingly large quantities to be released slowly to plants as they use it during drier months – like using a savings account to pay for expenses over time.

There haven’t been many opportunities in recent years to do so. However, whenever it is possible, there is no need to use the residential water supply on your landscaping when Mother Nature can bank water savings deposits for you.

Balance your water bank account 

Maximize your landscaping soil's ability to retain and save rainfall and irrigation for drier days. Photo: D. Douk/Creative Commons

Maximize your landscaping soil’s ability to retain and save rainfall and irrigation for drier days by creating a water savings account. Photo: D. Douk/Creative Commons

Water entering the soil – whether as rain or as irrigation – is like a deposit into a soil checking account.

By keeping track of those transactions of water in and water out, it is possible to know how much water in the soil “reservoir” is available in the landscape at any given time for the plants to access.

The initial soil bank balance is determined by direct observation or is assessed after a thorough wetting of the soil by irrigation or winter rains. Every day, plants take small amounts of water from the soil. Rain and irrigation fill up the water bank again. The trick is to make sure this “account” does not get overdrawn.

How can you tell when the account is depleted? Smart irrigation controllers and landscape professionals can calculate this for you. You can also rely on a soil probe, or even testing the landscape by feeling the soil surface with your fingers.

When oxygen and water are balanced in the soil, the amount of water lost through evapotranspiration is similar to paying fees on your savings account. Shading the soil surface with plant materials and mulch protects water in the soil by slowing evapotranspiration and leaving more water in your soil’s account.

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.

San Diego County, Water Authority Partner on Efficiency Rebates

Residents and businesses in unincorporated areas of San Diego County are eligible for increased water-use efficiency rebates under a partnership announced Aug. 17 between the county’s Watershed Protection Program and the San Diego County Water Authority.

The program could save money for residential, commercial and agricultural customers who make landscape upgrades designed to improve the region’s climate resilience and reduce the flow of pollutants into waterways.

“Drought conditions across the west are a reminder of the importance of water-efficiency upgrades, and these rebates offer a great opportunity to get involved,” said Kelley Gage, director of water resources for the water authority. “With a WaterSmart approach, we can reduce water-use and maintain climate-friendly landscapes that help sustain our quality of life in San Diego County.”

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Become a Compost Champion

Once your sustainable landscape makeover is in place, commit to best practices in maintenance. This includes regular composting.

Compost can also be used as mulch, applied directly to the soil surface. It can prevent erosion and help plants, and soil filter pollution, especially hydrocarbons and metals from road surfaces. Most greenwaste-based composts can be applied to a depth of three inches. Composted biosolids should be no deeper than two inches.

If you don’t produce your own compost on-site, it should be obtained from a reputable source that guarantees high quality. Commercially produced compost quality can vary significantly due to the diverse nature of feedstock, composting processes, and maturation standards.

Using compost as a soil amendment

For native plants in your sustainable landscaping, use roughly 15 percent compost by volume to repair disturbed or damaged soils.

Clay-based soil amended with compost will lead to more productive and healthy plant growth at a lower cost than amending the same soil with the necessary 45 percent sand.  In general, poor soils that are compacted, lifeless, or subsoils should be amended with three to six cubic yards or high-quality compost per 1,000 square feet to improve soil structure,

Biosolids-based composts should be used sparingly if they are high in ammonium nitrogen.

How do you know when it’s ready to use? Your compost is ready to use when it has an earthy smell, when it’s cooled off, and when it doesn’t reheat when stirred. The color should be uniformly dark brown or even black. You shouldn’t be able to identify any of the original particles.

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. 

California Drought Could Lead to Mandatory Water Restrictions Reinstated Statewide

Even on an overcast, dewy day at the beach, drought conditions are of concern.

In July, Governor Gavin Newsom urged everyone across the state to cut their water use by 15%, but some water experts say that may not be enough.

“For us in San Diego County, we live in an arid region and we should be really behaving like we live in a drought 365 days of the year,” said Ian Monahan said, director of marketing and philanthropy for I Lova A Clean San Diego, an environmental non-profit focused on zero waste.

Check Before Overwatering Your Landscaping

Do you know if your landscaping really needs water? Even if you have waterwise irrigation on a properly timed schedule for your individual landscaping plan, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s really needed. You could be wasting water assuming it’s necessary. Appearances can be misleading.

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Check Before Overwatering Your Landscaping

Do you know if your landscaping really needs water? Even if you have waterwise irrigation on a properly timed schedule for your individual landscaping plan, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s really needed. You could be wasting water assuming it’s necessary. Appearances can be misleading.

Rely on data from an old-school method of measurement. Because soil may appear dry on the surface, stick your finger into the soil and see if the soil is wet beneath the surface. If the soil is moist up to your second knuckle, it doesn’t need any more water. Wait for another 24 to 48 hours, then recheck the soil.

If you don’t want to ruin a manicure, use a soil probe to measure the moisture in the soil to determine whether the soil needs more water.

You can also observe plant health. How vibrant are your plants? This can be tricky because sometimes the signs of overwatering and underwatering will produce similar results in plants.

Watering your plants by hand is a great way to control exactly how much water they receive and observe them closely to be sure they are flourishing in the early stages.

Watering your plants by hand is a great way to control exactly how much water they receive and observe them closely to be sure they are flourishing in the early stages. Photo: Jill Wellington/Pixabay

Underwatering symptoms include:

  • Soil is bone dry
  • Older leaves turn yellow or brown and drop off
  • Leaves are wilted
  • Leaves curl and become brittle
  • Stunted plant growth

Overwatering symptoms include:

  • Soil is constantly saturated and soggy
  • Leaves turn a lighter shade of green, or turn yellow
  • Younger plant shoots wilt
  • Leaves are green and brittle
  • Algae and mushrooms are in the soil
  • Growth is excessive

Rely mainly on objective measurements. Symptoms at both irrigation extremes can be similar. Using simple measurement tools can help ensure the correct amount of irrigation takes place without withholding needed moisture, but without overwatering and wasting resources.

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.

Carefully selected trees are the most valuable addition to your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Helix Water District Trees Landscaping

Trees: Landscaping MVP (Most Valuable Plant)

New waterwise landscaping represents a significant investment in time and cost. Trees stand out as the most valuable players in your landscape design. No other landscape plant offers greater benefits to your landscape and the environment as a whole.

Trees save energy and clean the air.  They counteract the urban heat island effect and fight climate change. Trees provide property protection and improve property values. Neighbors with more trees even have lower crime rates.

Investing in tree maintenance is vital to keep them healthy. Tree pruning should only be done for a specific reason. First, for corrective or preventative 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.

Tips from pros on pruning and thinning trees

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

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

Routine thinning does not always improve the health of a tree. Removing large amounts of foliage all at once can put stress on a tree’s stored energy reserves, resulting in stunted growth.

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

There should be a purpose for each cut, as each cut into a tree can change the growth of the tree for many years to come. Improper or careless pruning can cause damage over the life of the tree. It is important to know where and how to make cuts before beginning the process.

When a tree branch is cut, 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, which can threaten the life of the entire tree. Ongoing and regular maintenance is a must.

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 Aboriculture and the American Society of Consulting Arborists.

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. 

Getting Professional Guidance on Your Sustainable Landscaping

With the help of resources such as the San Diego County Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover classes, video on demand, and Sustainable Landscape Guide, many homeowners feel prepared to create a beautiful new sustainable landscape on their own.

But sometimes, it’s a smart idea to call on professionals trained in different aspects of the watershed approach to landscaping. With a little help, you can ensure the success of your project. For your investment, you will likely save time and money by avoiding unsuccessful efforts.

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Winning Waterwise Landscapes in the Vallecitos Water District

San Diego County residents continue to embrace a conservation ethic by creating beautiful, waterwise landscapes. The Vallecitos Water District reports that more District water customers are reducing their outdoor water use and adopting WaterSmart practices.

Three Vallecitos customers are the most recent examples of the landscape makeover trend, creating beautiful landscapes, and winning the regional Watersmart Landscape Contest.

Neighbors often ask the Hausmanns about their new landscaping. Doug Hausmann often shares plants and lends a hand on their projects. Photo: Vallecitos Water District winning

Neighbors often ask the Hausmanns about their new landscaping. Doug Hausmann often shares plants and lends a hand on their projects. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Best in District winners Doug and Pam Hausmann have lived in San Diego County since 1975.  They both became interested in succulents and decided to remove their sprinkler system. They now water by hand. Some of their plants get by with as little as four waterings a year.

By propagating and selling succulents, the Hausmanns raise about $1,000 a year on behalf of a nonprofit supporting a friend’s grandson affected by a rare disease. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The Hausmanns started growing different plants from cuttings provided by neighbors, and from plants they purchased and then divided. Their success with propagation generated interest in low water use gardening among their friends and neighbors. The couple donated their propagated plants and expertise, helping neighbors to plant waterwise succulent gardens at their own homes.

Waterwise landscape as philanthropic enterprise

The Hausmanns propagation talent helped raise money for “24 Hours for Hank,” which supports research in Cystinosis, a rare genetic disease. Cystinosis affects 500 people in the United States. Because the disease only affects a small percentage of the population, research money is scarce. By propagating and selling succulents, the Hausmanns raise about $1,000 a year for the charity on behalf of a friend’s grandson affected by Cystinosis.

The Hausmanns were selected as contest winners for their successful landscape project, for the philanthropy it generated, and for the teaching opportunity it inspired.

Saving water, saving wildlife

 

All three winning landscape designs provide habitat for pollinators and birds. Photo: Vallecitos Water District winning

All three winning landscape designs provide habitat for pollinators and birds. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Tours of residential native landscapes and a visit to the Vallecitos Water District Sustainable Demonstration Garden inspired second place winner Bruce Ferguson to follow through on his desire to transform his yard into a more natural and native setting, attractive to wildlife.

Ferguson loves to see lizards, birds, and butterflies. His garden design reduces stormwater runoff and allows for more infiltration of rainwater into the ground by including two small bioswales. He added two small ponds to provide a water source for animals. After the makeover, Ferguson’s water savings range from 20% to 40% monthly.

Bruce Ferguson completed all the work himself on his landscape makeover. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Third place winner Ellen Kaplan replaced her lawn with a drought-tolerant garden to conserve water, eliminate expensive monthly landscaping, and to give her home more curb appeal.

She used a variety of palms, annuals, kangaroo paws, and succulents. She replaced the existing sprinkler system (which she admitted did a better job of watering her driveway) with a drip system providing targeted watering only where needed.

Ellen Kaplan enjoys watching hummingbirds visiting her new landscaping - and so does her cat from safely inside the house. Photo: Vallecitos Water District winning

Ellen Kaplan enjoys watching hummingbirds visiting her new landscaping. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

All three winners received a gift certificate to Green Thumb Nursery in San Marcos to support their waterwise gardening adventures and a Watersmart Landscape Contest Winner sign for their front yards.

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

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.