The best type of irrigation system for your landscape can depend on many factors, including the size and shape of your landscape and types of plants you have. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

Spray Versus Drip Irrigation: Which is Best for You?

Spray irrigation emits water in an overlapping pattern, while drip irrigation delivers water directly to the roots of plants. How do you decide which meets the needs of your landscaping?

The case for spray irrigation

Spray irrigation can be an efficient way to irrigate large landscapes with groundcover or uniform plant materials like lawns or meadows.

Spray systems apply water in gallons per minute (GPM), so if you know the application rate of each spray head, the distance between the heads, and the pressure of your system, it is relatively easy to figure out how much water is applied every time you run your irrigation.

Low volume spray heads apply water at about one-third the rate of conventional spray heads. Newer spray irrigation heads have improved spray with heavier droplets more resistant to wind. Landscaping with grade changes using spray heads should have check valves installed to prevent water flowing out of the lower point heads.

Challenges of spray irrigation include narrow areas surrounded by hardscape, or irregular patterns. Irregular patterns are particularly challenging, because spray irrigation requires head-to-head coverage to be efficient. Odd-shaped areas may be under or over watered. High-volume spray heads that emit water at a much higher rate than soil can absorb should be replaced.

The case for drip irrigation

Drip systems apply water in gallons per hour (GPH), so they often need to run for longer periods of time than spray systems. But the actual run time must always account for precipitation rate and runoff.

Installing subsurface systems (under at least two inches of mulch) is the most efficient way to irrigate nearly every type of garden area. Since the tubing is flexible, it can accommodate a variety of irregular shaped areas or rectangular areas when laid in a grid pattern, and in rings you can easily expand as trees or shrubs grow.

Challenges of drip irrigation include application of water too quickly for your soil to absorb. This needs to be considered when dripline grids are installed. Drip irrigation operates the most efficiently at low pressure (between 15 and 30 PSI). To achieve optimal performance, pressure regulation either at the valve or at the point of connection of the dripline to the buried lateral lines must be used. It is also essential to install some type of filtering system to keep the emitters from getting clogged.

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at


There are new enhanced rebates for removing turf and replacing it with sustainable landscaping. Photo: Water Authority

Cash Rebates Increase for Grass Removal in San Diego Region

Removing grass can generate rebates of at least $2 per square foot for San Diego residents under new enhanced incentives that started this month.

As of April 1, the Metropolitan Water District is offering $2 per square foot for every square foot of grass removed from yards and replaced with sustainable landscaping.

Rebates may vary by water agency, but an online incentive calculator identifies the current rebate amounts.

New rules for turf rebates. Graphic:

New rules for turf rebates. Graphic:

To increase participation, MWD also updated program rules. The rules are listed at the application site.

All San Diego County residents are eligible for the $2 rebate.

But, that’s not all. The San Diego County Water Authority is offering an additional $1.75 per square foot to customers in its service area, with grant funds provided by the California Department of Water Resources.  And, the City of San Diego offers city residents $1.25 per square foot. That means some homeowners can earn as much as a $5 rebate for each square foot of turf removed.

Turf rebate programs have proven popular in Southern California, and funds could go quickly.

Water Authority offers free landscaping classes

While rebates can provide a big boost to landscaping makeover projects, it’s also important to start planning before you start planting.

That’s where the Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program comes in. Free resources are available to upgrade turf yards.

For instance, the Water Authority offers free landscape makeover classes that help homeowners make smart choices to reduce outdoor water use by designing beautiful and climate-appropriate landscapes for our region.

Find additional water-saving programs, incentives, and classes for residents and businesses at:

“San Diego County homeowners and businesses know that sustainable landscapes are key to water reliability in our region,” said Joni German, who manages the Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program. With the help of local landscape architects and designers, our WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program gives them the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. WaterSmart landscapes are an upgrade, not a compromise.”

Reduce the amount of water your landscape needs with efficient irrigation. Photo: Peggy Choucair/Pixabay

Irrigation Efficiency Impacts Plant Health and Water Use

Irrigation systems have a lot of interconnected mechanical elements. They must be thoughtfully designed, installed and programmed. Once in place, irrigation systems must be maintained properly for optimal performance.

“Irrigation efficiency” is a way of describing how well your irrigation system is delivering water for the beneficial use of the plants in your landscaping.

Issues that adversely affect the performance of your irrigation system can greatly reduce its efficiency and cause you to use more water than needed. The issues fall in three major categories: site conditions in your landscaping, irrigation control, and the uniform distribution of water by your irrigation system.

Three ways to maximize irrigation impact

There are three ways to improve your irrigation system efficiency by upgrading and continuously maintaining it for maximum efficiency.

• Smart Irrigation Management
• State of the Art System Upgrades
• Matching Irrigation to Your Hydrozones

Intelligent irrigation begins by understanding that “setting and forgetting” your irrigation controller is a thing of the past. Even if you don’t have a “smart” irrigation controller to adjust your program for weather conditions, you should be more proactive in managing your watering, and more closely try to match your watering schedule with the actual water needs of your landscaping.

Upgrading your system with state-of-the-art components is a good investment and the single most significant thing you can do to save water.

Tips on professional help with your irrigation needs

You may decide to get professional help with your irrigation system. Look for designers or contractors qualified to provide these services. Credentials such as the Irrigation Association’s Certified Irrigation Designer designation can help assure your project will be successful. You can also ask if your contractor is a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (OWEL).

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at

PART 6: Southern Nevada Water Agency Intensifies Turf War

Saving water in Las Vegas is an all-out turf war, and the campaign is far from over. Since 1999, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has overseen the removal of more than 187 million square……We hope you’re enjoying our content. Subscribe today to continue reading this story, and all of our stories, for just 99 cents.

How Some Residents Of The San Gabriel Valley Can Get Free, Native Plants For Their Yards

Some San Gabriel Valley residents may be eligible to receive $250 worth of drought-resistant plants — for free. The Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District launched the region’s first residential plant voucher program last week; applications are now open, according to a press release. The program is intended to encourage people to integrate drought-tolerant plants into their landscape instead of grass lawns and other water-thirsty plant materials, according to the upper district website. The nearly 1 million people in the upper district service area use more than 78 billion gallons of water annually, according to the release.

National Report Highlights Success Of San Diego Sustainable Landscapes Program

San Diego’s Sustainable Landscapes Program ranked among the most effective landscape transformation programs in the nation in a study released today by the Chicago-based Alliance for Water Efficiency. The “Landscape Transformation Study: 2018 Analytics Report” compiled data from 14 similar landscape conservation programs in the U.S. and Canada. The Alliance for Water Efficiency concluded that San Diego program participants reduced water use by an average 114.8 gallons per day, or 34.8 percent. “The Water Authority has established a high benchmark for landscape transformation programs that include rigorous program requirements that result in the achievement of multiple benefits,” according to the report.

Mirroring Native Plant Communities in Sustainable Landscaping

In nature, plants arrange themselves into communities of “friends” based on common microclimates, water and nutrient needs, and how they interact with the physical environment. Native plant communities also are based on interactions with each other and other species such as insects, birds, and other animals.

Most plant communities occur repeatedly in natural landscapes under similar conditions.

Local native plant communities have evolved together over a long period of time, and grow well together. They will even “reject” the outsiders and work together to compete for nutrients, sunlight, and other resources

This is one of many good reasons to learn about the San Diego region’s native plant communities and to select plants that like to live together in communities for sustainable landscaping.

Three examples of San Diego regional plant communities

California Coastal Prairie Community

California Coastal Prairie along the coast north of Jenner, California. Photo: Wikimedia/Creative Commons

California’s coastal prairies are the most diverse of any grassland in North America. Perennial flowers outnumber grass species here. 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

California Coastal Sage Scrub in the San Pasqual area. Photo: Barbara Kus, USGS/Creative Commons

California Coastal Sage Scrub in the San Pasqual area. Photo: Barbara Kus, USGS/Creative Commons

California coastal sage scrub features fire-adapted, drought deciduous plants, which are rapidly disappearing 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 near the University of California, San Diego. Photo: UCSD/Creative Commons

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 as 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 was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at



Homeowners learn through the Water Authority's Landscape Transformation program that sustainable landscaping can be as lush as a lawn. Photo Water Authority turf

Tearing Out the Turf: 1 Million Square Feet Targeted for Removal

San Diego County residents have targeted more than 1 million square feet of turf grass for replacement with WaterSmart landscaping through free landscape makeover classes sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority over the past five years.

While not all the targeted turf has actually been removed, post-class surveys show that many participants end up taking out more turf than they initially planned after seeing the benefits of their work, said Joni German, who coordinates the Water Authority’s award-winning WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series.

“Because we give people the skills and the confidence to do this, they often go on to convert turf in another part of their yard,” she said.

Water savings potential tops 36 million gallons a year

The Water Authority's Landscape Transformation Program teaches homeowners the proper methods for removing turf. Photo: Water Authority

The Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series teaches homeowners the proper methods for removing turf. Photo: Water Authority

In the past five years, 947 people have completed the WaterSmart class series, which includes identifying turf areas for replacement with low-water use landscaping. Participants work one-on-one with local landscape architects to complete design and irrigation plans.

The Water Authority then compares estimated total water use for each homeowner before attending the four-class series, and after implementing a sustainable landscaping plan. In total, participants have identified more than 1 million square feet for conversion.

“We have documented about a 33 percent water savings in those plans,” said German. “The total water savings realized from removing 1 million square feet of turf is equal to 36.5 million gallons per year, or 112 acre-feet annually.”

One acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons, roughly enough to serve 2.5 typical Southern California families of four for a year.

Education helps homeowners embrace change

Example of a Landscape Transformation Program participant's yard prior to its sustainable makeover. Photo: Water Authority

Example of a WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series participant’s yard prior to its sustainable makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The National Resources Defense Council said California homeowners are leading the transition away from lawns, which is expected to continue for more than a decade nationwide. And there is a long way to go: Lawns currently cover up to 50 million acres of land in the United States, consuming three trillion gallons of water each year, according to NRDC.

German said WaterSmart landscape makeover courses help homeowners change their thinking, and embrace the sustainable landscaping approach.

The same residence after its makeover to a sustainable landscape design. Photo: Water Authority

“Homeowners don’t know where to start,” said German. “They think they have to create a rocks and cactus landscape. Our program reflects a WaterSmart landscape for the San Diego lifestyle.

“In the course, we explain that we live in one of the most desirable climates on earth. People come and vacation here for our climate. We deserve beautiful, lush, colorful, thriving landscapes – and we can have them. They can be water-efficient, too,” said German.

German said the combination of course lectures, hands-on assignments, and support from landscaping professionals makes the classes highly practical. “We get participants to think about their lifestyle and take them down the path that gives them the skills and knowledge to actually implement their own landscape plan.”

Each class series is limited to 25 participants. Experts visit each homeowner’s proposed project area prior to the first class. They take measurements, locate irrigation heads, and produce a CAD drawing for homeowners to use in the class.

“With the help of local landscape professionals, homeowners create planting plans and irrigation plans specific to their project areas. They are either ready to implement the plans themselves, or work with a contractor to tell them what they want done,” said German.

Applications now open for 2019 courses

The Oberkamp home before its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The Oberkamp home before its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The Water Authority has scheduled a full calendar of WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Classes for 2019, with the first series starting in February in Fallbrook. Limited enrollment ensures every participant receives hands-on support. Homeowners who want to attend a course in 2019 should complete an online application and get on the waiting list. Apply at

The Oberkamp home after its landscaping makeover. Photo: Water Authority

The California Department of Water Resources funds the class series because it generates water savings. It also generates a lot of enthusiasm, according to participant reviews.  “Could not believe the amount of information and guidance. Worth every minute and highly recommended!” said one participant.

“Wonderful class!” said another. “The instructors, the workbook and resources are beyond belief. I still have a lot to learn, but I will definitely be implementing everything.”





Everett’s California Fuchhia is an example of a plant that doesn't like to have wet feet, meaning roots sitting in water. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Plants With Wet Feet and Dry Feet

Plants and people have similar likes and dislikes when it comes to their feet.  

Of course, plants don’t literally have the kind of feet that take them on a stroll, but a plant’s roots are often referred to as “feet.” Just like most people enjoy a walk along the beach or wading in a pool on a hot day, plants like – and need – water on their roots to thrive.  

And just like people don’t like soggy feet in wet socks, plants don’t generally thrive with their roots in standing water. Horticulturists refer to plant roots in soggy soil as “wet feet.” Conversely, plants that can thrive without much water on their roots are said to have “dry feet.”

Excessive moisture at the roots can cause rot and other diseases; very few plants grow in wet areas. While that isn’t a common problem in the arid Southwest, plants can end up in standing water in poorly drained (or over-irrigated) areas of landscaping.  

That means it’s important to match landscaping plants to the environment of their feet.  

Five recommended plants compatible with wet feet 

The California Native Iris (Iris douglasiaria) is a plant that doesn't mind having "wet feet," or damp roots. Photo: Wikimedia Commons wet feet

The California Native Iris (Iris douglasiaria) is a plant that doesn’t mind having “wet feet,” or damp roots. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

  • Coyote Mint (Mondarella villosa) 
  • California Gray Rush (Junous patens) 
  • Joaquin Sunflower (Bidena laevis) 
  • Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) 
  • California Native Iris (Iris douglasiaria) 

Five recommended plants incompatible with wet feet  

Everett’s California Fuchhia is an example of a plant that doesn't like to have wet feet, meaning roots sitting in water. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Everett’s California Fuchhia is an example of a plant that doesn’t like to have wet feet, meaning roots sitting in water. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

  • Bluff California Lilac (Ceanothus maritmus) 
  • Everett’s California Fuschia (Epilobium canum) 
  • Sunset Manzanita (Arctostaphylos Sunset) 
  • Hairy Awn Muhly (Muhlerbergia capillans) 
  • Blonde Ambition Blue Grama (Boutelous gracilis)

Get advice from the local garden center or horticulturalists familiar with your area for other good choices.   


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at    




Match your plant choices to the different microclimate areas in your landscaping. A microclimate map helps you make good choices. Photo: Water Authority

Match Your Landscape Plants To Your Microclimates

A previous Conservation Corner article explained how to map the different types of microclimates present in your landscaping. This information can help homeowners effectively arrange plants in their sustainable landscapes. For the most efficient water use, plants should be grouped together with similar water needs in their favorite microclimate.  

In nature, plants that like lots of water are found along the banks of streams, or grouped together at the base of landscape depressions. Plants that need fast-draining soils so roots don’t rot might be found on hillsides. Plants that love lots of sunshine won’t grow in the shade of a tree.  

Follow the microclimate map  

Look to the Microclimate Map for guidelines on choosing landscape plants. Here is a hypothetical yard with three microclimates:  

  • A front yard in full sun most of the day. 
  • A moist, low-lying area in full sun. (This area will retain moisture more than the rest of the yard, so you may want to use it for rain catchment. Hillside areas surrounding the depression are raised slightly, and drain freely.) 
  • A slightly shady area under the canopy of a neighbor’s large tree, and another one near the front entry to the house. 

Three distinct plant communities 

Selecting plants for the yard in this example will require at least three different groupings:  

  • Sun-loving plants that like their roots dry and thrive in faster-draining soil
  • Sun-loving plants that can tolerate “wet feet” in winter months, and thrive in heavier clay soils
  • Plants that can tolerate dry, shaded areas 

There is another consideration before heading to the local nursery or garden center: How will these plants be irrigated? Check the Plant Factors for each of the plants to make sure their water needs are all similar in each area. Read this previous Conservation Corner story for information about Plant Factors

Plants speak Latin 

Low water use plants and succulents

Many plants have similar names. Rely on their Latin names to ensure you are getting the correct plant for your landscaping plan. Photo: Water Authority

Many plants have similar common names in English. Shopping for plants by their common names can lead to confusion between two very different plants. Instead, the best way to shop for plants is to use the Latin name. This reduces surprises in your landscaping.  


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at