Helix Water District-Demonstration Landscape-WaterSmart

Helix Water District Demonstration Landscape Blossoms

The plants are thriving at Helix Water District’s demonstration landscape just eight months after the project was completed. The WaterSmart plants at the District’s administration office in La Mesa beautify the neighorhood while inspiring people to install sustainable, WaterSmart landscaping.

“Everything is growing in beautifully,” said Helix Water District General Manager Carlos Lugo. “We started with smaller plants to reduce costs and planned for growth. We’re happy to share this resource with our customers and community.”

Demonstration landscape includes water-wise gardens

The demonstration landscape includes three unique water-wise gardens on the streets around the building, including a Mediterranean garden on University Avenue, a desert landscape on Lee Avenue and a California native landscape along the building’s main entrance on Quince Street. Each garden started with smaller plants of varying colors, flowers and textures.

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Desert landscape on Lee Avenue at Helix Water District in La Mesa. Photo: Helix Water District

“The grasses in our native garden are filling in the mulched areas, creating a soft meadow-like appearance,” said Lugo. “We are also seeing the canopies of the Palo Verde trees expanding, and underneath, the succulents and agaves are blanketing the hillside, filling the landscape with color and texture.”

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Grasses create a meadow-like appearance in some of the Helix Water District demonstration landscape gardens. Photo: Helix Water District

Plants provide wildlife habitat

The plants in all three of the gardens are adapted to San Diego’s climate and need half to a fifth of the water that a traditional lawn needs. In addition to requiring less water, WaterSmart landscapes also require less maintenance and provide habitat for local wildlife like honeybees, birds and butterflies.

In each garden, plant markers provide the name of each plant and a QR code, which when scanned with a smartphone, provide each plant’s name, sun and water needs, mature size and photo.

Customers can also use the district’s interactive webpage to make a list of their favorite plants and download each garden’s design plan. Information on efficient irrigation and rebate programs is also available.

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Native, water-wise plants thrive on Quince Street in one of the Helix Water District gardens. Photo: Helix Water District

The project was completed in June 2020 and partially funded through a grant from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Helix Water District provides water treatment and distribution for 277,000 people in the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove, the community of Spring Valley and areas of Lakeside – east of downtown San Diego. Helix is also a founding member of The Water Conservation Garden, a nearly six-acre water-wise demonstration garden in El Cajon.

Plants on the Nifty 50 list have been selected because they are attractive, available in retail nurseries, non-invasive and thrive in San Diego County. Photo: Capri23auto/Pixabay

The Nifty 50: Best Plants for WaterSmart Landscapes

Are you looking for new plants or trees to upgrade your WaterSmart landscape? Check out the Nifty 50. These 50 plants and trees thrive in San Diego County’s arid climate, and the rainy fall and winter are a perfect time to introduce them into your landscape. They are attractive, non-invasive, easy to maintain and drought-tolerant.

Timing is important

During the first 12 months in your garden, called the establishment period, new plants need extra water. Before bringing them home, make sure to check your irrigation system and water pressure.

A good resource for estimating the right amount of water for your landscape is the City of San Diego’s Landscape Watering Calculator.

The calculator is based on historical weather data for your zip code and can tell you more about water requirements for the plants, soil and sprinkler type in each of your irrigation zones. It will work for any location in San Diego County.

Map out your landscape

Once you have an efficient irrigation system set up, choose your new plants. Trees are a great way to line your property and block out the sun, noise and wind. They can help you collect rainwater and provide a beautiful backdrop for other plants.

Certain types of shrubs pair well aesthetically and attract pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. California Lilac, Manzanita, and Toyon are good examples of shrubs that will bring pollinators and other wildlife to your garden.

To add some texture and dimension to your landscape, look for colorful groundcovers like Trailing Lantana or Stonecrop.

Authentic means sustainable

Plants native to the region have adapted over thousands of years, and native animal species depend on them as well. There are thousands of ground covers, grasses, succulents, perennials, shrubs, vines and trees to choose from in addition to the Nifty 50. For more information, go to