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Inspect your sprinkler heads regularly to make sure they are not obstructed or watering onto pavement or other hardscapes. Photo: Irrigation Association

Irrigate Your WaterSmart Landscape Like a Pro

Irrigation is an essential part of any good landscape design. It ensures plants and trees get the water they need to thrive without wasting a drop. Once you know how much water your landscape plants require, it’s time to take a closer look at your irrigation system.

Whether you are working with a professional designer or are doing the project yourself, the following checklist will help you keep track of the main design decisions involved in irrigation design.

Start with this informational video about WaterSmart Living Landscape irrigation

Evaluate your existing irrigation system and determine if it can be maintained in its current condition or if you need to upgrade it. Some irrigation systems can be upgraded by changing nozzles, converting to drip emitters, or adding a smart controller, while others may need to be completely redesigned.

Irrigation options fall into categories

High-efficiency irrigation is the most efficient method to deliver water to plants is low-flow irrigation. It delivers water from the valve through a filter and then through a network of lateral pipes and sometimes flexible tubing, to the individual emission devices such as drip emitters, in-line drip emitters, or bubblers. Pressure compensating devices are always the most efficient option.

Low flow irrigation is a good choice for trees and shrub areas and should be used in any landscaped areas next to hardscape and in areas less than eight feet wide to prevent runoff from overspray. When using drip emitters, reduce maintenance and ensure long-term durability by selecting good quality tubing and designing for at least two emitters per shrub.

Moderate efficiency irrigation is the next most efficient types of irrigation include rotating or low precipitation (typically for spaces eight to 30 feet in size). These nozzles are a better choice than conventional spray heads for watering turf because they have a lower application rate – they water slowly. Your watering times will increase, but these sprinklers do not produce mist, and they apply water at a rate turf can absorb it, reducing runoff.

Low-efficiency irrigation. The least efficient types of automatic irrigation include conventional spray irrigation and impact rotors. These types of high precipitation irrigation distribution systems generally apply water faster than the soil can absorb. Installing a new system with low-efficiency irrigation is not recommended. If you have an existing conventional spray system, you can easily retrofit it with new low precipitation nozzles.

Get smart with a smart controller

Landscape Makeover Contest-Otay Water District-drought

This new landscape includes a drip-irrigation system, rotating nozzles, and a smart irrigation controller to schedule efficient water use. Photo: Otay Water District

Upgrade to a smart controller, an automatic controller (also called a timer or clock) is either weather-based or has historical weather data included as a reference. Some systems allow for adding a weather sensor or moisture detection system that automatically adjusts your watering schedule in response to current weather or soil moisture level.

Smart controllers can turn off your sprinklers when it rains and increase the frequency and/or duration of watering in hotter weather. Locate the controller in a place that is easy for you to access, such as the garage.

Verify your new landscape water use

WaterSmart landscape irrigation aims to apply water as efficiently as possible. This means using low flow drip or bubblers whenever possible and in areas with overhead sprays, providing the correct pressure and equipment layout to ensure even coverage to maximize efficiency.

Once you have determined what type of irrigation you would like to use, divide your yard into zones and note what kind of irrigation you plan to use in each zone. Contact some of the major irrigation manufacturers to obtain an irrigation design guide to help you with the specifics of your irrigation layout. Some irrigation manufacturers even offer free irrigation design services.

It is important to double-check to make sure your design meets the target landscape water use after installation. You may need to adjust the design to meet your target to maximize water savings.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

While compost and mulch may seem interchangeable, they have distinctly different uses in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Water Authority Compost vs. Mulch

Using Compost and Mulch to Build Healthy Soil

When undertaking a WaterSmart landscape renovation, strive to continuously feed as much organic matter as possible to the landscape soil to keep it healthy. Start first with compost and mulch to jump-start the process. Eventually, your plants will feed themselves with their own leaf litter.

Organic matter feeds microbes living in the soil that make soil fluffy. It’s similar to bread rising because of yeast.

Learn more about healthy soil in this instructional video

Compost and mulch – what’s the difference?

Compost is a soil amendment. It looks like soil and it’s hard to tell what it once was. That is because it is food scraps, landscape debris and/or manure from livestock, or biosolids (human manure) and other organic matter that already has been partially consumed and mostly decomposed by micro-organisms. Good compost brings oxygen, water, and life in one package.

Compost can be store-bought or made at home. The compost-making process, or composting, involves creating optimal conditions for the microbes to do their transformative work. When compost looks like soil, it can be worked directly into the soil. The more coarse or visible the bits of the compost are, the more likely it is to be used as mulch on top of the soil rather than as an incorporated amendment.

Compost works in several ways. First, the compost itself contains particles improving soil structure. Next, as compost decomposes in soil it encourages the formation of soil macroaggregates. The resulting macroaggregates are composed of existing soil particles and decomposed organic matter, which combine to create a more stable and better functioning soil structure.

Mulch builds soil structure over time and holds in moisture. Photo: Monsterkoi/Pixabay compost

Mulch builds soil structure over time and holds in moisture. Photo: Monsterkoi/Pixabay

Mulch is a soil topping. Mulch may be organic or inorganic material covering soil. It’s made of larger particles and looks like recycled debris. Mulch can be made from organic matter such as grass clippings, leaf litter, and shredded wood trimmings, or inorganic materials such as gravel or decomposed granite.

The microbes in healthy, biologically diverse mulch bind the organic matter together, forming a thick blanket. This cover protects soil and plant roots from temperature change, keeps moisture in by slowing evaporation from the surface of the soil, and keeps weeds from sprouting by reducing sunlight penetration to the soil surface.

Mulch always stays on top of the soil. Unlike compost, it is never worked in. Recycled organic debris is the most effective type of mulch because it builds soil structure over time and provides a durable, protective surface barrier. The smaller the debris and the more mixed leaves with wood chips, the faster it decomposes. When building soil, small and mixed is best.

Composted material, especially coarse composts, also can be used as mulch. Artificial and inorganic mulches (decomposed granite, gravel, rubber chips, and other rubble) are primarily decorative since they do not contribute to soil life or plant health. They may be used in limited applications such as pathways.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

High quality landscape soil will support your WaterSmart landscape design. Photo: Lisa Fotios/Pexels healthy soil

Building Healthy Soil: Give It Some Space

Healthy soil consists of elements we don’t typically think of as soil at all. In fact, one of the most critical aspects of soil is the space between the particles.

Soil space results from a process called aggregation. Solid matter will aggregate under the right conditions, forming space between the masses. This allows air and water to fill this area. Rain or irrigation water percolates through the soil, and aggregate spaces hold it like a storage tank. You can store more water and irrigate less frequently when you have more space.

Common Soil Problems Can Be Corrected

Set yourself up for landscaping success by building the best foundation in your soil structure. Photo: walkersalmanac/Pixabay healthy soil

Set yourself up for landscaping success by building the best foundation in your soil structure. Photo: Walkers Almanac/Pixabay

Check your soil aggregation by looking at the soil you dig out during a drainage test. Does it have nice clumps, or is it condensed and compacted?

Compaction is a common problem, especially in areas where grading has been done, foot traffic is heavy, or years of chemical use have killed the soil microbes. Compaction occurs when soil particles are pressed together, reducing pore space. Reduced pore space keeps air away from plant roots and stops water from infiltrating and draining.

Here’s how to tell if your soil is compacted. Take a turning fork and plunge it slowly but firmly into the ground. If your garden has a foot or more of penetrable soil, your compaction is minimal. New roots will grow easily, and water will effectively penetrate and drain. Anything less, and you probably have some soil compaction.

Using a turning fork, an aerator, or a tilling machine, you can create gaps in the soil to loosen compaction. Because it breaks up the fungal connections, it should only be done once to prepare your planting beds.

Follow all of these activities with a layer of compost to feed the soil food web to help build the aggregate spaces. Mulch can also feed healthy soil and help loosen compaction over time.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Soil-WaterSmartSD-Drought, Landscape makeover

Get to Know Your Soil Conditions

Every individual landscape sits in one of San Diego County’s 16 watersheds. The watershed approach to landscaping considers every garden its own mini-watershed, holding onto or cleaning the water falling on it and nurturing a diverse habitat of plants and insects.

Each mini-watershed can be controlled by the people who steward it. Individual landscaping choices add up to collective community action. As a result, these collective actions have the ability to restore the county’s greater watersheds.

Every landscape has unique opportunities and constraints. A thorough evaluation helps to identify them and inform the planting and design choices. Spend time in your yard, observe and take notes about it. Identifying multiple site elements will help you make decisions as you start the design process.

Notes should include the home’s architectural style and materials, good and bad views, slopes, and plants and trees you want to protect. Locate utilities and major irrigation items such as your water meter, controller, and valves.

Start With Healthy Soil

There’s so much more to soil than most people new to landscaping projects realize. Soil is the growing medium for plants. Its nutrients support healthy plant growth. Knowing and working with existing soil conditions and composition is a powerful strategy to maximize water efficiency.

Healthy soil controls the behavior of water: how it moves through the soil and how long it holds on to it. Healthy soil is essential to irrigation efficiency and plant health. It’s possible to build better soil even if existing soil conditions aren’t optimal.

See a demonstration about soil conditions in this video.

First, you must figure out what kind of soil you’re working with. There are three basic soil types: clay, silt, and sand. Clay soil is made of the smallest particles.  Sandy soil is composed of the largest particles. Loam, an equal blend of sand, silt, and clay, is considered the ideal. In general, sandy soil drains faster than clay soils.

Soil structure is also vitally important. Hard, compacted sandy soil will not absorb water. Healthy clay soil can behave more like a sponge, holding and releasing water when necessary.

San Diego County residents must often deal with clay soils and work to improve them to provide the best growing conditions and watershed.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.) 

Jeff Moore rakes the zen garden included in his back yard landscape plot plan. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Plan For Success: Create A Plot Plan

Any WaterSmart landscape makeover starts with observing and recording your property as it exists today. Think of it as a bird’s eye view or satellite map showing your property’s boundaries and physical features. This becomes the basis of all your planning.

You need a few basic tools to draw your own plot plan. They include a tape measure for accurate measurements, a ruler to measure and draw straight lines, a clipboard, a pencil, and paper, preferably one-quarter inch grid graph paper.

Steps to create a basic plot plan

Even if you don’t plan to install the whole project at one time, you should create a complete master plan for your landscape so the outcome is unified, including a WaterSmart planting and irrigation design. Graphic: San Diego County Water Authority Six Steps to WaterSmart

Even if you don’t plan to install the whole project at once, you should create a complete master plan for your landscape, so the outcome is unified, including a WaterSmart planting and irrigation design. Graphic: San Diego County Water Authority

  1. Start at the corner of your property.
  2. Measure across to the edge of your drive or sidewalk to your property line. Say, for example, the distance from the corner of your lot to the driveway is 28 feet 8 inches. Using the scale one-quarter inch = one foot, you would use 28 and a half squares for the space on your graph paper.
  3. Next, measure the depth of your property to the sidewalk or curb. Use this approach to locate property lines, walkways, trees, driveways, easements, and your home.
  4. Measure and mark any existing hardscape or landscape you want to save, such as walkways, mature trees, and shrubs.
  5. Use a ruler to draw your shapes and keep your scale accurate.
  6. Take note of natural drainage features. Preserving these and limiting the use of impermeable surfaces in your landscape will minimize runoff and maximize site water infiltration.
  7. Add compass directions to understand the sun’s shade effects as it moves across your yard. South-facing exposures are sunny and hot, while north-facing exposures can be cool and shady.
  8. Locate views that should be preserved and areas you want hidden from view, like your neighbor’s garbage cans.
  9. Locate features on your house such as windows, doors, and other openings. Indicate their height off the ground.
  10. Locate utilities like the water meter, electrical boxes, and overhead power lines.
  11. Note any existing irrigation heads. You’ll need to know where these are later when designing your new irrigation plan.

Now you have a road map of your landscape. Your future landscaping plans start with this baseline document.

Walk in the sun

As a part of creating a plan, take time to walk around your property during different times of day. Note areas that are sunny or shady in the morning and areas that are sunny or shady in the afternoon. When you start choosing your plants, make sure to select those appropriate to your garden’s sunlight patterns.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Before you get started on your WaterSmart landscaping makeover, there are significant decisions to make about plant and irrigation choices. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Identify Your Landscape Target Goals

Before starting your WaterSmart landscaping makeover, there are significant decisions to make about improving your water efficiency, including plant and irrigation choices. First, determine what type of landscape will meet your needs and maximize your water savings potential.

This instructional video will help you consider your options

What to Know About Plant Choices

Why is turf the main target for saving water? Grass requires more water to keep it green than most other plants. Turf needs four times the amount of rain our region gets annually.

But saving water isn’t the only reason to get rid of your lawn. If you aren’t using your lawn as outdoor living space or a safe place for your children and animals, it’s going to waste. Consider instead an attractive type of substitute such as groundcovers or more interesting plant groups along pathways. There are many alternate choices – including limited turf.

Low to moderate water use plants

A low to moderate water use garden has some moderate water use accent plants and up to 10% high water use plants.

  • 45% low water use
  • 45% moderate water use
  • 10% high water use

Low water use plants

A low water use garden has no more than 10% high water use plants.

  • 90% low water use
  • 10% high water use

Very low water use plants

A very low water use garden has a mix of very low and low water use plants.

  • 50% very low water use
  • 50% low water use

What to Know About Irrigation Choices

Take time to learn about your possible irrigation choices. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority landscape target goals

Take time to learn about your possible irrigation choices. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Low-efficiency irrigation

This is not a WaterSmart method.

  • Conventional spray irrigation: Conventional spray heads apply water faster than most soils can absorb it, and they produce smaller water droplets that are susceptible to wind.
  • Impact rotors: Impact rotors are one of the least efficient methods of irrigation. They are quickly being replaced by higher efficiency options.

Moderate efficiency irrigation

  • Rotating nozzles: Best suited for spaces 15 to 70 feet wide.
  • Low precipitation sprays: Best suited for areas 5 to 30 feet wide.

High-efficiency irrigation

  • Drip emitters and inline emitters: Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water perennials, shrubs, trees, and new turf. Drip systems apply water slowly so runoff is not an issue. You can leave the water on long enough to reach the deep roots of shrubs and trees.
  • Pressure-compensating inline drip: Best for low-maintenance.
  • Pressure-compensating point source drip: efficient distribution when properly maintained.
  • Bubblers: Best suited for trees and large shrubs.
  • Micro-spray: Best suited for tree and shrub areas of smaller size.

Whether you want to create space for entertaining, limit landscape maintenance or maintain some turf for children and pets, you can reach your water-saving goals and create an outdoor space to live in.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart Living is a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

WaterSmart landscapes are attractive and in balance with the regional environment and climate - and beautiful, too. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority step-by-step process

A Step-by-Step Process to a WaterSmart Landscape 

Using water efficiently is a way of life and an important responsibility in San Diego County’s beautiful Mediterranean climate. WaterSmart landscaping rethinks the way limited water resources can be used by making smart choices to reduce outdoor water use. But saving water is just one benefit of low-water-use landscaping.

WaterSmart landscapes are attractive and in balance with the regional environment and climate. They incorporate elements of sustainable landscaping such as healthy, living soils, climate-appropriate plants, and high-efficiency irrigation. They generate many environmental and community benefits.

Beautify Your Property: A well-designed WaterSmart landscape enhances the appearance and value of your property.

Protect Natural Resources and the Environment: WaterSmart landscapes generate many environmental and community benefits including lowering water use, reducing green waste, and preventing stormwater runoff and pollution.

Reduce Costs: WaterSmart landscaping uses less water than traditional landscaping, which can save you money on your water bill.

Reduce Maintenance: Well-designed irrigation systems and plants appropriate to San Diego County’s climate often require less-frequent care and maintenance.

Learn more about the reasons WaterSmart landscaping is vital in San Diego County.

Adding outdoor living space adds value

Consider the value of having a garden to live in as well as look at by creating outdoor rooms for your favorite activities. Adding outdoor living space makes even the smallest home feel open.

Homeowners can explore many options for showstopping front yards. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Homeowners can explore many options for show-stopping front yards. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

The front yard is making a comeback across the country in developments focused on sustainable living. Most San Diego County homes have a garage out front, but we can redesign our front yards to be the new American front porch, where we connect with neighbors and create the kind of street we always wanted to live on.

Restoring regional authenticity is a significant design trend. Authentic also means sustainable. Plants native to Mediterranean climate zones thrive and preserve biodiversity while reducing costly and time-consuming maintenance.

The WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program is an award-winning educational program developed in 2012 by the San Diego County Water Authority, its member agencies, and local community college experts. The program’s step-by-step process empowers homeowners with the skills and knowledge necessary to convert a turf area into a WaterSmart landscape.

Gardening is an activity, like painting, cooking or golf, where you never stop learning. Take a trial-and-error approach and learn what works for you.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart Living is a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.)

Fallbrook homeowners select their free succulents thanks to a Fallbrook Public Utilities Department program. Photo: FPUD

Drought-Tolerant Plant Giveaway Popular in Fallbrook

More than 130 people took advantage of a drought-tolerant plant giveaway program offered by the Fallbrook Public Utility District. Since picking up their free succulents in November, homeowners have started their drought-tolerant home garden projects.

Participants were provided empty flats and invited to select from an assortment of three-inch potted succulents to suit their needs. Each person took home approximately 28 plants.

More than 130 Fallbrook residents could take advantage of the giveaway program. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

The hardy, brightly colored succulents help people transform their landscaping by replacing thirsty plants and turf. Drought-tolerant plants ease the workload of gardening and add beautiful color while also saving water.

The program was made possible thanks to grant funding from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The plants were sourced locally from Silverthorn Nursery, which uses FPUD’s recycled water to irrigate.

Fallbrook homeowners save water with succulents

Homeowner Peggy Hanne sent in a photo of her freshly planted succulents. Photo: FPUD

Homeowner Peggy Hanne sent in a photo of her freshly planted succulents. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

“Thank you for the plants. They are doing really well,” said homeowner Peggy Hanne, who proudly shared a photo of her transformed garden.

Maryanne Polyascko, a retired Fallbrook teacher, said she was so grateful for the plants and having less weed-pulling, watering, and gardening to do.

Maryanne Polyascko takes her free succulents home. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

Other homeowners reported using the plants to protect their properties.

“I planted them to stabilize the ground behind my house from erosion,” said Mike Osborne. “I filled in all the areas that were devoid of vegetation.”

In addition to being drought-tolerant, succulents are also considered a smart choice in wildfire-prone areas. San Diego-based author and horticulturalist Debra Lee Baldwin is an expert on succulent gardens and recommends their use as a firebreak. While the plants alone won’t save a home from burning, “Surrounding a house with water-filled plants can serve as one more weapon in a homeowner’s arsenal against wildfire,” writes Baldwin.

The Fallbrook Public Utility District will be eligible again in two years to apply for more grant funding to offer another plant giveaway.

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

A large tree's roots are concentrated at the dripline, not at the trunk. This is where you should irrigate the tree through a slow release technique. Photo: Hans Braxmeier, Pixabay tree watering tips

Borrow Tree Watering Tips from Mother Nature

As drought continues to affect California, homeowners must balance two needs: preserving landscaping with irrigation while doing so as efficiently as possible to conserve water.

Even when not in a drought, trees planted in a Mediterranean climate often need additional water. For the most effective irrigation, mimic the way Mother Nature provides water.

Nature designed trees so rain would fall on the leaves and run off to the sides of the tree – much like rain hits an umbrella and rolls down off the side. It falls in a circle around the perimeter.

When irrigating trees, this same approach provides the most moisture to roots and maximizes water use. This outer edge around a tree where rain falls is called the drop line. This is where the tree sends out its most vigorous feeder roots to soak up available moisture. Using a hose to water at the trunk of trees doesn’t reach many of the roots.

Focus on slower, infrequent tree watering

Focus on longer, slower delivery of water than mimics a long, light rainfall. Photo: Ulrike Leone

When it does rain, Mother Nature’s rainfall is primarily steady, slow, and spread out. Borrow this method to deliver a long, slow soaking. Trees prefer infrequent deep watering. Once a week or less for more established trees is sufficient.

Water in a slow drip away from the trunk, long enough to soak the top 12 inches of soil in the drip line. Use a hose on a very slow trickle, a soaker hose, drip irrigation in the proper areas, or this clever method.

Use a five-gallon bucket with small holes to slowly release water to a tree’s deepest roots. Photo: Sacramento Tree Foundation

Use a five-gallon bucket and poke several holes in the bottom. Put the bucket on top of the soil along the drip line. Fill the bucket with water. The water will seep out slowly and deeply into the soil. When it’s empty, move the bucket about three feet away, and repeat the process. Do this until you have made a circle in the drip line around the tree.

You can fill the bucket with water gathered in your daily shower. In a household with several people, you may be able to fill a five-gallon bucket daily. Water early in the morning or after sunset, so you lose less water to evaporation. This is when trees gather moisture naturally.

If you have hard, rocky ground, drill holes one foot deep every three feet around the tree along the drip line. Fill the holes with compost, and then pour water into them. This vertical mulch will encourage the roots to grow.

Finally, bear in mind turf competes with your trees for water. Even if you want to retain some lawn, it’s smart to remove the lawn immediately around your trees and replace it with WaterSmart landscaping.

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

Get Down to the Roots Of Your Landscaping

Plants don’t literally have feet to take them on a walk, but landscapers often refer to a plant’s “feet,” or their roots. Plants like – and need – water on their roots to thrive. While plants absorb water through their leaves, it’s not very efficient due to evaporation. Roots absorb the bulk of water a plant needs to thrive through small root hairs, which are thin-walled outgrowths of the plant’s epidermis. The film of water surrounding soil particles provides its irrigation supply.

Horticulturists refer to plant roots in soggy soil as “wet feet.” Plants that can thrive without too much water on their roots are said to have “dry feet.”

The same way people don’t like waterlogged, soggy feet in wet socks on a cold day, plants don’t welcome their roots sitting in standing water. Most plants don’t grow well with excessive moisture at the roots. It can cause rot and other diseases. Very few plants grow in wet areas, and while it isn’t a common problem in the arid Southwestern United States, plants might end up in standing water in poorly drained landscaping.

Five Recommended Plants That Tolerate 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 (Irish douglasiaria)

Five Recommended Plants That Prefer Wet Feet

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

Everett’s California Fuschia 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. In general, native plants match well to similar nature conditions in the landscaping.

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.