Native plants can add beautiful color to your sustainable landscape, while attracting pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. Image: Water Authority

Design a Native Garden

If you haven’t finished planting your sustainable garden yet this year, you still have some time. Choose native plants that will thrive in the arid San Diego County climate.

Native plants are naturally drought-tolerant. They also support local ecosystems by providing food and habitat for pollinators, such as butterflies and hummingbirds. Native plants can fall into one of many categories: trees, succulents, perennials, shrubs, grasses, groundcovers and more.

Create your sustainable garden

Each type of plant serves a different purpose in a sustainable garden.

Trees are a great way to provide natural shade. They also catch water that runs off your roof when it rains.

Perennials often have colorful flowers that bring beautiful colors for your garden.

Groundcovers and shrubs are great for covering dry slopes and catching rainwater.

Succulents look great next to rocks or other features in your garden and are usually low-maintenance.

Need ideas for your new sustainable garden this spring?

The California Native Plant Society-San Diego Chapter will conduct its eighth annual Garden Tour, The Artful California Native Garden: Native Gardens and Art Tour of East County on Saturday, April 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Demonstrations will include how to add dry stream-bed bioswales, adjacent natural areas, water catchment devices, slope gardens, charming water features, bridges, sculptures and more in your garden.

Local artists will be meeting and greeting guests in many of the gardens and selling their California native garden themed artwork and crafts.

Tours of private residential gardens

Twelve private residential gardens will be visited on the tour, and their owners will be on-site to answer questions. At the Water Conservation Garden there will be guided demonstrations for planting and tours of the native plant garden.

When: Saturday, April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Water Conservation Garden
12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon, 92019

Cost: $30 – $40

Anahy Ambriz of Maie Ellis Elementary won first place in the 2020 Fallbrook PUD Calendar contest.

Student Artwork Featured in 2020 Fallbrook PUD Calendar

Talented fourth-graders from Fallbrook area elementary schools picked up their pens, crayons, and watercolors to create the best and brightest water-conservation posters for the Fallbrook Public Utility District 2020 “Be Water Smart” calendar. Out of the 250 posters submitted, the work of 14 artists was selected.

Twelve of the winning images appear inside the calendar, one for each of the 12 months of the year. One image was chosen for the cover, and another was added for January 2021. The free calendars can be picked up at the Fallbrook Public Utility District office.

Vivid depiction of contest theme ‘Be Water Smart’

The students’ colorful images vividly depict the contest’s theme. Fallbrook judges scrutinized the entries to find the most eye-catching images illustrating the need for saving water.

The winning artists were recognized at the December 9 Fallbrook PUD board of directors meeting. Each student received a Walmart gift card, school supplies, and a signed certificate of commendation. The artists were also presented with a matted, framed version of their artwork. The first, second, and third place winners also received t-shirts customized with their own artwork.

The 2020 Fallbrook PUD calendar winners include:

First place: Anahy Ambriz, Maie Ellis Elementary

The artwork by first place winner Anahy Ambriz of Maie Ellis Elementary will appear on the cover of the 2020 Fallbrook PUD Calendar. Photo: FPUD 2020 Fallbrook PUD Calendar

The artwork by first-place winner Anahy Ambriz of Maie Ellis Elementary will appear on the cover of the 2020 Fallbrook PUD Calendar. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

Second place: Samantha Mejia, Maie Ellis Elementary

Samantha Mejia of Maie Ellis Elementary is the second place winner. Photo: FPUD 2020 Fallbrook PUD Calendar

Samantha Mejia of Maie Ellis Elementary is the second-place winner. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

Third place: Brisa Bailon, Maie Ellis Elementary

Brisa Bailon of Maie Ellis Elementary won third place. Photo: FPUD

Brisa Bailon of Maie Ellis Elementary won third place. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

Additional winners include:

Leo Quick, Fallbrook STEM Academy

Work by Leo Quick of the Fallbrook STEM Academy. Photo: FPUD

Work by Leo Quick of the Fallbrook STEM Academy. Photo: FPUD

Kelly Jaimes, William H. Frazier Elementary

Kelly Jaimes, William H. Frazier Elementary 2020 Fallbrook PUD Calendar

Kelly Jaimes, William H. Frazier Elementary. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

Oscar Tovar, Live Oak Elementary

2020 Fallbrook PUD Calendar

Oscar Tovar, Live Oak Elementary, Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

(L to R): Isabella Magana, Alexandro Rojas, Gizalle Amezquita, and Ares Miramontes of Maie Ellis Elementary

(L to R): Kayla Arango, Nya Lin Ramirez, Abigail Perez, and Jennifer Wiscott of La Paloma Elementary

The annual contest is open only to Fallbrook Public Utility District fourth-graders because they have learned about water conservation and the water cycle by the fourth grade. Students from five elementary schools submitted entries.

The contest objective is to find the most eye-catching images illustrating the need for saving water. All 14 pieces of artwork will be displayed on the Fallbrook PUD website. They will also be displayed in the Fallbrook board room for a year and will be used in the district’s social media posts on Facebook and Twitter.

See the 2019 Fallbrook PUD Conservation Calendar artwork.

Several water agencies in the San Diego region sponsor calendar contests for students throughout the year with various conservation themes including ‘Water is Life‘ and ‘Be Water Smart.’ The contests offer opportunities for students to showcase their artistic skills while also thinking and learning about water conservation.

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

Take a Test to Determine Your Soil Type

If you put a shovel into the ground in San Diego County, you are likely to encounter the region’s impermeable soil structure. Impermeable soils are defined by poor infiltration areas. This means water doesn’t flow through the soil to replenish groundwater, because the soil is too dense.

Having impermeable soil also means water does not soak evenly into the ground or flow through living soil to plants in a healthy way. No matter where you plan your landscape, you should concentrate on improving your soil structure. That will help you irrigate more efficiently and cost-effectively, and your plants will receive the nutrients and water they need to flourish. It is relatively easy to improve your soil structure, but first you need to determine what kind of soil you have.

Particle size matters

The three basic types of soil are:

Clay: Soil made up of the smallest particles
Silt: Soil made up of a mixture of particle sizes
Sand: Soil made up of the largest particles

In general, sandy soils drain faster than clay soils, because there is more space between the larger particles. Soil structure also influences the quality of the soil. Lifeless, compacted, sandy soil will not absorb water, while healthy clay soil will be more sponge-like, holding and releasing water. The “best” soil – an even blend of sand, silt and clay – is called loam.

Find your soil structure by testing your soil

Some tests can be done onsite to figure out what kind of soil you have. Others might require lab analysis. Certain other conditions require specialized tests, such as soil used for food production or soil receiving a lot of storm water.

You can test your home landscaping soil yourself using a “Jar Test.” This is a fun project to do with kids or as a family.

Use this graphic as an example to compare your jar to. Aim to get the most even distribution, as shown with the loam jar. Image: Water Authority

Use this graphic as an example with which to compare your jar. Try to get the most even distribution, as shown with the loam jar. Image: San Diego County Water Authority

How to do the “Jar Test”

  • Use a one-quart glass container.
  • Add one cup of soil from the garden. You can select one area or take samples from several areas and blend them together.
  • Add three cups of distilled water.
  • Close the jar and shake it until all the soil solids are suspended in water. Put the jar on a shelf and wait 24 hours.
  • If the container is still cloudy, wait another 24 hours. After 48 hours, the soil layers should be settled on the bottom.
  • Measure the layers in proportion to each other, with the total adding up to 100%. Sand will be on the bottom, silt in the middle, and clay on top.
  • Refer to the graphic to determine your soil type, based on the proportions of sand, silt, and clay. Which jar does your home sample look most like?

Now you can work to improve your soil condition, providing the best possible foundation for your landscaping plants and the most efficient irrigation.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at

Water News Network Top 3 Stories of 2019

The Water News Network’s top three stories of 2019 reflect the San Diego region’s interest in water conservation, sustainable landscaping, and successful efforts to diversify water supply sources.

WaterSmart Contractor Incentive Program

New Rebates For WaterSmart Irrigation Devices in San Diego County

A new rebate program for irrigation devices is available to qualified landscape contractors in San Diego County.

The WaterSmart Contractor Incentive Program, or WSCIP, is designed to help commercial, public and agricultural property owners improve water-use efficiency in large landscapes, through rebates for irrigation hardware upgrades. School districts, universities, and other organizations are also eligible.

WaterSmart offers water efficiency programs, services and incentives for residents, businesses and farmers in San Diego County.

Rebates for innovative irrigation devices

Qualifying project sites must include at least one acre of irrigated landscape. The rebates are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The incentive program was designed to be business-friendly and is part of the Water Authority’s focus on long-term water-use efficiency,” said Efren Lopez, a water resources specialist with the Water Authority, who manages the new program and the Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper Program.

The WaterSmart Contractor Incentive Program is a large landscape and technology-focused program, which targets qualified landscape contractors and self-managed sites. The Water Authority’s mission is to improve water-use efficiency in large landscapes by retrofitting irrigation devices.

The program offers a comprehensive package of innovative irrigation devices. Bundling these four items leads to the greatest water efficiency, but at least two items must be installed to participate in the rebate program.

Rebates are offered for the following devices:

  • Smart Irrigation Controllers           $35 per station
  • High Efficiency Sprinkler Nozzles  $6 per nozzle
  • Flow Sensors                                    $60 per sensor
  • Drip Irrigation                                   $0.20 per square foot

The program is funded through Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Member Agency Administered Program. To enroll, or for more information, go to or call (888) 521-9763.

Trees can be a great natural way to slow down rainwater before it reaches your soil. Photo: Thilo Becker/Pixabay

Catching and Storing Rainwater for Your Landscape

During the rainy fall and winter seasons in Southern California, catching and storing rainwater is beneficial for cutting down on irrigation costs. It can also be stored for later use through the rest of the year.

Know the path rainwater will take

If there are rain gutters on your house, water will flow into downspouts, where it can move with great force and speed. This is especially true in a large storm. Instead of allowing downspouts to discharge directly on hard surfaces like a driveway, path, or patio, plan ways to redirect downspout water into vegetated landscape areas. This will be a more efficient use of the natural irrigation.

Replacing downspouts with “rain chains” to slow down the water is one option. This way, water can be more easily absorbed when it reaches your landscape. Add a rain barrel or cistern at the bottom of downspouts or rain chains and let it overflow into your garden.

If your house does not have rain gutters, water shears off roof surfaces and can cause erosion damage. Cover areas under the eaves in permeable ground covers such as pea gravel, mulch, or rocks. Ground covers can reduce the compacting force of water falling on bare soil. Spread fresh leaf and wood chip mulch throughout the garden to slow down water. Healthy soil can withstand even the strongest rain. Once the rainwater is absorbed into the soil, your plants’ roots will grow deeper. This will help them thrive throughout the year.

Ways to store rainfall

Rainwater can also be harvested and stored. Rain barrels and cisterns directly connected to downspouts are great storage containers. Check out your local water district or water agency to see if there are any rebates or incentives available.

Stored water can be released gradually into the landscaping between winter rainstorms. This will help build up the soil sponge and ensure that native plants get adequate water when they need it most. If you need water in the summer and capture enough of it during the winter, you may be able to use your stored water for irrigation.

Both rain barrels and above–ground cisterns can be relatively inexpensive to purchase and easy to install. Use screens to keep mosquitos out. With minimum maintenance and common sense, you can keep the water safe and clean. If you plan to store rainwater, make sure the “first flush” is diverted directly into the landscaping before capturing the rainfall that follows. This is important because the “first flush” will collect debris and contaminants that have built up on surfaces throughout the dry months.

Use your landscape to capture rain

You can design your landscape to effectively collect water. Properly placed trees are excellent landscaping features to help capture rainfall, allowing it to be released slowly over time into the soil. Taller, stronger plants placed strategically can also allow you to control the flow of water.

With a little planning, you can capture and store rainwater easily and effectively during the rainy season and use it throughout the year.

The San Diego County Water Authority, its member agencies and partners offer other water-saving resources including free WaterSmart classes at

Even in our arid climate, the first rainfall can add up to a lot of water runoff - save as much as possible in your landscape. Photo: Denis Doukhan/Pixabay

Prepare Your Landscape for the First Rain

After a dry spell, the first rainfall is the most important water to capture for your landscape. This is called the “first flush.”

In arid regions like San Diego County, this happens every year because there is a long stretch of dry weather in between rainy seasons.

Why is the first rainfall so important?

It washes away pollutants that have collected since the last rain. This water needs to be filtered as much as possible by landscaping before it goes anywhere else. Usually the next stop for this water is storm drains that empty into oceans. So your landscape can be a very important tool in preventing the buildup of pollutants in local water supplies.

In addition, the first rain in the fall is very important for your plants. New or established plants will want to grow deep roots in the fall and winter, and the additional water is essential. Capturing the rain with your landscape reduces the need for increasing irrigation.

How much water comes off your roof?

Measure the size of your roof to determine how much water will come off it. The shape of your roof doesn’t matter in this instance. The same amount of water falls on the roof whether it is sloped or flat. You can measure a sloped roof either using an aerial view or from the ground without worrying about the slope itself. Just measure the outside edges the same way you would if it was flat and calculate the square footage.

Flat roofs covering a building in one contiguous shape are easier to measure. Some roofs are more complicated. You can divide this type of roof into individual squares or triangles. Then, measure each one at a time and add the figures together for your total roof area.

Calculate your potential water capture

Once you know the total roof area, you can determine the amount of rainfall it generates in gallons, then use the following formula to convert square feet to gallons.

Formula: Rainfall in Inches x Total Square Feet x 0.62 = Gallons of Rainwater from the Roof

Here’s an example using a 1,000 square foot roof: 1 inch of rain x 1000 x 0.62 = 620 gallons.

Even in a dry climate, this rainfall adds up to a lot of water runoff. It’s easy to see how important it is to save as much of this water as possible in a landscape designed to be a sponge instead of a brick. Take the watershed approach to designing your landscape, and you can use the first flush of rain to your advantage.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its partners also offer other resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at

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

Make Space for New Plants

When choosing new plants for your landscape this fall, be sure to account for the space each plant will need as it matures. This will help avoid overcrowding in your landscape.

Proper plant placement, while predicting the mature plant’s size, also should limit the need for future pruning. This can help reduce the amount of maintenance required in the long run.

The spacing chart below helps to judge how many plants are needed per square foot, based on the mature size of the plants.

Plan for space needed at maturity

On your landscaping plan, use circles to note the size of every plant at maturity using a scale in which one inch equals four feet. Use colored pencils to note different water needs of each plant. That 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. Consider whether a tree will cover a large section of landscaping with shade that is currently getting full sun. Be sure to avoid placing plants that will need full sun underneath these trees.

Small but mighty

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 will allow for when the plants are fully grown.

Root depth matters

Take note of the root depth of plants when you place them. Note root depths on your landscape 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 in separate hydrozones.

Did you know that fall is the prime time for plant sales in San Diego County? Check out your nearest nursery or farmers market for native plants to help grow your landscape!

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

EPA WaterSense Excellence Award to San Diego County Water Authority for QWEL program.

Water Authority Wins National 2019 WaterSense Excellence Award

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today recognized the San Diego County Water Authority with a 2019 WaterSense Excellence Award for advancing water efficiency through its Qualified Water Efficient Landscape program, known as QWEL.

The Water Authority received one of 25 WaterSense awards at the national WaterSmart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas.

Water Authority wins second consecutive EPA award for QWEL program

This is the second consecutive year the Water Authority has achieved the Excellence Award for the QWEL program, which is certified by EPA to significantly increase water management skills and knowledge among landscape professionals. Program curriculum includes 20 hours of classroom and hands-on training on principles of plant care, irrigation system design, maintenance, programming, operations and troubleshooting.

“Partnering with EPA has helped the Water Authority promote water efficiency by training hundreds of landscape professionals each year to adopt best practices,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “This approach helps to ensure that water-saving measures embraced by homes and businesses can be supported and sustained over the long term.”

San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Specialist Efren Lopez accepted 2019 EPA WaterSense Excellence Award in Certification Program Growth.

San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Specialist Efren Lopez (holding award) accepted the 2019 EPA WaterSense Excellence Award in Certification Program Growth on October 3 in Las Vegas. Photo: EPA

As one of the first QWEL providers in Southern California, the Water Authority has helped to expand the program’s branded outreach and educational outcomes. Since the January 2016 launch of QWEL, more than 1,000 San Diego landscape professionals have participated, making the region’s program one of the largest in the nation. More than 690 landscape professionals have earned QWEL certificates in the San Diego region over the past four years by passing a rigorous national test.

Water Authority Wins 2019 EPA WaterSense Excellence Award

The San Diego County Water Authority’s QWEL program is certified by the EPA and significantly increases water management skills among landscape professionals.

Water Authority’s landscape water efficiency classes

The Water Authority promotes English and Spanish QWEL training in collaboration with trade associations, faith-based organizations, English-as-a-Second-Language programs, community colleges and Master Gardeners associations. Nearly all (99%) program participants surveyed said the class would help them better manage landscape water efficiency, and 98% rated the class good or excellent.

San Diego County Water Authority Wins 2019 EPA WaterrSense Excellence Award

QWEL program curriculum includes 20 hours of classroom and hands-on training on principles of plant care, irrigation system design, maintenance, programming, operations and troubleshooting. Photo: Water Authority

Since 2006, the Water Authority and more than 2,000 other WaterSense partners nationwide have helped consumers save more than 3.4 trillion gallons of water. That’s enough water to supply the nation’s households for four months. In addition to water savings, WaterSense-labeled products and homes have helped reduce the amount of energy needed to heat, pump, and treat water by 462.5 billion kilowatt hours – enough to power more than 44.4 million homes for a year – and save $84.2 billion in water and energy bills, according to EPA.

“Our partners have made water-saving products, homes, and programs accessible across the nation and have educated millions on the importance of water conservation,” said Veronica Blette, chief of the EPA WaterSense branch. “These WaterSense award winners are leading the fight against water waste to save our most precious resource.”

The QWEL program is made possible in part from grants funds provided from voter-approved Proposition 84. The grant funds are administered by the California Department of Water Resources.

Butterflies and hummingbirds aren't just visually appealing; they also provide a service to your landscape by pollinating plants. Photo: GeorgeB2/Pixabay

Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds

Witnessing the quick burst of color that often accompanies a butterfly or hummingbird’s flight is always exciting. It’s even more exciting when you see them in your own garden. Aside from being visually appealing, butterflies and hummingbirds also provide a service to your landscape by helping to pollinate plants. In doing so, they ensure seeds for future generations of plants.

How do you attract these beautiful garden pollinators?

Colorful, tube-shaped flowers located in sunny areas will attract hummingbirds in search of nectar. In Southern California, these tiny pollinators can stay year-round with a steady food supply. To provide this supply, try selecting a variety of plants that will bloom at different intervals throughout the year.

Hummingbirds also like shrubs and trees that provide shade where they can rest or find materials to build nests. Those cool areas are also where they can hunt insects. This can be helpful to your garden as they may eat insects harmful to other plants.

Similarly, butterflies also rely on flowers that provide nectar. They need host plants, which California native plants often are, where they can lay eggs. These eggs will hatch caterpillars, which will need to feed on nearby leaves. If you are concerned about leaves with lots of holes from hungry caterpillars, try strategically placing these plants behind other plants or in the back of your garden.

A good way to plan out where to put certain plants is by mirroring native plant communities.

Some native California plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds:

  • California Fuchsia
  • Manzanitas
  • Chaparral Currant
  • Narrowleaf Milkweed
  • Sticky Monkeyflower
  • Coyote Mint

By selecting the right types of native plants, your landscape will burst into color!

The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including tips for sustainable landscaping best practices at and free WaterSmart classes at