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The Nieves family of Bonita won the Sweetwater Authority's 2019 Landscape Makeover Contest for theier creative WaterSmart landscaping design. Photo: Sweetwater Authority 2021 Landscape Makeover

Enter 2021 Landscape Makeover Contest, Share Your Skills

San Diego County residents who have converted to more water-efficient landscaping can enter the 2021 WaterSmart Landscape Contest hosted by 12 regional water agencies. Entry is as simple as submitting your photos and plant information by Friday, May 14.

Eleven San Diego County Water Authority member agencies are participating, including the Helix Water District, Otay Water District, and Sweetwater Authority. See the full list on the WaterSmartSD website, along with contest rules. Winners selected by each participating agency receive a $250 grand prize to the nursery of their choice along with neighborhood bragging rights.

The coronavirus pandemic spurred interest in gardening worldwide as a safe and healthy activity, with no signs of slowing. Google Trend data shows searches for gardening rising in April 2021. A report by OnePoll in USA Today found 73% of Americans said spending more time outdoors has been therapeutic during the pandemic.

Inspire others to make watersmart changes

Lavender and daisies brighten this winning landscape design in the 2020 Landscape Contest. Photo: Helix Water District

In its 17th year, the contest highlights the benefits and beauty of water-efficient landscaping. It allows homeowners to share ideas and inspiration with other San Diego County residents.

Water-efficient landscape designs can be among the most effective ways to reduce overall water use. Fresh landscaping can also improve the appearance and the value of a home.

“If you have a new water-efficient landscape, we would love to hear your story,” said Vince Dambrose, with the Helix Water District. “The WaterSmart Landscape Contest is a great opportunity to get outside, share your landscape, and inspire others to make changes in their yards, too.”

Entries are judged for overall attractiveness, design, plant selection, efficient irrigation, and appropriate maintenance.

The beautiful, wheelchair accessible garden inspired by Patricia Wood's daughter Kimberly is the 2020 Otay Water District Landscape Contest winner. Photo: Otay Water District 2021 Landscape Makeover

The beautiful, wheelchair-accessible garden inspired by Patricia Wood’s daughter Kimberly is the 2020 Otay Water District Landscape Contest winner. Photo: Otay Water District

After a decade of struggling with a thirsty, high-maintenance lawn, Otay Water District’s 2020 Landscape Contest winner Patricia Wood of El Cajon transformed her 3,850 square foot year into a beautiful and wheelchair accessible design with her daughter Kimberly in mind. She also decreased her water use decreased by an average of 27% overall.

“We are excited to launch the WaterSmart Landscape Contest this year,” said Eileen Salmeron with the Otay Water District. “Due to the pandemic, many of our customers have spent more time than usual working on their landscapes. For this year’s competition, we especially look forward to seeing how they’ve enhanced the curb appeal of their water-efficient gardens.”

A diverse palette of colorful succulents, cacti, and California native plants add to the winning design. Photo: Sweetwater Authority 2021 Landscape Makeover

A diverse palette of colorful succulents, cacti, and California native plants add to the winning design. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

When Efren and Ily Niervas moved to their Bonita home in 2017, they realized the cost of watering their yard with a large lawn and assorted shrubs was too high. They decided to change their landscape and attended home improvement events and expos as part of their research.

The project paid off, as the Niervas won the 2019 Sweetwater Authority Landscape contest with their creative and playful xeriscape plan.

“In previous years, our customers have designed beautiful water-saving landscapes,” said Leslie Payne with the Sweetwater Authority. “We’re looking forward to seeing this year’s creative designs. As customers look for ways to save water and lower their water bill, making water-efficient improvements to their yard is a great way to do both.”

To enter the contest with your 2020-2021 pandemic era makeover, go to landscapecontest.com, select your participating water agency, and then apply. Entrants can use a smartphone to take five to 10 photos of their water-efficient landscaping, share the reason behind the makeover, list the types of plants used and some of the benefits as a result. Water agencies encourage homeowners to submit before and after photos. The 2021 Landscape Makeover Contest deadline is Friday, May 14.

Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the "soil lasagna" method. Graphic: Water Authority

Soil Lasagna Cooks Up A Tasty Landscape

Healthy, living soil is full of oxygen, water, and life to support your plants. This is the food your plants need to consume for good health. Creating healthy soil in layers is referred to as soil sheet mulching, or “soil lasagna.” It isn’t too much different than cooking a pan of lasagna in your kitchen.

Soil lasagna increases healthy microbes so much, they actually cook down the organic matter and start eating up old grass in your landscape as food.

All you need to do to encourage the active benefits of soil lasagna is keep it moist. The length of time for soil lasagna to provide the maximum benefits start to finish depends on the kind of grass you have.

Supply list to create your soil lasagna

With just a little investment of time and effort, you can create the healthiest foundation for your new landscaping. Photo: Goumbik / Pixabay

  • Shovels and rakes
  • Wheelbarrow(s)
  • Bins to hold removed grass and soil
  • Mulch
  • Landscape flags
  • Painters’ paper or large cardboard sheets
  • Compost, worm castings, or compost tea
  • Hose with a shutoff nozzle

NOTE: Consider first whether you need any digging permits. If yes or you aren’t sure, call DIG ALERT (8-1-1 or  800-422-4133) two days in advance. Check with your local water agency for any local water use restrictions.

Once you have checked for permits and any water use restrictions and remove your lawn, you’re ready to get started. Remember, use healthy removal methods to set your landscaping up for success. Expect to remove and haul away about six inches deep of grass and soil. Rent and fill a dumpster which can be picked up and disposed of responsibly later.

Dig a trench eight to 12 inches deep, about one shovel depth, and at least 12 to 24 inches wide around any hard surfaces and building foundations. You need to complete contouring for rainwater absorption and retention and any other work to hardscaping such as moving or installing patios, paths, and other features.

Use the landscape flags to mark sprinkler heads so you can find and adjust them later.

Layers supply the magic

Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the "soil lasagna" method. Graphic: Water Authority

Create a healthy growing environment for your new landscaping with the “soil lasagna” method. Graphic: San Diego County Water Authority

Add an inch deep layer of compost on top of the graded soil. You can also use humates, a freeze-dried compost available at specialty landscaping stores, or spray with compost or worm tea. You are adding an instant food sources and additional microbes to the soil.

Water thoroughly. Roll out your painters’ paper or cardboard. Overlap at the seams about six inches and be sure all of the soil is covered. At the hardscape borders, make a burrito of rolled paper and mulch to prevent grass from resprouting.

Water the paper, and then add another layer of compost if you wish. Rake a thick, six-inch larger of mulch over the paper and compost. Now it should seem obvious why this is called a Soil Lasagna.

Water again thoroughly. The mulch will absorb a lot of water before it becomes thoroughly soaked through.

When you are ready to plant, you can dig a hole right into it, cutting through any paper or cardboard that might still be there, planting into the delicious and healthy soil below. Allow as much time as you can so your soil develops more healthy microbes for your new plants. But you can plant right away if all grass has been removed and you’re short on time.

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.

Soil Microbes-your lawn-healthy soil-Conservation Corner

Remove Your Lawn the Healthy Way

The day has come to replace your thirsty, water guzzling grass. Before you remove it, plan your process carefully to leave only healthy living soil as the foundation for a beautiful, thriving new landscape.

Don’t just turn off your irrigation and let your grass turn brown as it dies off. Healthy microbes in your soil will die off along with the lawn. You want to work with those microbes to help create healthy soil for your new plants.

Instead, keep your grass moist until you remove it. It’s also a lot easier to remove fresh, moist grass than to try and pry out dead dry grass and weeds in rock hard, dry soil.

Stay cool and save healthy microbes

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: Water Authority

Remove your old turf in a way that preserves valuable soil microbes. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

It’s tempting to remove your lawn through solarizing. Solarizing is sometimes used as a way to remove grass without chemical treatment. Instead, a covering such as a heavy black plastic tarp is placed over the grass. Sunlight heats the covering, which broils and kills the lawn through high temperatures. This heat also kills existing healthy microbes you need for healthy soil. It’s possible to artificially replace them with compost, but you need to invest in a lot of compost to restore the good microbes when grass is killed off and removed with this method.

When soil is solarized, it’s sterilized. It remains like this for weeks. Worse, it really doesn’t do much good. Opportunistic weeds move in quickly to try and take over the ground. These weeds don’t grow from existing seeds in the soil. These have usually been killed off. But without any competition, new weeds can arrive in a flash, and nothing prevents them from taking over.

Stay loose

If you use heavy equipment to remove your old turf, the equipment’s weight will compact your soil underneath. You need to avoid this. Minimize the use of heavy equipment and use walk-behind equipment with hand tools where possible. Use a tractor or scraper only where necessary.

Avoid tilling your soil. Tilling soil breaks up and kills your soil microbes. Without the microbes, you’re guaranteed to have those weeds pop up for a long time until new soil microbes develop.

Protect your trees planted in areas where the grass is removed. The key is not to damage their roots. Heavy equipment can destroy roots established by a healthy shade tree. Steer clear of the canopy area under the tree’s branches. Its root structure extends all the way out to the drip line at the edge of the leaves. Irrigate your trees generously during the removal process to help minimize root shock.

Save landscape trees from shock

Creating a DIY self-watering bucket will help prevent landscape trees from going into shock after surrounding turf is removed. remove your lawn

Creating a DIY self-watering bucket will help prevent landscape trees from going into shock after surrounding turf is removed.

When your new sustainable landscaping is installed, your previously existing trees may go into shock when irrigation is reduced overall in your garden. While it’s one of your watersmart landscaping goals, keep the trees watered during the first year after your grass is removed.

A good way to hand water your trees: Punch holes in a five-gallon plastic bucket. Fill the bucket, and set it down at the edge of the tree canopy, and let the water slowly seep into the ground. Repeat the process three to four times to water your beautiful mature trees. This mimics the natural rainfall Mother Nature provides.

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.

Fallbrook Students Won’t Let Pandemic Stop 2021 “Be WaterSmart” Poster Contest

The annual “Be WaterSmart” student poster contest is a favorite tradition in many San Diego County classrooms, including elementary schools in the Fallbrook Public Utility District. In most years, 250 students submit entries, with the top submissions selected for publication. But 2020 wasn’t a typical year.

Conservation Corner-mulch-landcape-WaterSmartill you need? It depends on how you'll be using it in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr-Creative Commons License mulch master plan

Develop a Mulch Master Plan

How much mulch does your landscaping plan need? To develop your mulch master plan and answer this question, you first need to understand the job it will perform in different areas of your watersmart landscaping plan.

  • If you want to hold in moisture and keep down weeds: Use three to six inches of mulch on top of the soil
  • If you want to maintain your planting beds: Maintain two to four inches of mulch on beds at all times

Master Tip: Keep mulch one to six inches away from plant stems. When mulch crowds them, it can cause plants to rot due to moisture.

How much mulch do you need?

How much mulch do you need? First, decide how it will be used in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Water Authority Different types of mulch

How much mulch do you need? First, decide how it will be used in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

For accurate results, check these numbers:

  • Square footage of your landscaping
  • Thickness of your mulch cover in inches

Take your square footage, multiplied by mulch thickness, and divide this number by 12. The result is the amount of mulch you need in cubic feet.

Example: 891 square feet of land, multiplied by one inch of mulch, divided by 12 = 74.25 cubic feet of mulch.

Avoid these mulch types around plants

Inorganic mulches don’t decompose to feed your soil microbes and keep your plants and garden healthy and thriving. There are also some organic mulches containing dyes or other chemicals. Others such as shredded redwood take a very long time to break down.

Master Tip – These are the types of mulches you should use only in areas without plants:

  • Shredded redwood
  • Dyed wood mulch
  • Decomposed granite
  • Gravel
  • Rubber pellets

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.

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.

Follow Four Key Principles for Successful Sustainable Landscaping

Efficient water use is an important responsibility that comes along with the benefits of living in San Diego County’s beautiful Mediterranean climate.

No matter whether your landscaping is just a few square feet alongside a small front porch, or covers many acres on a luxury estate, San Diego County residents have learned to embrace sustainability as a central principle for creating or renovating their landscapes. Irrigation is among the highest uses of water for most homeowners.

Two WaterSmart Winners: Budget-Smart Beauty and Colorful Cottage

For two 2020 WaterSmart Landscape Contest winners, the contrasts couldn’t be greater. Melissa and Josh Perrell, Santee homeowners who won the Padre Dam Municipal Water District contest, took a minimalist, less-is-more approach to their front landscape. Tim and Brianna Montgomery, the La Mesa homeowners who won the Helix Water District contest, subscribed to a go big or, well, go home attitude that not only addressed water issues in the context of plants but also in hardscape to prevent flooding.

Lawn Rebates for Fall Planting Season

Fall planting season is underway and a great time to take advantage of rebates for replacing your lawn.

“Fall is like a second spring for planting in our region and it’s also a great opportunity for residents to take advantage of some outdoor incentives as they replace grass with climate appropriate plants,” said Joni German, water resources specialist at the San Diego County Water Authority.

Turf rebates-Fall planting-November 2020-

Lawn Rebates for Fall Planting Season

Fall planting season is underway and a great time to take advantage of rebates for replacing your lawn.

“Fall is like a second spring for planting in our region and it’s also a great opportunity for residents to take advantage of some outdoor incentives as they replace grass with climate appropriate plants,” said Joni German, water resources specialist at the San Diego County Water Authority.

Lawn replacement rebates

Turf replacement rebates of $3 per square foot are available for residents in the Water Authority service area, she said. The rebates include $2 per square foot from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, with an additional $1 per square foot from the Water Authority, for up to 5,000 square feet of lawn converted in front or back yard.

German suggests residential customers use the rebate estimator to determine the amount they would receive for removing their turf.

“For example, if San Diego residents are removing 1,000 square feet of turf, their rebate will be $3,000 – $2,000 from MWD and $1,000 from the Water Authority,” said German.

Turf rebates-November 2020-before-fall planting

BEFORE: This homeowner took advantage of rebates to transform the front yard into a colorful landscape with climate-appropriate plants. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority.

Turf rebates-after-November 2020-fall planting

AFTER: This homeowner took advantage of turf rebates to transform the front yard with climate-appropriate plants. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority.

Free landscape makeover help

For landscape makeover assistance, German encourages residents to visit WaterSmartSD.org, the Water Authority’s conservation website, and take advantage of free landscape education through the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program. This program assists homeowners with landscape transformations through a variety of virtual formats including:

  • Three-hour workshops
  • Four-class series
  • Videos on demand

Homeowners can also visit the website to find landscape resources such as free onsite audits, finding a landscape professional, rebates on indoor and outdoor water saving devices, links to programming irrigation controllers, an online plant database and how to install a rain barrel.

Other water-saving practices include turning off irrigation systems when rainstorms are predicted (and leave them off for at least a week after significant rainfall) and installing rain barrels or cisterns to help capture stormwater from roofs and store it for future irrigation use.

“Adjusting irrigation is an easy way to increase water efficiency, since landscapes need less water as the days get shorter and cooler,” said German.

Rebates are also available for weather-based irrigation controllers, soil moisture sensors, rain barrels or cisterns. There are also incentives for commercial customers to increase their water efficiency, with indoor and outdoor rebates. The rebates are processed through SoCal WaterSmart.