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Every drop of water is precious. Maximizing irrigation efficiency goes a long way toward conserving our water resources. Photo: Ju Irun / Pixabay

Boost Your Irrigation IQ

To support and protect your investment in waterwise landscaping, you need to have a strong irrigation IQ and understand the basics. You’ll be able to best maintain and maximize your system’s efficiency, which is vitally important during times of drought in the San Diego region.

Conventional irrigation systems can be inefficient

Letting sprinklers run to excess is an example of a poorly performing irrigation system due to bad design, inadequate maintenance, and improper management and it's unacceptable. Photo: Wolfgang Bantz irrigation IQ

Letting sprinklers run to excess is an example of a poorly performing irrigation system due to bad design, inadequate maintenance, and improper management and it’s unacceptable. Photo: Wolfgang Bantz

Well-designed and operated systems can reliably deliver the necessary water to sustain your landscaping without waste or excess. Poorly performing systems can suffer due to bad design, inadequate maintenance, and improper management.

A shutoff valve (ball valve) can be manually operated to cut off the water supply in the event of a leak, a malfunction, or a major repair.

The anti-siphon valve, when activated by an irrigation controller, delivers water through a PVC pipe lateral irrigation line, ultimately reaching the sprinkler head, which applies the water to your landscaping.

Intelligent irrigation systems operate efficiently

Efficient irrigation components are designed to operate at lower pressure levels, as specified by each product manufacturer. Devices are more likely to fail under excess pressure, and damage can occur.

A pressure regulator will eliminate excess pressure.

A submeter can be installed where the irrigation system tees off the mainline to the house. It is a recommended option for large properties to keep track of the actual volume of water being applied to the landscape. Single-family homes typically have a single mixed-use meter which doesn’t distinguish between indoor and outdoor water use. An alternative is to install a flow sensor working in tandem with a smart controller.

Low-volume irrigation devices like rotary nozzles and micro or drip irrigation are designed to deliver water to the landscape at a slower rate. This better approximates the infiltration rate of the soil and reduces runoff.

Smart controllers will automatically adjust irrigation schedules in response to changing weather conditions. They come in two varieties. ET controllers monitor weather conditions. Soil moisture-based controllers directly sample the moisture in the ground. These devices also have features like “cycle and soak functions that can help eliminate runoff. When selecting a controller, look for brands with the EPA WaterSense ® label.

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.

Hausmanns-Vallecitos Water District-landscape makeover-waterwise-WaterSmart

Winning Waterwise Landscapes in the Vallecitos Water District

San Diego County residents continue to embrace a conservation ethic by creating beautiful, waterwise landscapes. The Vallecitos Water District reports that more District water customers are reducing their outdoor water use and adopting WaterSmart practices.

Three Vallecitos customers are the most recent examples of the landscape makeover trend, creating beautiful landscapes, and winning the regional Watersmart Landscape Contest.

Neighbors often ask the Hausmanns about their new landscaping. Doug Hausmann often shares plants and lends a hand on their projects. Photo: Vallecitos Water District winning

Neighbors often ask the Hausmanns about their new landscaping. Doug Hausmann often shares plants and lends a hand on their projects. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Best in District winners Doug and Pam Hausmann have lived in San Diego County since 1975.  They both became interested in succulents and decided to remove their sprinkler system. They now water by hand. Some of their plants get by with as little as four waterings a year.

By propagating and selling succulents, the Hausmanns raise about $1,000 a year on behalf of a nonprofit supporting a friend’s grandson affected by a rare disease. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The Hausmanns started growing different plants from cuttings provided by neighbors, and from plants they purchased and then divided. Their success with propagation generated interest in low water use gardening among their friends and neighbors. The couple donated their propagated plants and expertise, helping neighbors to plant waterwise succulent gardens at their own homes.

Waterwise landscape as philanthropic enterprise

The Hausmanns propagation talent helped raise money for “24 Hours for Hank,” which supports research in Cystinosis, a rare genetic disease. Cystinosis affects 500 people in the United States. Because the disease only affects a small percentage of the population, research money is scarce. By propagating and selling succulents, the Hausmanns raise about $1,000 a year for the charity on behalf of a friend’s grandson affected by Cystinosis.

The Hausmanns were selected as contest winners for their successful landscape project, for the philanthropy it generated, and for the teaching opportunity it inspired.

Saving water, saving wildlife

 

All three winning landscape designs provide habitat for pollinators and birds. Photo: Vallecitos Water District winning

All three winning landscape designs provide habitat for pollinators and birds. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Tours of residential native landscapes and a visit to the Vallecitos Water District Sustainable Demonstration Garden inspired second place winner Bruce Ferguson to follow through on his desire to transform his yard into a more natural and native setting, attractive to wildlife.

Ferguson loves to see lizards, birds, and butterflies. His garden design reduces stormwater runoff and allows for more infiltration of rainwater into the ground by including two small bioswales. He added two small ponds to provide a water source for animals. After the makeover, Ferguson’s water savings range from 20% to 40% monthly.

Bruce Ferguson completed all the work himself on his landscape makeover. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Third place winner Ellen Kaplan replaced her lawn with a drought-tolerant garden to conserve water, eliminate expensive monthly landscaping, and to give her home more curb appeal.

She used a variety of palms, annuals, kangaroo paws, and succulents. She replaced the existing sprinkler system (which she admitted did a better job of watering her driveway) with a drip system providing targeted watering only where needed.

Ellen Kaplan enjoys watching hummingbirds visiting her new landscaping - and so does her cat from safely inside the house. Photo: Vallecitos Water District winning

Ellen Kaplan enjoys watching hummingbirds visiting her new landscaping. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

All three winners received a gift certificate to Green Thumb Nursery in San Marcos to support their waterwise gardening adventures and a Watersmart Landscape Contest Winner sign for their front yards.

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

Setting Objectives for Waterwise Landscaping Success

It takes time to learn about the concepts behind the watershed approach to creating a healthy and sustainable landscape. Once you have these concepts mastered, the most important step of all comes next.  Consider the goals you want to achieve in your garden for landscaping success.

It might be difficult to know where to start. Many people accept an ocean of green but thirsty lawn and never give much thought to landscaping goals. Consider one of these worthy objectives.

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Unused Pool Transformed into Helix Water District 2021 Landscape Contest Winner

Mount Helix homeowner Rosalie Dosik turned her unused pool into a waterwise backyard oasis and the winning project in the Helix Water District 2021 WaterSmart Landscape Contest. The annual competition recognizes outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on overall attractiveness, design, efficient irrigation, and appropriate plant selection and maintenance.

The original backyard with the unused pool. Photo: Helix Water District

The original backyard with the unused pool. Photo: Helix Water District

Dosik’s bright and textured landscape represents years of dedicated passion for gardening and water-efficient plants. The garden features an Asian-fusion theme complete with wooden structures, pathways, rock, and vibrant color. It uses many drought-tolerant plant species well adapted for the San Diego region’s semi-arid region climate.

The transformed backyard with the unused pool filled in. Photo: Helix Water District

The transformed backyard with the unused pool filled in. Photo: Helix Water District

When the Dosiks bought their house in 1997, a large pool filled the backyard. The pool evaporated quickly in the summer and overflowed towards the house during winter rains.

Rosalie Dosik wanted a landscape she could enjoy more than the rarely used pool. So in 2012, Dosik decided to have the pool demolished and filled with decomposed granite. After adding topsoil and completing her landscape design, she now enjoys it daily.

Water Conservation Garden provides inspiration

The garden includes meandering pathways, each offering different scenery and views. Photo: Helix Water District

The garden includes meandering pathways, each offering different scenery, and views. Photo: Helix Water District

Several rock streams flow down the landscape into a gravel rock pond. The gravel area creates negative space, allowing the eye to rest so visitors can better sense and appreciate the landscape. True to its Asian theme, the garden includes meandering pathways, each offering different scenery, and views.

“Now, one can meander through the garden and enjoy the scenery,” said Rosalie Dosik. “There are birds and wildlife galore. The entire backyard is cooler and more serene. I have rabbits who visit each day, and I am even seeing monarch butterflies.”

The Asian-theme garden attracts birds and butterflies. Photo: Helix Water District unused pool

The Asian-theme garden attracts birds and butterflies. Photo: Helix Water District

Rosalie Dosik volunteers as a docent at the Water Conservation Garden. She discovered the garden in 2004 after visiting the adjacent Heritage of the Americas Museum at Cuyamaca College. On Dosik’s many return visits, she wrote down the names of plants she liked and started gardening with them at home.

Efficient irrigation uses gear-driven rotors to apply water to the densely planted areas. Narrow areas and potted plants use drip irrigation. A weather-based irrigation controller automatically adjusts for rain and weather.

The Dosiks enjoy inviting guests over to enjoy their new outdoor space. Photo: Helix Water District

Dosik loves to have her friends over and entertain on the patio, where they can all enjoy the views of the garden.

“You can look left and right and just look at what is flowering,” said Dosik. “Of course, right now, everything is flowering.”

Dosik was recognized as the 2021 landscape contest winner at the Helix Water District’s virtual board meeting on June 23.

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

Enjoy Urban Farming While Being Water Smart

Many San Diego County native plants and herbs have fruits and leaves you can harvest. They can be mixed into any climate-appropriate planting design. You don’t have to be a farmer to grow and enjoy them in your sustainable landscaping.

For the health of your urban farming crops, consider employing organic growing methods including sheet mulching and integrated pest management. This will ensure the health of your soil, your crops, and the people who eventually eat and enjoy them.

Check local drought ordinances in your area to confirm watering schedules permitted for edibles, which may be more flexible during the most active growing period. Because the San Diego region has a mild, warm climate throughout the year, you can plant most fruiting trees just about any time of the year. Citrus trees generally do best in our area when planted in May or June, but it is possible to plant them earlier or later in the year as long as there is no nighttime frost.

Arrange the urban farming area in your landscaping to take advantage of their irrigation needs in a designated area. If the rest of the landscaping is using minimal water, you can spare extra irrigation for your fruits and vegetables in their specific zone. For all landscaping, irrigate with the most efficient system possible.

Fruitful trees to enjoy

Fruit trees, especially citrus, thrive in San Diego County’s climates with just a little bit of care. The Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana) is a good choice with spectacular blooms. Photo: WIkimedia/Creative Commons License Edible Plants climate zone

Fruit trees, especially citrus, thrive in San Diego County’s climates with just a little bit of care. The Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana) is a good choice with spectacular blooms. Photo: Wikimedia/Creative Commons License

Fruit trees, especially citrus, thrive in San Diego’s regional climate zones with a  little bit of care. Top choices include:

Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

Chinese Date (Ziziphus jujuba)

Santa Rosa Plum (Prunus salicina)

Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana)

Improved Meyer Lemon (Citrus “Improved Meyer”)

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.

The Desert Museum Palo Verde tree is an ideal low water use choice for Southern California landscaping. Photo: Danielle Bardgette/Creative Commons-Flickr trees

Waterwise Tree Choices for Watersmart Landscaping

Trees are the single most valuable addition to your waterwise landscaping. Trees create improved water quality, resulting in less runoff and erosion. They also improve air quality and provide habitat for insects, birds, and animals. Healthy, mature trees are so beneficial, they can add an average of 10% to a property’s overall value.

When thoughtfully placed around buildings, the cooling and insulation created by a tree’s canopy can reduce air conditioning needs by 30%, and can save 20-to-50% of the energy used for heating.

Before you choose landscaping trees, research their size at maturity. When you first purchase it, it’s in a 15- or 25-gallon container and it’s hard to imagine it growing above your roofline. But a small tree can become a 30-foot tall tree with a 30-foot wide canopy of branches in a few short years. If you select a large tree species, it could be 70 feet tall and equally as wide.

Ensure tree placement gives you a sufficient distance away from your home or other structures. Small trees (30 feet wide or less at maturity) should be placed no closer than 10 feet. Large trees (70 feet wide or more at maturity) should be planted no closer than 20 feet from a house.

Top waterwise tree choices

The Desert Willow is an ideal tree for its size, flowers, and waterwise nature. Photo: Pixabay

Which trees are the best waterwise choices for the San Diego region? These are five proven favorites.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Desert Museum Palo Verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’)

California Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

Catalina Ironwood (Lyonothamus floribundus)

Hybrid Strawberry Tree (Arbutus ‘Manna’)

Consider large shrubs as alternative choices

Large shrubs can be smart alternatives for screening unwanted views. Be considerate of the viewshed of your neighborhood. Will the shrubs block a special view for others?

Several best choices of waterwise small  trees and shrubs for screening

California lilac (Ceanothus) is a native plant to San Diego County and produces spectacular blooms in early spring. Photo: Wikimedia

California lilac (Ceanothus) is a native plant to San Diego County and produces spectacular blooms in early spring. Photo: Wikimedia

Catalina Cherry (Prunus iliofolia ssp. Lyonii)

Pacific Was Myrtle (Myrica california)

Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana)

Tecate Cypress (Cuppressus forbesii)

California Mountain Lilac (Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’)

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.