Water & Landscape

Sustainable Landscape


Would you rather use 24,000 gallons of Water a year on a Lawn, or just 6,000 on a beautiful Water-Wise Landscape?

Of the Water San Diegan’s use at Home about 50% goes to Outdoor Landscape use! So the most important place to start a conservation program is right outside our doors. Fortunately, water conservation doesn’t mean settling for a barren landscape; it means practicing good gardening. Choosing plants well adapted to your climate, improving your soil, watering efficiently, and taking advantage of the latest irrigation technology all help to save water.

Sustainable Landscapes are designed to thrive on little more than rainfall, but they offer many other advantages beyond conserving moisture. Drought-tolerant plants don’t require much, if any, fertilizer, so they tend to grow at a rate that’s easy to manage without constant pruning. Because they produce less green waste, they contribute less to up-keeping maintenance, and help Minimize your Overall Landscape Expenses.



• The typical home irrigation system is only about 40-50% efficient. That means that half of the water applied to the landscape is wasted and not benefiting the plants!!
• Households with automatic systems, on average, use twice as much water outdoors as households that water manually
• In many areas of North America, a well-designed water-wise landscape can thrive with little or NO irrigation water once it has been established!!
• Many utilities have instituted tiered-rate structures, water budgets, or seasonal rates which can result in a substantial increase in cost for the water used for irrigation.
• Smart controllers take much of the guess work out of programming a traditional controller and have been shown to save about 20% on irrigation water use.
• Regionally adapted plants are often low water using plants, and may use 60-90% less water than high water use plants.



SHRINK THE LAWN-Most lawn grasses need enormous amounts of water to stay green and lush. Reduce your lawn’s size, or—unless you need it for kids to play on— eliminate it altogether.

IMPROVE THE SOIL- Routinely cultivate the soil in your vegetable and annual beds, incorporating organic matter such as compost. Doing so improves the soil’s ability to retain moisture. Most landscape plants (trees, shrubs, and native plants especially) establish faster when planted in native soils without the addition of amendments. If your soil is sandy or rocky, you may need to add compost.

PLANT IN THE RIGHT PLACE- Locate un-thirsty plants where they’ll get the sun (or shade) exposure and soil drainage they need. Group plants that have similar water needs, so no one gets too little or too much water.

CONTROL WEEDS- These garden intruders steal water needed by desirable plants. Regularly hoe or pull them out when they’re young, or use landscape fabrics and mulches to discourage growth.

UPGRADE YOUR IRRIGATION SYSTEM- Add elements such as smart controllers connected to weather stations and new, highly efficient sprinklers or drip emitters to make precision watering much easier.

WATER DEEPLY- Irrigate established plants thoroughly but infrequently to encourage roots to grow downward; they will be buffered from the wet-dry cycle typical of the upper soil area and may tap into groundwater.

IRRIGATE EFFICIENTLY- Make sure your watering practices and devices are as efficient as possible. Water plants only when needed, not by the calendar or clock. Water at night, when evaporation is much lower and the air generally calmer. Tighten faucets so they don’t leak. Avoid runoff and wasteful overspray.

MULCH- Cover bare ground around each plant with a 3-inch layer of mulch to help conserve soil moisture, suppress weeds, and keep the soil cooler; renew annually. Organic types such as bark chips, shredded bark, or compost improve the soil as they break down, and encourage beneficial microbes. Inorganic mulches, such as gravel or rock, let the most water in and are frequently used with plants susceptible to crown rot.

PLANT TREES- Trees help to lower air and soil temperatures, reducing plant and soil moisture loss. Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of the energy a typical household uses.Research shows that summer day-time air temperatures can be 3°- 6° cooler in tree-shaded neighborhoods than in treeless areas.

GROUP CONTAINER PLANTS- Arrange containers so they shade one another. During droughts or periods of drying winds, place them in the deepest shade they can tolerate. Wet the entire root ball, double pot by setting small pots inside larger ones with a layer of sand or gravel between, then “top-dress” the pots with a layer of mulch over the soil.

“Water Smart” Xeriscape Introduction


The word “Xeriscape,” was coined by the Denver Water Department in 1981 to help make water conserving landscaping an easily recognized concept. Their efforts have been a tremendous success. The word is a combination of “landscape” and the Greek word “xeros,” which means “dry.” Xeriscape is a systematic concept for saving water in landscaped areas. In short, Xeriscaping is a method of landscaping that promotes water conservation.

Xeriscape Water Savings

The amount of water used by your Xeriscape will depend upon the size of your landscape, the plants you select, your watering habits, the local climate, soil, wind, and any number of additional factors. While it is impossible to predict the impacts of converting to Xeriscape for the individual, there are a number of research studies that have shown that substantial water savings that can be achieved by converting turf grass to Xeriscape.

A five year study of homes that converted turf to Xeriscape in Las Vegas, Nevada found a 33 percent reduction in average monthly water use and a 39 percent reduction in average summer monthly water use resulting from the Xeriscapes. This study also found that conversion to Xeriscape reduced annual maintenance costs by one third on top of the water savings.

Keep in mind that Xeriscape, like all landscapes, takes time to establish. During the first few years, new plants sometimes require more water than do mature plants with established and deep root systems. This is why it is important to evaluate the water use of Xeriscapes over a long period of time and not just during the first or second year after installation.
The following research reports are available for download: (Sovocool (2005) Xerisscape Conversion Study Final Report)

Why should I consider removing Grass from my landscape?

IMG_4639 (1)_mini

Turf grass commonly used for home landscapes consumes a large percentage of a home’s water use, and the amount of water it takes to keep your lawn green during Southern California’s hot, dry summers can be very high.

You can save water in your landscape by electing to remove turf grass from irrigation and replacing it with water-saving alternatives. These creative options incorporate California Friendly plants and/or less water-intensive surface coverage to make conservation a viable, attractive option for your landscape.



Installing water-wise plants is straight forward and should not require special planting techniques if the soil has been well-prepared and you have selected plants that are compatible with the site characteristics.

Dig a hole of sufficient size to spread the roots out and take care not to damage roots. Nursery plants that grow vigorously may have roots wrapped around the inside of the container. Remove the plant carefully by loosening the soil around the edge of the pot or cut the container away from the plant. Pulling the plant out of the container can damage the delicate root structure or stem of the plant. Backfill planting holes with the soil that was removed and water well. Where drip irrigation is being used emitter(s) should be placed around the root zone of each plant.

For a detailed List of native Water -Wise Plants and other Water Efficient landscape idea’s Click on the Link Below:


Characteristics of Water Wise Plants


There are four characteristics shared by many dry climate appropriate plants that will allow you to find them in a crowded nursery. Sometimes you will find plants with three or four of these adaptations at one time -they’re really drought tolerant!

STIFF, LEATHERY LEAVES- These leaves hold on to water, and represent many of our evergreen native plants.

SILVERY OR HAIRY LEAVES- Light colored leaves reflect sunlight, cooling the plant. Hairy back sides of leaves hold moisture longer which cools the leaf.

TINY LITTLE LEAVES- Like the solar panels they mimic, it is easier to keep small surfaces cool than it is to cool down one large hot surface.

SOLAR TRACKING LEAVES- In the middle of the day these leaves will appear to be standing at attention, straight up and down. As the day progresses, or if you see the same plant in the early morning, you will find that the leaves are more horizontally oriented. This plant is moving its solar panels throughout the day to minimize exposure during the hottest part of the day.


Know your soil type so you can pick the right plants. Some plants are fussy about the soil they grow in. Pick up a handful of moist soil and squeeze it. See how it responds:

Sandy – Crumbles as you open your hand.

Loam – Holds its shape but crumbles as you poke it.

Clay – Remains in a tight firm lump.

Native plants like native soil; soil amendments (fertilizers) may cause them to decline.


Place native plants in dry or low water use areas or where there is no irrigation system (though it will take some water for the first year for them to establish their root systems)
• Place native plants on separate irrigation system zones (valves or stations) so they are not over-watered, which is the primary reason native plants die

• Place annuals in areas of higher water application

• Place the plant(s) in similar water use groupings (low/drought, medium and high)

• Place plants in areas that are large enough for their full growth habits


Who will do the garden maintenance? If the answer is you, how much do you want to do? Is it enjoyable or is it a nuisance? If the answer is someone who is hired to maintain the yard, will they know what to do (watering levels, pruning style, use of chemicals, etc.) for the types of plants and the effect you want to have? This will be particularly true for native plants; few gardeners have much experience with them.

Different gardens will require different levels of maintenance. Some examples include:

Native garden – low water use, once per year pruning (cut back on some plants), no fertilizer need, no chemical need, little weeding (with mulch), no soil amendment

Turf garden – weekly mowing, high fertilizer need, high water need, high soil amendment need.

Perennial garden – moderate water use, moderate fertilizer need, consistent care (cutting, weeding, etc.), high soil amendment

Color garden – high fertilizer, consistent watering, consistent plant changes, consistent tending (ex. cutting spent blooms), high soil amendment

Rose garden – high fertilizer, consistent watering, consistent cutting, potentially high chemical use, consistent weeding, high soil amendment


• Plan for separate valves (zones or stations) for each different area in the garden (this will increase the number of valves, zones or stations, but it will help you to save plants from over watering, save on home damage from consistently wet soils, and increase your ability to manage the landscape efficiently)

• Plan for drip line irrigation on native plants (many natives do not like water sprayed on their leaves)

• Plan for spray on groundcover and turf areas

• Plan for low-volume spray or drip irrigation on slope areas (otherwise too much water output by sprinklers will runoff, erode the slope and produce weak and unhealthy plants)

• Plan to “match” irrigation heads (e.g., water output for a full circle head is twice the output for a half circle head) on each valve (zone or station)

• In many cases the existing irrigation piping can be used. Often modifications to different sprinkler heads and to drip irrigation can be accomplished with the existing piping system.


There are two basic ways to water: manually (hand watering) with hoses and sprinklers or nozzles, or automatically with clock-driven, in-ground irrigation. You may decide to use manual or automatic irrigation, or a combination of both.

How you chose to irrigate your landscape will depend on several factors including the following:

The Cost of Water– Households with automatic systems on average, uses twice as much water outdoors, as households that water manually. Most water used for irrigation is treated to drinking water standards and as a result is often very expensive. In an effort to reduce water use for “non-essential” uses many utilities have instituted tiered-rate structures, water budgets, or seasonal rates which can result in a substantial increase in cost for the water used for irrigation.

Size of the Irrigated Area– Manual irrigation of small areas is more easily managed than irrigating large areas which may require moving hoses and sprinklers frequently. If the area to be irrigated is kept small and regular in shape manual irrigation can be very easy to manage. There are many inexpensive timers available for use with manual irrigation that can be attached to the hose bib that allow irrigation with multiple hoses, and have features such as multiple schedules, cycle and soak, and time of day watering.

Water Demand– Once established, many water-wise plants may require only occasional supplemental irrigation during prolonged dry spells or during the hottest part of the summer. High water use plants such as turf require more irrigation, applied more frequently, than the rest of the landscape.

Irrigation Frequency– During the hottest part of the summer turf may require irrigation three times a week to maintain a healthy appearance. Homeowners that travel frequently or are gone for extended periods during the summer may find it difficult to maintain a landscape using manual irrigation.


Manual Systems keep you in touch with your garden and its water needs. You must decide each day if, when and how much to water. You must be there when it’s time to turn the system on and when it’s time to turn it off. Studies show that people with manual systems use less water than people with automatic systems.

Semi-Automatic Systems, which work similar to a kitchen timer, require you to turn the water on manually but the system turns itself off at the end of the time (or number of gallons) you set.

Automatic Systems are the most common type. They use an electronic controller to do all the work for you. Traditional automatic systems never forget to water . . . even if it’s raining. Because we tend to ignore automatic systems (why bother with them – they’re automatic), studies show that people with these systems use more water than people with manual systems. They automatically water whether or not the plants need water and/or they water longer than necessary.

Weather-Sensitive Systems, which are now affordable for residential use, add sensors and/or telemetry to the controller to adjust watering times automatically for the day-to-day weather changes in your garden. Studies show that weather-sensitive controllers save a lot of water.


Rain Bird SST-1200S with door removed

Imagine your sprinkler system could automatically adjust its program in response to changes in the weather to deliver the right amount of water to each plant zone. During hot and dry periods, your system would water more frequently and for longer periods of time. After a heavy rain, your system would not resume irrigation until needed.

Major advances in controller technology have occurred in recent years. New “Smart Controllers,” also known as Weather Based or ET Irrigation Controllers, schedule irrigation according to actual water needs of plants by using information such as weather, climate, plant type and the soil type of your landscape. Smart controllers take much of the guess work out of programming a traditional controller and have been shown to save about 20% on irrigation water use.

controllersignaldata2_miniSmart controllers use a variety of technologies to schedule irrigation. Some rely on a network of weather stations that transmit daily data (via the web or a pager) to the controller to adjust the irrigation schedule. Another type has a built in “ET chip” that contains a detailed 20-year history of ET for your region and irrigate based on historical patterns combined with a small temperature sensor. Other smart controllers use on-site rain sensors and/or several soil moisture sensors. The computer schedules the irrigation everyday based on the amount of moisture present in the soil.


The typical home irrigation system is only about 40-50% efficient. That means that half of the water applied to the landscape is wasted and not benefiting the plants

The primary goal of installing a water-wise landscape is to reduce the need for supplemental irrigation while still maintaining a healthy and attractive landscape. The water needs of the landscape are determined by the local climate, plant type, the time of year, and the desired quality of the landscape. In many areas of North America, a welldesigned water-wise landscape can thrive with little or No irrigation water once it has been established!

Good irrigation design and scheduling are essential for maximum water efficiency. Irrigation design consists of the type of sprinkler system (manual or automatic) and the layout of the sprinkler system. A properly designed and well-managed system will apply water only when it is needed and only the amount necessary to replenish the soil moisture that has been lost due to evaporation from the soil and transpiration from the plants.



Spray Sprinklers
Spray sprinklers are used to water lawns, planters, and slopes.   There are many different makes and models designed to cover areas up to 15 feet wide when operated at 30 to 40 psi of water pressure.  Average spray sprinkler systems are about 65% uniform; compare this to a gear rotor system which can be up to 85% uniform.  The more uniform a system is…the less water is required to cover the planter area evenly.

Impact Rotors
Impact rotors use the force of the water hitting a spring loaded arm to turn the sprinkler.  The mist and overspray caused by the impact arm wastes water and is a disadvantage of this type of sprinkler.  The rotors are made of plastic or brass and cover areas from 15 to 65 feet wide, depending on the water pressure and size of the nozzle.  Average operating pressures range from 35 to 85 psi and impact systems can be up to 75% uniform.

Gear Rotor
Gear rotors are a relatively new and improved type of sprinkler. They use water pressure to turn gears inside the sprinkler body, which in turn makes the nozzles rotate. Unlike impact rotors, there is almost no wasted water from splashing and overspray. Other advantages of gear rotors include a large selection of nozzles, precision adjustments, low cost, and improved uniformity which reduces overall water use. The rotors are made of plastic and cover areas from 15 to 65 feet wide, depending on the water pressure and nozzle size. Average operating pressures range from 35 to 85 psi and gear rotor systems can be up to 85% uniform.

Micro-Spray sprinklers are just like regular spray sprinklers only smaller.  They are made of plastic or brass and attach to pop-up bodies or to flexible polyethylene tubing.  One advantage of a micro-spray system is that water is able to soak into the soil more slowly, preserving the air/water balance in the root zone and reducing runoff.  These systems are ideal for very small planter areas because the spray pattern can be precisely adjusted.  Distance of coverage is from 1 to 15 feet.  Proper filtration and pressure regulation is required.  The operating pressure range is 15 to 30 psi.

Bubblers are used to irrigate individual plants, and are often placed inside watering basins and tree wells.  Installed on rigid plastic pipes 4 to 6 inches above the soil surface, they are ideal for sandy soils where drip irrigation is less effective.  Pressure regulated bubblers deliver a uniform amount of water to each plant, and they require very little maintenance.  The operating pressure ranges from 30 to 50 psi.

Drip Irrigation
Drip systems can be the most efficient way to irrigate your landscape, using the least amount of water.  There is very little evaporation and no over-spray when the water is placed directly on the soil.  The slow application of water also helps to maintain the air/water balance in the root zone, which promotes optimum growing conditions.  Most drip systems operate at 15 to 30 psi and can have a uniformity rating of 90 to 95%.  Proper filtration, pressure regulation, and maintenance are essential to good system performance.


If you have a spray or rotor system in a lawn area, you can perform a simple test to measure the amount of water your system uses by following these steps:

1. Place three or more coffee mugs, or other flat bottom containers, at various places on your lawn.

2. Turn on the sprinklers for 15 minutes.

3. Use a ruler and measure the number of inches of water in each container.

4. Find the average number of inches in all the containers, and multiply that number by four. This is the number of “inches per hour” that your system delivers.


Evaluate the water needs of each irrigation zone-Irrigation scheduling begins with an examination of the plants to be watered, sun exposure, and the soil type. Some general guidelines are presented below:

Turf grasses, annual flowers and vegetables are usually high water using plants. Turf grass is shallow rooted and fast growing and requires more frequent irrigation. Cool season grasses such as Kentucky blue grass need considerably more water than warm season grass varieties such as centipede, bermuda, or buffalo grass.

Ornamental shrubs and ground covers may use 40% to 60% less water than turf or annual flower beds.

Regionally adapted plants are often low water using plants, and may use 60-90% less water than high water use plants.

Drought resistant plants, including many regionally adapted and native plants, may thrive on minimal or no supplemental water. Many of these plants can survive strictly on seasonal rainfall once they are established.

Newly planted plants need to be watered more frequently until their root systems are established, usually 2 to 3 years, after which irrigation should be scaled back.

Potted or container plants dry out more quickly than those in the ground and therefore require more frequent watering.

Plants in full sun areas of your yard often require about 30% more water than shady areas.

Plants in sandy soils require shorter more frequent irrigation than clay or loam soils because of the lower water holding capacity of sandy soil.



San Diego County Watering Information

What Time of Day Should I Water?

In San Diego County, we recommend watering between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. Watering within this window of time takes advantage of relatively low winds and less loss of water to evaporation.

How Long Should I Water?

Precise watering times vary depending on the type of watering device, soil, slope and plants. Keep in mind with clay soils, running an irrigation system on a lawn for more than five minutes will generally result in runoff.

How Often Should I Water?



Review any local regulations governing irrigation practices. Your city may have adopted restrictions on the duration and frequency of irrigation events.

General Tips

Less is More – More damage is caused to our plants and grass from over-watering than from under-watering. When setting up your schedules be conservative to start and add more time when plants begin to look stressed.

Fall Irrigation – In San Diego County, September through November, temperatures may still be relatively hot and your plants may seem to require similar watering patterns to the summer. However, keep in mind that as the days become shorter, evaporation decreases and plants water needs drop by approximately 50%.

For More Information on “How Long and How Much” to Water Click on the Link Below:

Landscape Watering Calculator

http://www.bewaterwise.com/calculator.html#pagestart   (How Much, How Long, and What Days per week for all types of irrigation systems)