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Sustainable Landscaping

Sustainable Landscape. (Ellen Zagory)

What is a Sustainable Landscape?
Sustainable landscapes can be beautiful places that use less water, generate minimal waste, and use less resources. They are safe spaces for people, their pets, and wildlife to enjoy. 

Did you know?

Outdoor water use accounts for 53% of most Californian’s water bills! Here are 8 tips to help you start saving water and dollars. Scroll down to the associated number to read more about each tip.

  1. Add mulch.
  2. Deep water.
  3. Hydrozone.
  4. Reduce your lawn area and water less.
  5. Grasscycle.
  6. Right Plant, Right Place.
  7. Avoid overusing fertilizer.
  8. Monitor your landscape and choose less-toxic pesticides.
  1. Mulch

The number one thing you can do to immediately start saving watering is adding mulch! Mulch helps prevent weeds and reduces evaporation of irrigation water. Add a 2-4” layer of an organic, woody material (1-3” long). Keep mulch 4-6” away from plant stems to avoid trunk diseases.

  1. Deep Water

Deep watering is the practice of getting water to plant roots. For established trees, watering to a depth of 12-18” is vital. Tree roots are found around the tree canopy, and often lawn water is not enough to keep them healthy.

To correctly water established trees and shrubs, use drip irrigation or soaker hose to deliver water underneath the drip line once per month during the dry season. Keep the irrigation at least 1’ away from the base of the tree to avoid rot diseases.

TRIC Sketch

Did you know?

Even water-wise plants need regular water until established. This may take 2-3 years for shrubs, and 4 or more years for trees.  Trees can help you save money by shading your house in summer.

  1. Hydrozone

Are you watering your entire landscape extra to prevent a few water thirsty plants from wilting? Instead, move these plants to their own hydrozone or put them in pots.

Hydrozoning is grouping plants into an area on the same irrigation line where they can receive equal amounts of water.  For example, in the photo below, you could have a drought tolerant garden in zone 1, a water-wise garden in zone 2, and a vegetable garden in zone 3.

hydrozones by M. Rosenblum


  1. Reduce Your Lawn and Water Less

If you don’t have dogs, picnics, or children playing on it, consider removing some or all of your lawn. Aside from saving water, you’ll save time, energy, and resources as you won’t be mowing, feeding, and watering it.

Replace the lawn with low water plants. Just remember, they will need to be watered regularly until established, which can take at least 2 years for most plants, and 3-4 for trees. Your water savings won’t come right away, but you’ll have a lot less maintenance.

Did you know? It is not necessary to water established lawns and landscapes every day.

Start saving water now by cutting back on often and how long you irrigate. Lawn is shallow rooted, so water only needs to penetrate the top few inches of soil. Reduce the number of times you water and/or water for less time and wait. Two days later, walk across your lawn. If it springs back easily, it doesn’t need more water.

The best time to water lawn is after 9 p.m. and before 6 a.m. This helps reduce evaporation and avoid windy conditions that cause water to drift.

  1. Grasscycle

 Grasscycling is essentially leaving your lawn clippings behind. This reduces wastes going into landfills and helps return nitrogen to your soil. Just make sure you mow on a regular basis, cutting only 1/3 of the height each time, and never mow when wet.

  1. Right Plant, Right Place

Sometimes we plant something we absolutely love and watch in disbelief as it grows too big, too wide, too tall, and/or generally looks unhealthy. If you are tired of spending time maintaining unhappy plants, we have some tips for you. Instead of guessing whether a plant will work out or not, choose from a tested list of low water and low maintenance plants.

Arboretum All-Stars
The UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars are 100 plants chosen by UC Davis horticulturalists for characteristics such as low water use, low maintenance, and attracting pollinators. Visit the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden website to see the list. You may also want to download some of their recommended landscape planting plans. 

Sunset Western Garden Book
Owning this book is an absolute necessity for every gardener in our area. Turn to the Plant Selection Guide and look for the “Plants for Dry Areas” section for plant options.  

Download a free copy of our newly updated Water-Wise Gardening for a list of recommended low water, low maintenance plants. 

  1. Avoid Overusing Fertilizers

Often people think they need to fertilize all their plants for them to do well. Vegetables, fruit trees, and container plants benefit from fertilizer, while trees and shrubs do not need it.

Our water supply is contaminated with nitrogen fertilizers that run off lawns and landscapes. If you do fertilize, follow the instructions on the label and never apply or fertilize just before it rains.

  1. Monitor Your Landscape and Choose Less Toxic Pesticides

Pests are always going to be present in gardens and landscapes. Tolerating small amounts of them is better for us and the environment. We can also find safer ways to manage them. To get started, try monitoring. This is the process of walking around your landscape and observing your plants, looking for insects, disease, chewed or yellowing leaves or other signs of pests like gopher mounds.

If you come across pests or their damage, fill out our Ask a UCCE Master Gardener form and attach photos. We can help you identify the pest and give you management tips.

When pest damage becomes intolerable, choose a less toxic pesticide such as a horticultural oil or soap. These products are formulated to kill the pest and have less side effects on humans and beneficial insects. Always read the label to be sure you know how to use the pesticide safely.


California Center for Urban Horticulture

California Garden Web Drought Tips

California Master Gardener Handbook, Second Edition

How Much Water Do Californian’s Use? 

Mowing Your Lawn and Grasscycling 

UC Statewide IPM Program Home, Garden, Turf, and Landscape Pests