Design and implement a water- efficient landsape for the bay area

Californians are more interested than ever in beautiful, water-efficient landscapes that conserve an important natural resource and save time and money. About one- third to one-half of water used by a typical California family is directed at outdoor irrigation, averaging about 200 gallons a day. Significant savings can be realized through selecting water-efficient plants and ensuring efficient irrigation.

Many homeowners hear the terms xeriscaping or xeriphytic landscape and wonder how they relate to water-efficient landscaping. The word xeriscape is derived from the Greek word xeros, meaning dry, and the English word landscape. Information in this publication represents best management practices appropriate for California landscapes; it includes and expands on xeriscape practices that are well known and relevant.The good news is that, in most instances, you do not need to completely overhaul your entire landscape or commit to expensive fixes to save water. While native gardens are generally water efficient and low maintenance, there are many non-native plants that thrive in California and are just as drought efficient. Adding diversity to your plant palette is always a good idea because it can result in fewer pest problems and a more interesting, aesthetically appealing landscape. Most of the water wasted in residential landscapes is not due to thirsty plants; it is the result of inefficient and ineffective watering practices. Following the recommendations below will save you money, water, and time.


Avoid overwatering

Overwatering established landscape plants is more common than underwatering. While newly planted ornamentals and garden plants require frequent light irrigations due to small, compact root systems, established plants should not be watered every day. They do much better with deep and infrequent irrigation. Know how much water to apply and when to apply it

Become familiar with the water needs of plants growing in your climate. The water requirement of a plant is closely linked to
its evapotranspiration (ET) rate. ET is the loss of water into the atmosphere from the soil and plant surfaces (evaporation) and from the plant actively taking up water (transpiration). The water requirement of a plant depends on many factors, including solar radiation, air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, type of soil, root depth, foliar density, microclimate, and stage of growth.

As figure 4 illustrates, a plant adapted to the San Francisco Bay Area, Riverside, and Palm Springs areas will require the most water in Palm Springs due to its higher ET rate in the hot desert. Adjusting the amount of water you apply to your landscape based on seasonal changes can greatly reduce water waste and maintain the health of the plants. A common mistake is to forget to adjust your automatic timer downward going into the fall. A straightforward approach to help you apply the right amount of water to your landscape when it is most needed is to use the “feel test.” Get your hands dirty! Dig a small hole 6 to 8 inches deep around annuals and at least a foot deep around large shrubs and trees, being careful not to disturb plant roots. Grab a handful of the removed soil and squeeze. Soil that is wet enough but not too wet will feel like a well-squeezed sponge. Soil that falls apart easily is a little too dry and should be irrigated. If a lot of water oozes out, wait a few days before you water. Established trees can often go much longer between irrigations than more shallowly rooted annuals.


List of drought resistant plants

Santa Barbara Ceanothus(Ceanothus impressus)

A large shrub with a dense mass of dark wrinkled green leaves, covered with deep blue flower clusters in early spring, mostly March to April. Requires good drainage and infrequent to no summer watering, can be temperamental, preferring sun to partial sun exposure. 6-10’h x 6-10’w

Tree Poppy (Dendromecon rigida)

Large shrub with linear gray foliage and showy bright yellow, poppy-like flowers that bloom from February to June. Thrives in dry, well-drained soil, can adapt to various soil conditions. Good for banks, roadsides, preferring sun to partial sun exposure. Prune back after flowering to control untidy wild growth pattern. 3-10’h x 4-8’w  

Golden Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum)

An abundant perennial small shrub found naturally at the base of cliffs in rock crevasses, preferring sun exposure. Finely leafed foliage, green above and woolly below. Blossoms are clusters of yellow flowers, displayed from March to August, attractive to butterflies. 2-4’h x 1-4’w  

Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis)

Found naturally in chaparral and coastal sage scrub zones, this perennial is a perfect choice for drought tolerant gardens. Truly spectacular lavender-pink-purple flowers, April to June, are found on two-foot spikes above coarse textured leaves. May naturalize and prefers sun to partial sun exposure. Attractive to hummingbirds. 2-3’h x 3’w

Mesa Bushmallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus)

This medium shrub bears many small pink flowers on foot long stems covering the gray-green foliage in the spring and summer. This is a good slope stabilizer or hedge plant. 3-12’h x 6’w  

Canyon Live-Forever (Dudleya cymosa)

This evergreen succulent has rosette leaves with red-orange flowers in spring and early summer. Prefers full sun, good drainage and does well in containers or rock gardens. 1’h x 1’w  

Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri)

This perennial shrub may be a bit tricky to get established, but is worth the effort. It requires excellent drainage and lots of sun. Large 4-6” crinkled flowers appear from spring to summer. Spreads by underground rhizomes. 3-5’h x 8’+w  

Desert or Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

A very hardy evergreen perennial, this plant has coral flowers clustered on stems spring to fall. Prefers dry winters and benefits from pruning after it blooms. 3’h x 3’w