Sustainable Landscape

A sustainable landscape needs less water and is more tolerant of heat and drought than a traditional lawn and landscape. It also needs less maintenance than a lawn.

Water Saving Ideas

The best approach to a sustainable landscape is to think gardening, not yardwork, and to think of your garden as an extension of your living space — because here in San Diego you can enjoy an indoor-outdoor lifestyle year-round. Jot down a wish list of what you would like to have in your garden and you might just find that you no longer have room for a big lawn.

Citrus and avocado trees, most vegetables, and Mediterranean and California native plants all use less water than cool season turf. And your new front porch and backyard dining area won’t need any water.

Live Better

Create a place to drink coffee in the morning and have friends over in the evening — under or next to a shade tree. You don’t need a deck, just gravel, or make some concrete pavers.

Eat Better

Grow organic vegetables in raised garden beds, have your own little orchard and grow a kiwi vine on the back fence.

Save the Bees

Plants native to California are home, sweet home for bees. Bee populations are dwindling and they need new habitat.

Meet Your Neighbors

Create a front porch where you can sit and read the mail and you’ll end up making new friends. Gravel or bark and a couple of chairs is all you need.

Reduce Water Pollution

Create a 3-foot wide, 6-inch high berm with plants between lawn and hardscape to prevent runoff from rain and sprinklers.

Create Shade

Shade trees make a garden comfortable, raise property values and reduce irrigation costs.

Sustainable and Beautiful

There is endless variety of plants that thrive in San Diego’s Mediterranean climate with less water than a lawn needs. We describe how much water these plants use as a percentage of how much water a healthy lawn of cool season turf uses, and group them in three categories: moderate water use, low water use and very low water use.


High Water Use
These plants use as much water as cool season turf


Moderate Water Use
These plants use 50% of the water cool season turf uses


Low Water Use
These plants use 30% of the water cool season turf uses


Very Low Water Use
These plants use 10% of the water cool season turf uses

Moderate Water Use Plants

You can reduce your water use by 30 percent wherever you replace cool season turf with moderate water use plants. These are just a few of the hundreds of plants available.

Low Water Use Plants

You can reduce your water use by 50 percent wherever you replace cool season turf with moderate water use plants. There are many more to choose from than what we have here.

Very Low Water Use Plants

You can reduce your water use by 70 percent wherever you replace cool season turf with moderate water use plants, and these are just a few of the plants in this category.

The Key to Saving Water

The key to saving water is to group plants together in your landscape based on how much water they use.


When you irrigate high, medium and low water use plants with the same sprinkler, you overwater or underwater or both. When you group plants together that need the same amount of water, you can give them just the right amount — and that’s efficient. Each group of plants is called a hydrozone.

How to Create Hydrozones

After you create the layout of your new landscape design, decide where plants will go, and select plants that need the same amount of water for each location. If you want to keep your current irrigation system, transform each of your irrigation zones into a hydrozone.

It’s a Big Project, With Big Rewards

A smaller water bill might be the incentive that gets you started, but less maintenance and no more mowing and blowing feels really good, too. And there’s a good chance that talking with neighbors on the front porch will become a new favorite thing.

Explore and Learn

Things to Read

eGuide to a WaterSmart Lifestyle
This award-winning, online guide provides step-by-step instructions for designing and installing a water efficient landscape, from design ideas to plant lists to graywater use.
This San Diego County Water Authority website offers tools, guides, videos and templates to answer all of your questions.

Sunset Magazine’s Water-Wise Garden Design Guide
Scroll through this article’s 18 beautiful photos, and the copy accompanying each one, and you will have a much better grasp of how to design your own water efficient landscape.

Sunset Magazine’s Backyard Design Guide
This webpage offers links to 24 articles on how to design landscapes that are sustainable, fire resistant, sloped, perfect for small yards, perfect for kids — and much more.
This website will give you idea after idea for your water efficient landscape. Click on Photos and then Landscape, or click on Stories & Advice and then Landscape Design.

Things to Watch

A Growing Passion
A Growing Passion is a TV series on KPBS created by local garden designer and author Nan Sterman. You can watch all of the past episodes of the series on her website.

WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Videos
The San Diego County Water Authority turned their popular series of classes into a series of on-demand videos. Class instructor Sharon Lowe walks you through designing, installing and caring for a water efficient landscape.

Things to Do

Visit the Water Conservation Garden
See how beautiful water efficient plants and trees are when they grow up. Take a free tour at 10 a.m. on the first Saturday of each month or go to weekend classes and events. Call 619-660-0614.

Attend a Free Landscape Design Workshop
Helix hosts free, 3-hour WaterSmart Landscape Design Workshops for homeowners two or three times a year. You’ll learn how to remove turf, select water efficient plants and develop a landscape design and irrigation plan.

Consult With a Designer
The Water Conservation Garden offers 45 minute consultations with licensed landscape designers on one or two Saturdays per month. Bring a diagram, measurements and photos of your yard and a list or photos of plants you like. Sessions cost $60 for garden members and $75 for non-members and are booked on a first come, first served basis. Call 619-660-0614 ext. 10 to make an appointment.

Hire a Certified Landscape Contractor
The Water Conservation Garden website includes lists of contractors ready to install your water efficient landscape.


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