In our amazing Mediterranean climate, "dry" summers don't have to mean "brown" summers. Many native plants, and those from other Mediterranean climates around the world, thrive on low summer water. Photo by Saxon Holt,  from EBMUD's Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates. Read more and see more beautiful photos at .


This historic drought is putting pressure on Californians to help save and conserve our shared water supply in every way possible. As we all tighten our irrigation belts and think twice about letting the tap run, new issues pop-up in places we never suspected. This July, SFLA would like to highlight a few key points to help keep our landscapes beautiful, healthy, and safe!
Trees are perhaps the most important features of our landscapes. They provide shade and keep soil temperatures cool, they create habitat and oxygen, sequester carbon, and reduce air pollution. They are expensive to replaceand contribute the most to property value.  Here are a few great links to information on keeping your trees healthy while trying to conserve water in your landscape. 

THIS ONLINE ARTICLE from Sunset Magazine highlights some drought-centric tree-care tips, as well as other gardening and landscaping advice.

The Sacramento Tree Foundation put out 
THIS PUBLICATION with lots of great info on helping both young and old trees survive the drought. 

And of course, our friends at have compiled a GREAT LIST OF STEPS to care for the trees in your landscape. They've also linked to an easy-to-read INFOGRAPHIC from the California Urban Forests Council. 

Californians are being encouraged to "let their lawn go brown" in an attempt to conserve landscape irrigation water. It's true, the traditional green-grass lawn requires THE MOST water in the landscape, especially in the summer - up to 4x the amount of climate adapted native plants.  

Not sure what your landscape could look like without a lawn? Sunset Magazine online has
great pictures of lawn-free landscapes

If you've got the lawn and the time, we'd like to share a few tips to keeping your existing lawn looking good, and highlight some beautiful, smart alternatives to a "brown" front lawn.


MULCH, MULCH, MULCH! This is by far the easiest, least expensive, and most drought friendly way to replace your thirsty lawn. Instead of digging up or removing what's there, cover it with a simple, good looking 2-4" layer of mulch. A layer of cardboard underneath will suppress weed growth, and the mulch will reduce water loss from your soil from evaporation, stabilize soil temperature, and actually improve your soil's structure, health and water absorption capacity.

By letting the mulch and passing time create a vibrant soil ecosystem, you'll be increasing your property value and creating a healthy landscape to plant into when you're ready to invest in new landscape plants. We recommend planting in the fall, when the seasonal precipitation will help new plants get established without having to rely on municipal water or worry about irrigation regulations. 

The Bay Friendly Landscaping and Gardening Coalition has great online information on sheet mulching, as well as workshops and publications for the public. Don't forget to about the REBATES for lawn removal rom your local municipality!

This lawn in Lafayette was converted with a sheet-mulching technique in a weekend by the homeowners, with a little help from a landscape professional. 

NON-TRADITIONAL "LAWNS" What exactly do our lawns do for our landscapes? It's interesting how fads and culture affect our choices when it comes to our homes and landscapes. This interesting Scientific American article explores what it is about the lawn that captivates our minds, and asks if we are moving beyond the dated grass lawn ideal, just as we moved past avocado-green appliances decades ago.  

For many, a "lawn" space is a requirement - it provides soft, green play spaces for children and pets, let's us easily survey our property and surrounding spaces, and satiates an internal instinct for safety from predators of the meadow clearing in the forest.  For many decades, these ideals have been achieved in the same way - but the landscaping industry is adapting to the changing needs and wants of our population, culture, and climate.  

Here are a few great alternatives to the traditional lawn that still fulfill many of our needs, while being less water-hungry, more climate appropriate, and easier to maintain! 

NO-MOW LAWNS - climate adapted native meadow grasses are low-water use, can survive on rainfall once established, and need mowing only a few times a year. Delta Bluegrass offers several native sod blends that look great left un-mowed, yet can thrive with occasional mowing to 2-6". 

POLLINATOR FRIENDLY LAWNS - this article includes a great list of "grass companions" that will increase the biodiversity of your lawn space.  

BEE LAWNS - this article highlights easy-to-maintain, pollinator-friendly, plant and grass lawn substitutes like clover, peanut, chamomile, yarrow, thyme and other native species. 

Interested in seeding your lawn with a  clover or wildflower seed mix? Spread seeds over lawn in the fall, and in spring watch your lawn bloom with color and life. You can still mow it when it gets too high!

Try these seed mixes: 
Northern Ecology Lawn Mix from Nichols, Fleur-de-Lawn from Pro Time, or check out Livermore's own Pacific Coast Seeds, and Larner Seeds in Bolinas. 


If you have and enjoy a lawn, you can MOW LESS OFTEN to keep it green! A longer lawn has more surface area for photosynthesis (meaning a more extensive root system that's more efficient at absorbing water). A longer lawn keeps soil temperatures cooler and reduces evaporation, and has increased moisture reserves in root and leaf tissue. A longer lawn is a more drought-resiliant lawn!

Apply a 
BIO-CHAR soil amendment. One application lasts a lifetime, and will increase your lawns capacity to retain water, effectively reducing your watering needs. Try locally manufactured CoolTerra, Pacific Bio-char, or Sonoma Biochar on your landscape. 

Gradually TURN DOWN YOUR IRRIGATION. How often are you watering? Hopefully no more than the mandated two non-consecutive days a week. Lawns that have been pampered can still thrive on a lot less water, but may need time to grow more extensive root systems. Over the next few weeks, gradually reduce the amount of times you water. Once a week (or less) is more than enough for many lawns to survive the summer heat until fall rains come. 

Watering too much? Too little? We can help!

We are happy to help you and your landscape navigate the confusing and trying world of drought and irrigation.

A landscape water audit includes: an inspection of your current irrigation system for efficiency and leaks; a customized irrigation schedule that makes sense for your system, climate, soil and plant types; a personalized water budget for your landscape based on your needs and local municipal requirements; and specialized recommendations for your property and micro-climates.   

Not only will smart water management reduce water waste, lower your water bills and save money - it also means healthier, longer lived plants, and a better return on your landscape investment.
QWEL certified professionals have been trained on principals of proper plant selection for the local climate, irrigation system design and maintenance, and irrigation system programming and operation. 


This Season's Native Plant Highlight

Penstemon 'Margarita BOP'
Blue Bedder Penstemon

In the summer, the California landscape turns a deep gold brown, as grasses retreat to their roots and go dormant. Among the golden waves are beautiful pops of color from natives that bloom spring through fall. One of our favorites is 'Margarita BOP' - an easy to grow, very low-water use, mounding 2'x2' perennial.  

It's evergreen, deer resistant, and loves full-sun. Blue Bedder's stunning flowers start deep blue, and can change to pink-purple depending on exposure and soil. In well drained soils, these plants are known to live 20 years or more.
A hybrid of Penstemon heterophyllus and Penstemon laetus, this cultivar from Las Pilitas Nursery is named for Santa Margarita (where the nursery is located) and "Back of Porch" where the first seedling was discovered.  

For a fantastic, long blooming combination, plant with red flowering Zauschneria californica 'Bert's Bluff', pink Erigeron 'Wayne Roderick', and Achillea millefolium. 
Are you ready for this year's wildfire season? CalFire wants to make sure you and your home are safe this summer. CLICK HERE for information from CalFire on making your landscape fire-safe with resistant plants and defensible spaces. 

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