Water Efficient Landscaping

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Climate Suitable Landscapes

The amount of water needed for landscapes depends on three decisions:
- soil management
- plant choice
- irrigation method

Water conservation starts with soil health. Deep roots and biologically active soil provide greater moisture retention and thus allow longer duration between irrigation. Bi-annual soil amendment with compost and mulch is recommended. Deep-rooted native plants can withstand fairly long dry periods, but do benefit from occasional summer irrigation. Turf, with shallow roots and frequent cutting, requires considerable irrigation (4 to 10 times more than longer, uncut native grasses). Spray irrigation is typically only 60% efficient, while drip or subsurface irrigation is 95% efficient. Beautiful palettes of climate suitable plants are available for replacing lawns. There are multiple benefits of native plants compared with the monoculture of turf: less water, less maintenance, less creek-polluting fertilizer and pesticides and greater scenic variation and biodiversity. The peak water requirement is in the month of July. Here is a table comparing the relative water requirements of various landscaping choices:

Landscape Choice
Supplemental Water for July (inches)
Uncovered Pool
Native Meadow
Established Native Plants


To help you understand what this means in terms of your water consumption, for every square foot of lawn in your yard, you will consume 6.2 gallons of water. So for a 5000 sq. ft. lawn, you will consume 31,000 gallons of water, or 41.3 CCF (details of this calculation are available here).  

A great way to prepare a lawn for conversion to water-wise landscaping is with a technique called sheet mulching. Here is more information on how to replace your lawn using sheet mulching.

If you feel like you absolutely need to have a lawn (for example, you have small children that need a place to play), here is a pamphlet from CCWD that highlights best practices for maintaining a lawn during the drought


Plant Water Use Information


Link to Portola Valley Town Web Page on Native Plants and Landscaping 

Link to Portola Valley Town Web Page on Backyard Habitat


Video of Panel Presentation on Balancing Fire Safety and Habitat Preservation


Websites Featuring California Native Plants


 Local Nurseries Specializing in Native Plants