Steps to Creating a Beautiful Sustainable Landscape

Increase the sustainability of your landscape by implementing the following steps. In most cases, making just a few changes can make a big difference!   


Conserve Water


Select plants recommended for your climate zone “Right plant, right place” is one of the most important concepts you can follow to ensure that your plants thrive for years to come. Choose plants based on their intended hydrozone from the plant lists provided in the RESOURCES section of this website or from other reputable sources. For the most sustainable landscape, consider using plants that are native to your local area. Avoid choosing invasive plants that can get out of hand and crowd out other plants. Excellent references listing both invasive plants and alternatives include Plant Right and the California Invasive Plant Council.

Irrigate based on the season, plant species, soil texture, planting density and microclimate. By following the tips in the Irrigation chapter, you can reduce water waste by 80% or more and keep your plants healthier, too! Water deeply and infrequently.

Consider the use of graywater. Be sure to consult with your county (Department of Health) to see what permits may be required. There are state and county regulations that must be followed; for example, graywater is not to be used on food plants. Here is a helpful publication from the University of California (Provided with permission):

Make your landscape a mini watershed. Retain as much rainwater as possible on your site. Direct rain gutter downspouts so they empty into the landscape located a sufficient distance away from the foundation but not out to the gutter. Or, install rain barrels to rain gutter downspouts to collect the rain that falls on your roof. Mulch your soil so it becomes more permeable to water.

Here is a helpful publication from the University of California (Provided with permission):


Recycle Organic Matter and Build a Healthy Soil

Did you know that Californians generate over 43 million tons of municipal solid waste each year (six pounds per person per day), and that natural soil formation takes thousands of years to complete? Composting your own tree and shrub trimmings, lawn clippings, and expired annuals keeps plants out of our crowded landfills and adds valuable microbes to your garden when used as a soil amendment or mulch. And, it can be made in one season! When used as a mulch or soil amendment, compost increases the water-holding capacity of sandy soils and improves the drainage of soils high in clay, and provides a favorable environment for beneficial soil organisms.  

Protect Water Quality

Runoff water carrying pesticides, fertilizers, and pet wastes pollute waterways and can harm aquatic life. Make sure your irrigation system applies water slowly enough, or with multiple cycles, to let water seep into the soil before it starts to run off. Since nitrogen and phosphorus are particularly problematic, fertilize only when necessary at the low end of the recommended rate. Choose pest-resistant or native plants whenever possible and incorporate the use of non-chemical pest management strategies. Apply pesticides only as a last resort.

Reduce the Use of Pesticides  


Before you apply a pesticide, ask yourself if it is really necessary.
There are a number of options including: 

  • Biological control: Providing natural enemies to pests 
  • Cultural controls: Creating a favorable environment for your desired plants and an unfavorable environment for the pests
  • Mechanical and physical controls: Trapping or excluding critters, hand-weeding, etc. 

The University of California Cooperative Extension has a wonderful website loaded with pest control information at:

Protect and Encourage Pollinators and Desirable Wildlife

Over time you’ll be greeted by new species of birds, butterflies, and pollinators. You will have the perfect excuse to get your hands dirty by enriching your native soil with freshly-made compost. You might decide to start out simply by rerouting your rain gutters or repairing your irrigation system. Later, you might want to consider adding more drought-resistant and native plants, and planting a shade tree or two that will cool your home during the summer and warm it during the winter.


If your landscape is low maintenance and small in size, and you enjoy gardening and being outdoors, you may do just fine maintaining it yourself. However, if your landscape is large and high maintenance (with lots of irrigation and large trees), it is best to hire an expert. Trained water auditors can perform regular “catch can tests” and keep your irrigation system fine-tuned. International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborists or ISA certified tree workers can keep your cherished trees safe and beautiful by pruning them according to professional standards. 

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Sense® has certified several programs for landscape professionals. Many local water districts hold classes on sustainable landscaping for homeowners.

Conserve Energy


Did you know that about 40% of the unwanted heat that builds up in your house enters through windows? Block sunlight before it enters by planting deciduous trees along the northeast-to-southeast and northwest-to-southwest sides of your house to cool it in the summer and warm it during the winter. Reduce the impact of “heat islands” by placing shrubs and groundcovers adjacent to asphalt or concrete driveways and walkways. Consider swapping out your inefficient outdoor lighting for LED lighting. Dust off those old hand tools and retire your power tools! Other ways to conserve energy are to grow your own fruits and vegetables, propagate your own plants and swap them with your neighbors, and use locally sourced or recycled building materials.

For the most sustainable landscape, consider using plants that are native to your local area.