Create a NatureScape
Chula Vista residents are encouraged to create a NatureScape in their yards and gardens to provide a beneficial habitat for bees, birds and other wildlife while conserving precious resources, especially water. NatureScapes consist of taking simple actions of natural yard car using five key steps for creating water- conserving, sustainable landscapes. A NatureScape provides food for insects, birds and animals, a water source, cover and protection for animals and a place to raise their young. Residents who create a NatureScape may be able to receive designation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. The City’s NatureScape Program will help educate residents and provide guidance for certification of their yards through workshops and online learning opportunities. Creating a NatureScape will help implement Chula Vista's Climate Action Plan and support the City’s Water Stewardship Plan.
Numerous Chula Vista residents have created NatureScapes. Case studies share their unique experience in providing a beneficial habitat for bees, birds and other wildlife in their yards and gardens with sustainable California-friendly plants that conserve water.
Five Key Steps – Foundation for a NatureScape
Properly executing each of these steps will increase their effectiveness and result in a vibrant, ecologically friendly and sustainable habitat. This approach takes a bit more planning but over time offers significant savings in labor and water costs.
Fertile, nourished soil is the foundation for a heathy yard and garden. Healthy soil provides air, water and nutrients for plants and serves as nature’s environmental protector and plays a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in the soil. Carbon is a vital component of rich soil. Did you know that a teaspoon of soil contains over 4 billion microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa. These beneficial creatures are an essential part of soil’s complex web. Microorganisms help fortify soil in our landscapes by:
- Creating a loose sponge-like structure that allows air, water and nutrients for plant root growth
- Recycling nutrients and make them available to plants
- Storing water until plants need it
- Protecting plants from pests and diseases
The best way to improve soil’s health is by adding compost. Compost works on any soil. It helps sandy soils hold nutrients and water, and loosens clay soils. Compost is the dark, rich organic material produced by the controlled natural decomposition of organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, pruning, and fruit and vegetable scraps. Compost contains vital nutrients and supports a diverse array of beneficial organisms from microscopic bacteria to earthworms that supply organic matter to soil.
- Mix compost into you soil. It helps soil improve its texture, increase nutrient level and water holding capacity. Spread 2 to 4 inches of compost over the soil and turn it with a shovel to a depth of about 6 inches.
- Top dress your planted areas. Properly applied compost serves as a natural fertilizer. Spread compost to a depth of 3 inches around the base of plants and shrubs, much like spreading mulch.
Mulch is like a blanket for your soil. It is used as a groundcover on planted areas and bare soil to moderate soil temperature, reduce water evaporation, inhibit weed growth, and prevent soil erosion. Typically, mulch consists of leaves, wood chips, grass clippings or compost. Mulch has shown to reduce the incidence of certain plant diseases. Applying mulch reduces evaporation and can reduce the need to water saving 20 to 30 gallons per 1,000 square feet each time you water.
Get to know your yard. Determine where it is sunny or shady, dry or damp and spaces that are small or large. If you are redesigning your landscape or making simpler changes, create a plan. Water-wise yards take more planning than ordinary landscapes but over time offer significant savings in labor and water costs. Do your homework before finalizing plant choices. Choose the right plants for the right place to provide the elements for a successful NatureScape. Find a balance you will enjoy.
- Select climate-appropriate, drought-tolerant native and/or California-friendly non-native plants native to Western and Mediterranean climate zones. These have adapted over thousands of years and animal species depend on them for food and habitat.
- Refer to the Nifty 50 Plants Guide for Water Smart Landscapes from the San Diego County Water Authority. The Nifty 50 consists of shrubs, succulents, vines, ground-covers, flowers, trees and grasses. These plants are more attractive, non-invasive, long-term performers, are scaled for residential landscapes, and often available in nurseries. Once established, these drought-friendly plants thrive in Chula Vista’s semi-arid climate.
- Flowering plants including shrubs attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife serve as the basis for a NatureScape which can attract double the wildlife as ordinary landscapes. Shrubs afford ample shelter for birds and wildlife.
- Intermingling of natives and non-natives is one way to attract beneficial insects. Keep in mind those plants that are found to repel a wide variety of unwanted insects.
- Consider the size of plants when they mature, this will avoid overcrowding that can inhibit plant growth of nearby plants. Avoid placing large plants in areas with space constraints.
- Group plants by their needs. Put those that need full sun, shade or regular irrigation together.
Give plants a good start. Dig a hole as deep as the root mass and twice as wide. Spread the roots before putting the plant in the hole for good contact. Make sure the soil level is at the same height on the stem as it was in the container it came in.
- Spread compost around the base of plants to a depth of 3 to 4 inches without touching the stem.
- Provide sufficient water for initial growth during the first year until deep roots are established.Some plants need additional moisture the second year.
- Routinely cultivate soil twice a year incorporating compost to nourish soil and plants.
3 - WaterSmart Irrigation
Make every drop count - be WaterSmart. Outdoor water use for watering landscapes can comprise over 60 percent of total home water use. Use efficient irrigation technologies and capture rainwater for future use to grow healthier plants. The WaterSmart approach avoids overwatering which can cause problems for plants. Irrigate long enough to wet the entire root zone and don’t apply water faster than the soil can absorb it. Adjust watering schedules with weather and seasons and water before sunrise or after sunset.
- Create hydrozones where plants with similar water needs are grouped and irrigated together. Separate low water users from high water users.
- Use an automatic irrigation system with timers for each zone of your landscape. Set the system for the best time to water (before sunrise or after sunset) and for the correct number of minutes. More advanced weather-based irrigation controllers automatically adjust your watering with local weather information.
- Switch to rotating sprinkler heads that use 20 percent less water by distributing a stream of water instead of traditional heads that inefficiently spray small droplets which often result in overspray.
- Use drip irrigation systems to directly water each plant to avoid wasting water. Use soaker hoses and connect them to a timer that screws onto the hose bib/valve.
- Using a nozzle with a shutoff valve is very efficient for hand watering individual plants. Some nozzles turn water flow into a variety of sprays from strong to gentle mists. Long-handled nozzles are helpful for watering hanging plants.
- Collect rainwater from roofs in rain barrels for later use. Rainwater harvesting can help reduce residents’ water bills and the community reliance on imported water from outside our region.
- Consider using a single-source Laundry-to-Landscape graywater system connected to clothes washer for irrigation of trees, shrubs and other plants.
- Contouring yards by creating capture basins or swales can help store water for plant use. Water from rain gutter and roof downspouts or runoff from roofs without rain gutters can be directed to basins or to specific areas of your yard. These techniques also avoid runoff to sidewalks and streets.
- For lawn areas, make sure spray from each sprinkler reaches adjacent zones to ensure even watering and avoid creating brown spots.
Don’t water if it recently rained. Check frequently for leaks and proper operation of all irrigation system components including alignment of drip and sprinkler heads. Make sure your systems are providing proper coverage and not watering pavement. Ideally, remove or reduce lawn areas and replace grass with ground-cover and other plants to attract wildlife.
4 - Toxic-free Alternatives for Pest Control
Think twice before using pesticides (insect killers) and herbicides (weed killers). Natural yard care practices can avoid the need for using toxic products. Rich soil breeds wholesome plants and using compost will eliminate poor soil conditions and nutrient deficiencies. Pests have an easier time attacking an unhealthy garden than a thriving one. Use of synthetic, chemical pesticides provides a temporary fix but can wipe out beneficial insects. Eliminating weeds with chemical herbicides can unintentionally kill desirable plants. These products can be harmful to people, pets and the environment by impacting plant well-being and damaging soil. There are numerous toxic-free alternatives.
- Start with prevention – build healthy soil with compost and mulch. Soil organisms protect plants from many disease and insect pest problems. Mulching controls weeds. Clean up diseased plants, and remove dead plants to reduce hiding places for insect pests. Pull weeds before they seed and spread and rob water from desirable plants.
- Most bugs are “good bugs” and only a small percentage are pests. Good bugs help control the unwanted pests and often bring them under control, but they need time to work. Don’t spray with toxic chemicals at the first sign of damage; plants often just outgrow it.
- Low water, drought-friendly shrubs that pump out flowers, berries or seeds invites birds and butterflies which feast on pest insects or sip nectar.
- Select pest-resistant plants and plants that attract beneficial, good insects. Pest-repelling plants include borage, dill, garlic, onion, fennel, sage, thyme, parsley, mint, nasturtium and marigolds. Plant in areas of your yard or garden with plants requiring similar shade, sun or water needs.
- Avoid use of chemical pesticides. Try natural alternative make-your-own sprays to repel and kill unwanted pests. These include plant-based insecticides mixtures with onion, garlic, basil, lemons and cayenne pepper. Other mixtures are made with biodegradable soaps, oils, and brewed mint teas.
- Killing weeds in confined areas such as gravel beds and paths or where they come up in separations or cracks of pavement can be achieved by carefully pouring boiling hot water on them.
- If a plant, even a tree, has insect pest or disease problems every year, it may be time to replace it with a more tolerant variety or another type of plant that does not have these problems.
- Commercially available non-toxic herbicides for killing weeds are available from certain manufacturers. Closely follow the directions and avoid getting any contents on desirable plants.
5 - Natural Lawn Care – Grasscycling
Lawns can be the most time-consuming part of landscape maintenance and water needs are often highest for grass areas. Consider removing or minimizing lawn areas and provide more area for water-smart landscaping alternatives with climate-appropriate plants, native grasses and groundcovers that make for a vibrant NatureScape. Strip areas of lawn like those in parkways, on slopes or in shaded locations are the best areas for grass replacement or reducing size.
Maintaining a hardy lawn naturally requires providing proper nutrients and the right amount of water. Every single lawn can benefit from two easy-to-apply nutrient sources - grasscycling and compost.
- Grasscycling is a quick and easy way to recycle grass clippings and fertilize your lawn at the same time. By leaving the nitrogen-rich grass clippings on the lawn they quickly decompose and the soil organisms recycle them into free fertilizer.
- You can grasscycle with any mower. Cut the grass no more than 1/3 of its length and leave the clippings on the lawn. With push mowers and conventional mowers mow over the clippings twice. Electric and gas mulching mowers blow chopped clippings down to the soil, leaving a clean lawn.
- Aerate one or two times a year to increase water penetration to the grass roots. After aerating, top dress lawns with compost instead of chemical fertilizers.
- Pull weeds by hand instead of using chemical “weed and feed” products.
- Use an irrigation controller connected to low-flow, efficient sprinklers that cover adjacent grass areas and ensure even watering without over spraying to avoid runoff.
Want to Know More?
To learn more about NatureScape workshops, designating your yard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat or more, contact:
- Phone: 619-409-3893
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on sustainable, water-saving landscapes, incentives and rebates, online learning, and videos, visit the San Diego County Water Authority - www.watersmartsd.org, the Water Conservation Garden – www.thegarden.org, the South Bay Botanic Garden – www.southbaybotanicgarden.org or contact your water provider:
- Sweetwater Authority - www.sweetwater.org
- Otay Water District - www.otaywater.gov
- California American Water – www.amwater.com/caaw/
A comprehensive guidebook on sustainable landscapes for creating NatureScapes – “Sunset Magazine, Easy water-wise gardening” - https://www.water.ca.gov/-/media/DWR-Website/Web-Pages/Water-Basics/Conservation-Tips/Files/Publications/East-Water-Wise-Gardening.pdf
Nifty Fifty Plants for Water Smart Landscapes – https://www.watersmartsd.org/content/nifty-50-plants-watersmart-landscapes
Information on water needs for plants – http://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS
More Water Saving Tips
Compost and Mulch
Composting Workshops – Sundays, 1-2 pm, Living Coast Discovery Center, 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive, parking lot entrance is located at E Street and Bay Blvd. For more information, call 619-409-5900.
Guide to Backyard Composting (City of San Diego Guidebook) - https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/legacy/environmental-services/pdf/recycling/0404backyard_composting.pdf
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Non-toxic Pesticide Alternatives
- Natural herbicides - http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=6498
- Home, garden, turf and landscape pests - http://ipm.ucanr.edu/
- Gardening: Alternatives to Pesticides - http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/WI_KAlternativP.pdf
- Controlling weeds - https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/10-organic-ways-to-control-weeds
- Five make your own non-toxic pesticides - https://www.thealternativedaily.com/nontoxic-pesticides-herbicides-make-yourself/