Love Birds? Plant Oaks! (Part 2 of 2)

Among the “powerhouse” bird-food providers in California are oaks. In Santa Clara County, we have 15 species of native oak trees and shrubs!

Re-oaking Silicon Valley” reveals how oak woodlands once carpeted the valley and, that by re-integrating oaks into our developed landscapes, we can increase shade, store carbon, provide food for wildlife, save water, and restore some of Santa Clara County’s “historical ecology.” Winter and early spring are ideal times for planting oaks, so get out and plant one (or many) today!   

By Zooey Elsa Diggory, Senior Biologist, Santa Clara Valley Water District


Love Birds? Plant CA Natives! (Part 1 of 2)

In urbanized areas such as much of Santa Clara County, our gardens are a vital part of the ecosystem on which birds depend for habitat and food. The birds so many of us love to see and hear in our gardens eat insects and grubs that have adapted over millennia in partnership with native plants. As such, native plants are the main hosts of the insects that native birds depend on.

Research by University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy and his students on the connections between birds, bugs, and plants, has repeatedly demonstrated that lawns and nonnative ornamental trees and shrubs provide almost no food resources for birds, and that native plants, even in urban areas, can provide the food sources necessary to sustain birds. Their work has led to a series of books and lectures on “Bringing Nature Home” and practical guidance for replacing lawns and ornamental plantings with native gardens that can attract birds as well as pollinators. (Not to mention save water!)

Added bonus: if you replace your lawn with native plants, you may qualify for a rebate!

 By Zooey Elsa Diggory, Senior Biologist, Santa Clara Valley Water District

blue elderberry.jpg


As we head into warmer months, many of us will be turning our irrigation systems back on to provide supplemental water to our plants.  Before you turn that irrigation timer on and walk away, take an hour or two to do a sweep of your irrigation system to make sure nothing’s gone awry.  Broken sprinklers, cracked pipes, clogged drip emitters and leaky valves can all go undetected over the winter and if left unfixed, can lead to significant water loss or even dead plants once watering resumes.  According to the EPA’s WaterSense Program, the average household leaks 10,000 gallons of water every year! Most leaks are easy to fix, and the tips below can help you find them in your landscaping.

Starting at your irrigation controller, if you have one, check to see if everything is programmed correctly then work your way down the system to the valves/backflow preventers, and then to the individual irrigation zones.  Here are a few of the things you should be looking for:

Irrigation Controllers/Timers:

  • Is it programmed correctly? (Check out this helpful watering guide from San Jose Water Company for  scheduling tips.)

  • Is there power to the controller and a backup battery? Backup batteries should be replaced once a year. When the power goes out, some irrigation controllers will reset to their factory settings resulting in a lot of wasted water.


  • Are there signs of leaking, like dripping water, wet spots on the ground, algae growth, etc.?

  • Are the valves responding to the irrigation controller and turning on and off when they are supposed to?


  • Are there any geysers or broken, clogged, tilted, blocked, buried, or weeping sprinklers?

  • Is there misting, overspray, runoff, or misaligned sprinklers?

  • Are there any soggy or dry spots?

Drip irrigation:

  • Are there any clogged emitters, pinched tubing, disconnected fittings, punctures or cuts, missing emitters, etc.?

  • Has the filter been cleaned recently and is there pressure regulation?

  • Do any additional emitters need to be added to growing plants?

Doing frequent or seasonal walk throughs of your irrigation system can help greatly reduce water waste and are well worth the time.   Luckily, Valley Water offers a free Water Wise Outdoor Survey to help you identify problems with your irrigation.  Residential customers in Santa Clara County* can sign up for a free one time outdoor irrigation survey by a trained irrigation professional by calling (408) 630-2000 or emailing

*San Jose Water Company customers can request a water audit by calling (408) 279-7900.

During the survey, the surveyor will evaluate the efficiency of your irrigation system, noting and flagging problems that can be addressed or improved and will make recommendations for repairs, replacements, and upgrades.  You will also be given a personalized irrigation schedule, if appropriate, and a written report.  But perhaps best of all, you can follow along during the survey to learn what to look for from a professional so you can do your own irrigation system checks in the future. Check out a brief video below to see how a survey is done!

Did reading this make you think of a neighbor that could use help reducing water waste in their landscaping? Good news! When you report water waste to the same contact information above, our water waste inspectors will refer water wasters to Valley Water’s many water conservation programs and services, including the Water Wise Outdoor Survey. Please include photos, cross-streets, and landmarks when reporting water waste. Whether reporting water waste in your neighborhood or improving how to use water efficiently in your landscaping, call us at (408) 630-2000 or email

Happy Arbor Day!!

Happy Arbor Day!!! We have lots of reasons to celebrate trees; they are beautiful additions to our communities, and provide countless benefits to the environment. Read below to find out how they benefit you!

- Regulate Temperature! Trees provide more shade in the summer, cutting down on your air-conditioning bill, and making shaded areas up to 8 degrees cooler than surrounding areas. Plus, they can insulate areas in the winter by blocking wind, to keep your house warmer naturally, cutting heating costs by 10-15%.

 - Clean the air. This is especially important in large urban areas where the levels of carbon dioxide are higher. Not only do trees reduce smog, they absorb CO2 and produce oxygen. In fact, a single 25 year old tree will have absorbed 400 pounds of carbon dioxide in its life.

- Increase groundwater retention and flood protection. Tree roots soak up a considerable amount of water, which reduces flooding and erosion, and increases the amount of water stored in aquifers. Trees also filter water, which lessens the amount of pollution in our streams and creeks. 

- Provide habitat for countless rare, endangered, and threatened critters. Urban sprawl has a serious effect on native animals and insects by replacing their habitat with impermeable surfaces like concrete and asphalt. By planting trees in cities and neighborhoods, we provide food and homes for birds, pollinators, and other tree-dwelling animals.

To find out more about trees, or to ask about getting a tree for your yard, please visit these wonderful organizations:   Our City Forest

Lastly, why not celebrate Arbor Day and Earth Day with the City of Santa Clara? Their celebration is at their Central Park (909 Kiely Blvd.) on Thursday, April 25th, from 10 am to 2 pm.

You can also celebrate by helping the Town of Los Gatos plant trees on Friday, April 26th.

Join us this Arbor Week in saying “thanks, trees”!

- By Abigail Stokes, Water Wise Ourdoor Surveyor and Tree Enthusiast, Santa Clara Valley Water District

Martial Cottle Tree (002).jpg

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is officially Monday, April 22nd and there are a large number of Earth Day events in our area in the next few weeks for you to choose from:

Saturday, April 13th

  • The City of Cupertino’s Earth Day and Arbor Day Festival is from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Civic Center Plaza, 10350 Torre Ave., Cupertino. Learn about environmental issues and solutions and enjoy activities such as yoga, a rock climbing wall, neighborhood tree walk, arts and crafts, live entertainment, food trucks and more.

Thursday, April 18th

  • Join the City of Morgan Hill for a FREE event in honor of Earth Day! Learn about our local environment and ways to get involved to make a difference. Don't miss out! For more information, visit!

Saturday, April 20th

  • The City of Milpitas will be hosting an Earth Day Event on Saturday, April 20th from 12-4 pm inside the Milpitas Public Library.

  • The City of Mountain View is having an event from 11a.m.-3p.m. at the Mountain View Community Center. For more information, go to:

  • Join the celebration at the Alum Rock Park Earth Day event from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at  Alum Rock Park, 15350 Penitencia Creek Road, San Jose. Join volunteer projects run by the Alum Rock Park Rangers. Then enjoy Earth Day festivities with the Youth Science Institute and Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. Learn about local pollinators and sustainable gardening, see live animals, and offset your carbon footprint by planting native seeds and a ceremonial tree. Free. For more info, go to:

Monday, April 22nd

  • 2019 marks Saratoga's 12th year as a designated Tree City USA! Join the City to celebrate Arbor Day and Earth Day at 1:30 p.m. at Gardiner Park, 19085 Portos Drive. Enjoy refreshments, resources, and a tree planting.

Thursday, April 25th

tree for march plantness.jpg

Resolve to Save Your Rainwater! NEW Rebates for Rain Barrels and more!

We want you to capture the rain!! The Santa Clara Valley Water District is now offering Rainwater Capture Rebates within its Landscape Rebate Program. 

Rain gardens, rain barrels, and cisterns are all systems used to keep rainwater onsite for reuse within the landscape and are now available for a rebate.

For all rebates under the Landscape Rebate Program, including the Rainwater Capture Rebates, application submission and approval is required before purchasing any new equipment or starting any work.  Please visit the Water District’s website for more information or call our Hotline at (408) 630-2554.     


Did you know that one of the most common problems with rain barrels is mosquito breeding? Thousands of mosquitoes can emerge from standing water inside a rain barrel. Follow these three simple steps to eliminate mosquitoes:

1.       Cover the barrel and all openings

2.       Empty barrels on a regular basis

3.       Keep the lid clear of standing water

Do your part to prevent West Nile and Zika virus outbreaks!

rain barrel.jpg


It’s Spring, and that means it’s time MARCH PLANTNESS!  Yes, that’s right, March Plantness – a little California-friendly plant competition!

Who will wilt in the heat of competition?  Who will come out smelling like a rose?  South Bay Green Gardens has put together a 16 plant bracket, where drought-tolerant competitors like California Buckwheat will be tested against formidable opponents like the California Fuchsia, Flannel Bush and Deer Grass (a perennial favorite!).

We will be asking you to vote each week on our Facebook page.  First, we have Round One: The Sprout Sixteen.  Then it narrows again to the E-leaf Eight, then the Final Flora…and finally, the Championship Round.  Which of our these lovelies win?  Competition starts on Monday, March 25th.  Good luck to all! 

March Plantness Final.JPG

Monarch Butterflies Need YOU!!!


California is the only place in the country that regularly hosts the awe-inspiring sight of thousands of monarch butterflies gathered for winter, and each spring they disperse across California searching for nectar sources and milkweed plants on which to lay their eggs.

According to the most recent Xerces Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, the western monarch butterfly population is at an all-time low. Only 28,429 butterflies were counted in 2018, down a whopping 99.4% from the 1980’s.

Saving the population from collapse will require land conservation and protection, but two of the top five actions to help save western monarchs are things that we can do in our own yards:

1.       Restore breeding and migratory habitat in California – Western monarch’s need Californians to plant nectar species, especially flowers that bloom in the early spring (February–April) to provide critical nectaring resources.

2.       Protect monarchs and their habitat from pesticides - Western monarch’s need Californians to halt cosmetic use of pesticides. Seek out non-chemical options to prevent and manage pests in your garden and landscaping.

The tips and resources provided in the January 8, 2019 blog post on “the benefits of bugs” are relevant to monarchs too. And there will soon be a series of webinars by the Xerces Society with more information on how you can help western monarchs.  

By Zooey Elsa Diggory, Senior Biologist, Santa Clara Valley Water District

Spring Forward this weekend - and Take a Class!!

What better way to get used to the time change this weekend than doing a little gardening? And if you’re ready to be inspired or learn something new, why not try out one of the many classes available this week (or this spring for that matter)?

There are so many classes to choose from, including…

On Wednesday, March 6th…

  • A class on Irrigation Maintenance and Leak Detection in Sunnyvale

  • A class on Soil and Compost in Cupertino

On Saturday, March 9th..

  • A class on Rain Water Harvesting in Palo Alto

  • A Composting workshop in Los Gatos

  • A class on creating outdoor succulent designs in San Jose.

All of the details and information can be found here.

Happy Spring Gardening!!


Why Bother With Composting? Composting is the "Heart & Soil" of Gardening

For those who wonder whether it’s really worth it to invest time and effort into composting, here are a few good reasons to turn to composting:

  • Compost provides nutrients that plants need to grow and to thrive, and provides them in a form that is easily available for plants to absorb.   In addition to the main three nutrients -nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, compost also provides important micronutrients such as manganese, copper, iron, and zinc.

  • Want to eliminate the need for pesticides in your garden?  Healthy plants are less susceptible to disease and pests, and compost can make a difference in helping to ensure healthy plants. 

  • Compost builds soil structure unlike soils that are damaged by relying on synthetic fertilizers.   The good soil structure that compost provides allows air and water circulation that keeps plants healthy. 

  • Good soil structure provides habitat for beneficial bacteria, fungi and earthworms that all work to provide nutrients which plants need. 

  • Good soil structure also provides habitat for beneficial insect predators that keep plant pests under control. 

Compost certainly deserves to be called Black Gold!  

Happy Gardening!! For more information, please see our Composting Page.

 By Les Kishler, former Agroecology, Chemistry, Biology teacher:  Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District.  Currently supervisor of the Los Gatos Community Garden.