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

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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

The Benefit of Bugs

There’s just no getting around it - insects are in trouble. According to a recent New York Times article, insect populations around the globe are rapidly dropping. Insects are important for a number of reasons but one of the biggest for humans is that they help pollinate our crops.

This is scary but the important thing is each of us can do our part to help. Here are some ways you can help:

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Fire Safe Landscaping

Because of the recent fires in our state, it’s more important than ever to make sure your landscaping is fire-safe. Here are some great tips from Cal Fire:


A fire-safe landscape isn’t necessarily the same thing as a well-maintained yard. A fire-safe landscape uses fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home. Fire resistant plants are great in California because they are often drought tolerant, too.

The good news is, you don’t need a lot of money to make your landscape fire safe. And you will find that a fire-safe landscape can increase your property value and conserve water while beautifying your home.

Choose Fire-Resistant Plants and Materials

  • Create fire-safe zones with stone walls, patios, decks and roadways.

  • Use rock, mulch, flower beds and gardens as ground cover for bare spaces and as effective firebreaks.

  • There are no “fire-proof” plants. Select high-moisture plants that grow close to the ground and have a low sap or resin content.

  • Choose fire-retardant plant species that resist ignition such as rockrose, ice plant and aloe.

  • Select fire-resistant shrubs such as hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac and shrub apples.

  • Plant hardwood, maple, poplar and cherry trees that are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers.

Check your local nursery, landscape contractor or county’s UC Cooperative Extension  service for advice on fire-resistant plants that are suited for your area.


It's Time to Fall Back on Your Watering

With rain finally in the forecast (yea!) and cooler weather, it’s a good time to adjust automatic sprinkler and irrigation systems.  This saves money on water bills, and also helps to prevent pollution in our creeks and streams.

California’s Save our Water website has some great information about how to save water around the yard.

You might also be interested in getting a rebate for switching out your lawn for water-efficient plants. The Santa Clara Valley Water District’s water conservation page has more information about rebates.

Happy Gardening!


Rainy Day Landscape Management Tips

Are you sick of dealing with flooding generated at home or transported from nearby areas when it rains? Urban areas are especially prone to the negative effects of runoff because of the large amounts of impervious surfaces in our world. Although storm drain systems are effective at moving water off the roads and into our creeks and the bay, none of the water is treated and pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers and trash can be difficult and expensive to remove.

Here are a couple ways to help reduce runoff and prevent pollutants from impacting water quality by mimicking nature:

1. Soil: Knowing your soil type can help you find ways to improve water holding capacity and drainage. Most native soils in San Jose are clay or clay loam. Clay can hold onto water for a long time, but it can also prevent water from infiltrating. Clay soils can be amended with gypsum and compost (organic matter) to break down tough minerals and increase the pore spaces in the soil. Check out this factsheet for more information:

2. Hardscape: Do you have a concrete path or driveway? Do the downspouts from your home drain roof runoff directly onto them? If so, consider replacing these with a permeable option such as porous bricks, perk grout, decomposed granite, permeable asphalt, etc. Or perhaps slope and redirect runoff from hardscapes so that they drain towards vegetated areas such as swales or rain gardens. Both methods will reduce the total volume of water reaching nearby water bodies, settle out fine particles, and give microbes in the soil a chance to neutralize or capture/remove pollutants. Check out this factsheet for more information:

3. Rainwater Harvesting: If you have rain gutters and down spouts that collect roof runoff, your site is likely a good candidate for a rain barrel or cistern. Capturing rainwater is easy and often requires minimal time and investment. Rainwater can be utilized for non-potable uses such as irrigation. Temporarily storing small amounts of rainwater can help prevent erosion, improve water quality, and reduce demand for drinking water.

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What time of year should I plant?

This is a good question, and the answer is usually "It depends on what you're planting."  But there are some pretty good general rules of (green) thumb to follow:

In general, early fall is considered a good planting time for most (but not all) plants since the soil is still fairly warm (to promote root growth), the air temperature is cooling down, the days are shorter, and the angle of the sun is lower in the sky.  Plants have a chance to develop stronger roots and to get established without having to transpire much.  Planting in fall also reduces the amount of supplemental irrigation a plant needs (due to the lower air temperatures, shorter days, and angle of the sun) so this is good for water conservation. 

Plants that are frost sensitive (citrus, avocados, bougainvillea, fuchsias and succulents) might do better if planted in the spring after the last frost date has passed.  

Most California natives and Mediterranean plants will do just fine if planted in the summer, but it means that they will need to be watered more frequently.  Even if natives are planted in the fall, they will still probably need some supplemental irrigation through their first or second summer.  

Happy Gardening!!