Winner of Sonoma County Water Awareness Contest for 3rd and 4th Graders

Simple Irrigation Fixes That Can Save $$$$

Consider this first: 80% of plant problems are due to over-watering.  (Source Sunset Magazine)

Gardeners’ Guild saved a residential community client 53% off their water bill by rigorous monitoring of their system and simple repairs.

  • Fixing Irrigation Leaks and Breaks*
  • Capping irrigation in places that didn’t require watering
  • Consistent monitoring

Make sure you are not wasting water due to leaks!  Here are some facts about leaks:

  • Drip irrigation is efficient when it is not leaky.  If an emitter gets chopped, tubing can get punctured and valves can get stuck open.
  • A system that has a leak of 1/32nd of an inch in diameter (about the thickness of a dime) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month.
  • Check your garden hose for leaks at its connection to the spigot.  It it leaks while you run your hose, replace the hose washer to ensure a tight connection.

If you have a high water bill and suspect it is due to a leak, consult with certified irrigation professionals like Gardeners’ Guild.  We have a team of experts who know precisely where to look.  Whether it’s your residence or a commercial building call us even if you have a question.

Irrigation improvements will also make a difference

  • For ground cover and shrubs – convert from spray irrigation to drip.
  • For turfgrass – convert to high efficiency nozzles.  Turn your standard spray head into a precision device.  It will reduce runoff and save you money.
  • Automatic rain shutoff device; called a rain sensor, will shut off your irrigation system when it senses a specified amount of rain has fallen.  It is simple and inexpensive.
  • Smart or weather based irrigation controllers will save you upwards of 30% off your water bill. They calculate plant water requirements using on site or remote weather stations.

Cultural Practices

  • Remove all or some of your turfgrass and replace with drought tolerant plants or natives.
  • Is your lawn compacted?  This impedes the soil from absorbing water.  Aeration and dethatching will reduce the amount of water your lawn needs.
  • You can mow less.  Allow it to grow out as seasonally appropriate.  It will lessen heat exposure to soil, producing deeper roots and providing a larger soil reservoir to draw from.
  • Mulch your planter beds.  This will increase their water holding capacity.
  • Organic products make your soil healthier and it will hold more water.



Their Place in Nature

Weeds are not all bad. They provide some benefits (listed below). The definition for weeds is “a plant out of place”.  But considering most people welcome weeds as much as they do taxes, this definition seems more fitting: “plants whose undesirable qualities outweigh their good points.” (Taken from Penn State’s website)

What benefits do weeds provide?

  • Protect bare soil from erosion
  • Improve the soil by imparting organic matter
  • Absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
  • Can provide habitat for birds, worms, insects
  • And – some have powerful medicinal properties (and are edible)

Why are weeds problematic?

  • They compete with desirable plants for light, nutrients, water and space.
  • Some are so aggressive they overpower desirable plants and deplete their soil nutrients and moisture.
  • They are unattractive in texture, color and growth habit
  • They can harbor insect and disease that can spread to your plants.
  • Poisonous weeds can be dangerous to you and your pets.
  • Some are particularly invasive and can take over your garden in a single growing season.

Managing Weeds

Gardeners’ Guild’s philosophy is to use the least toxic practices. We recommend a combination of prevention, mechanical, biological, and chemical means only when necessary.  The week long drenching of the San Francisco Bay Area delivered a lot of green (weeds) on our hills and infesting our gardens so it’s a good time to talk about it.   See the full report on managing weeds. It includes 13 weed types, prevention and control.


Tips on Prevention

Plant Choices
The right plant in the right place sounds simple but makes all the difference.  Healthy vigorous plants have the best chance of out-competing weeds.  
Healthy Soil
Make sure that plants are healthy by feeding the soil with organic products including mulch and compost.
Mulching and Sheet Mulching
Mulch keeps soil cool and moist.  It deprives weeds of light.  Organic mulches enhance soil structure and host insects which will devour weeds.  Sheet mulching is layering of cardboard, newsletter or fabric.  It serves as a weed barrier.  Water Management
Proper irrigation is critical.
We recommend drip because the water goes directly to the root of the plant, not in between them. Spray irrigation can encourage weed growth.  

Weeds Types – Invasive

Source: California Invasive Plant Council
Remove these plants from your garden!  They damage our ecosystems by displacing native species, increase fire and flood danger and consume valuable water.
Common invasive plants to the bay area:
Ice plants
They compete with native plants. Their seeds are carried from landscape settings to natural areas. Pieces of the plant can be washed into storm drains and they grow in natural areas.
Licorice Plants
Seeds spread by wind.  Spreading branches root wherever they make contact.  They can and do displace native plants in coastal areas.
English Ivy
Distinguishing them from less invasive ivy is difficult.  Invasive ivy will smother under story vegetation, kill trees and harbor non-native rats and snails.
Periwinkle/Vinca Major
Note: Vinca Minor is okay.  Vinca Major’s aggressive stems root wherever they touch soil.  Spreads rapidly in shady creeks, drainage areas and chokes native plants.







The Village at Corte Madera is taking steps toward more sustainable practices in their landscaping!

We recently performed some landscape renovation work to planter beds on the east and west sides (against the buildings) of the shopping center.  Drought resistant plantings including Ornamental grass (Fescue), Limonium, Phormium (New Zealand Flax), Cistus (Rock Rose) and Alstroemeria (Peruvian Lilly) were used.  The irrigation system was converted to drip and each bed was mulched.

Pure (100%) worm castings was used as a top dressing.

Worm castings are certified organic, natural and odorless and have the appearance of coffee grounds.  They slowly release nutrients needed for healthy plant growth and increased production rates.  Worm castings can be used in aeration by incorporating it into the soil or it can be used as a top dressing which can then be covered with mulch.  It helps soil water holding capacity and enables it to fight pests naturally.

Below are photos of our sheet mulching project on Carlson Blvd, Richmond Annex!










Located between San Pablo Avenue/El Cerrito to the east, Carlson Boulevard is the main thoroughfare through what is referred to as the the annex, connecting downtown Richmond with downtown El Cerrito.

Some sheet mulching basics if you want to try yourself:

It is great for very weedy areas.  Sheet mulching helps soil hold moisture and does not require digging the soil.

Trim any plants close to the ground.  If your soil is heavily compacted, poke holes every foot or so to a depth of 6-12 inches.


Soak the area well with a garden hose.

Add a layer of grass clippings, manure or compost  just to about 1 inch.

Add sheet mulching – this can be a layer of newspaper or corrugated cardboard overlapping sheets by a minimum of 6 inches.  Layers ensure that weeds or grass will not grow through.










Next, add a 1 inch layer of green materials; straw, leaves, tiny branches and soak thoroughly.  Adding another layer of compost will ensure you are introducing enough beneficial bacteria, fungi and other microbes into the sheet mulch.  These beneficial bacteria are what will restore the health of your soil.










A note about the materials we used – corrugated cardboard.

We receive calls from many people throughout the San Francisco Bay Area who have poor soil.  It happens enough that we thought people might be interested to know more about the process of rebuilding.

If you have the following problems chances are poor soil is the culprit:

  • Soil is cracked and dried in the summer
  • Digging holes is difficult whether or not it is wet or dry
  • Water tends to pool on the surface, then drains very slowly or runs off the surface.
  • Leaves are yellow and have brown dead sections

Much of the above symptoms are due to a lack of organic matter.  Look at the color of your soil.  It will be dark if it has enough humus.  Humus is the foundation of healthy soil and is formed by decomposition of plants, leaves or animal matter and provides nutrients for plants.

Below are tips on how to rebuild your soil.  They are also part of our LivingSolutions organic landscape management program.  It’s a comprehensive sustainable approach to landscape management.  For more information about our program, see our website:


Tree service mulch is free, attractive and provides organic matter.  It is made from the branches and brush which are run through a grinding machine and chipped into small wood chips.  This will gradually break down and add nutrients to the soil helping it to hold more water, reverse compaction, slow erosion and reduce weed growth.


Purchase it or make it with kitchen scraps and yard trimmings.  Avoid meat, eggs or dairy.  Apply compost with the least disturbance, on top of soil.  The compost will improve soil structure and increase its ability to hold moisture.

Organic Soil Amendments

We recommend using 100% worm castings as a top dressing.  Worm castings are

Poor Soil

odorless and have the appearance of coffee grounds.  They impart a slow release of nutrients to the soil, increase its water holding capacity and immunity to disease.

Compost Tea

It’s a liquid microbial inoculant which provides essential nutrients to the soil.  It is rich in plant extracts and sea kelp.  Compost tea also reduces germination time, promotes vigorous growth and increase drought resistance.  It can be sprayed directly on plants or on soil.

Avoid Excessive Digging

Good Soil

Every time soil is disturbed through digging or excessive foot traffic it damages the delicate soil structure.  This limits a plant’s roots access to nutrients, air and water.

Limit of Eliminate the use of Pesticides or Synthetic Fertilizers

Synthetic fertilizers will help keep plants green and blooming but only a small percentage is actually used by the plants.  They can leach from the soil into ground water.  They feed the plant, not soil and the nutrients are insufficient over the long term.

If you keep up this practice you will start noticing that your plants look healthier and have more vitality.