Gardeners’ Guild is obsessed with weather.  Well – we are a landscape contracting company and we must adapt on a moment’s notice to rain, high winds and unseasonable heat or frost.  We also stay on top of long term forecasting because our clients depend on us to help them manage their resources.

I personally am obsessed with it. One, I need to since our San Francisco Bay Area readers are.  And two, I find it fascinating. 

Our recent heavy rain seems to suggest a wet winter.  Yes! More is predicted this weekend.  Will our reservoirs be full by next spring?  An article in the San Jose Mercury News and the most recent post on weatherwest.com has some indications based on weather forecast modeling.

We are still officially in a drought, however.  If you look at the map above you can see why.

However, there are parts of the Bay Area that have been downgraded to just “abnormally dry”.  These counties are Sonoma, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Cruz, Western Napa and Western Santa Clara. Unfortunately, Santa Clara County, as well as Contra Costa, Alameda, Solano, San Benito and Monterey remain officially in a drought. 

Water experts say that it would take a “very wet winter – all across the state – or perhaps two wet years – to end the drought statewide.

Forecasting from weatherwest.com post on October 25th described conflicting information that obscures any long term rainy season forecast. In his article, Daniel Swain says that climate modeling suggests a few possibilities:

  • Another Pacific high pressure ridge again
  • A warm winter
  • A possibility that Northern California’s will enjoy more precipitation than Southern California

Swain, in his last post, suggested that a La Niña was less likely. But his October article says we are “edging back to a La Niña-like” event. His evidence is cool water in the eastern Pacific and a warming trend for the tropical West Pacific.  This, he says is linked to an unusually high pressure system.

I wish could pass on better news.  And, of course we don’t know for sure.  That’s kind of frustrating. So continue rain dances, visualizing and we will continue offering advice on water conservation and irrigation that saves water.

The California drought map shown above represents the state as of November 10th. (2016). 

Some additional facts about the rain in October:
The October drenching was the wettest since 1921
San Francisco ‘s rainfall was 209% of average
But, the soil was dry and therefore the rain did not increase water levels as much as you would think. 

San Jose Mercury News



Local Regulations

  • 10% voluntary reduction in water use compared to 2013 – all SFPUC customers. 
  • 25% reduction of landscape watering lifted as of July 1, 2016
  • Revert wastewater flow factors back to their original adjustments, effective July 1, 2016.

Prohibited water activities (State Requirements)

  • Watering outdoor landscapes that causes runoff to sidewalks, streets, and hardscapes
  • Using a hose without a shut-off nozzle
  • No washing of driveways, sidewalks or hardscape; except as needed for health and safety or to meet City of San Francisco standards
  • Using drinking water for soil compaction, dust control, or other non-essential construction purposes if non-potable water is available.
  • Watering outdoor landscapes with potable water during and within forty-eight (48) hours after a rain event.
  • Watering with potable water of ornamental turf on public street medians; 
  • Inefficient irrigation of landscapes outside of new homes and buildings
  • Using drinking water in non-recirculating fountains or decorative water devices. 

SFPUC Watering Recommendations

For a typical San Francisco property, reducing watering to once or twice a week, and/or the amount time that watering occurs, will help ensure efficient water use while keeping plants alive.

For steeply sloped areas, watering should be done in multiple start times to avoid runoff. Watering for 5 minutes, turn off for an hour, and then water again for another 5 minutes results in better absorption than 10 minutes straight. Consider replacing grass or high water use plants with drought-tolerant species or converting to drip irrigation.


Residential turf replacement program

Residential Graywater systems

Large landscape improvement grants – this however, is for half acre minimum and has very specific guidelines (new) and applications are due October 22nd.*

*GGI note: this guidelines are lengthy and complex.  See SFPUC website for details.

The above was reprinted and summarized from SFPUC website.


75% of their water supply comes from local reservoirs that, when full, provide only about two years of water.  They continue to ask customers to voluntarily conserve.


State of California Rebates

$2/square foot turf removal rebate for residential customers

They are continuing the following outdoor restrictions:

  • Using a garden hose without a shut-off nozzle
  • Landscape irrigation between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.
  • Irrigating any ornamental landscape or turf areas more than three days in any week.
  • Applying potable water to outdoor landscapes during and within 48 hours after measurable rainfall.

Contact MMWD office with any questions (415) 945-1520.


Continuing Restrictions

The following outdoor watering restrictions are in effect.

  • Repair leaks 
  • Landscape watering that runs off on sidewalks, streets and hardscapes.
  • No washing of driveways and sidewalks; except as needed for health and safety.
  • Only hoses with shutoff nozzles are allowed.
  • Fountains or decorative water features must use recirculated water.
  • No irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians.
  • No watering of outdoor landscapes within 48 hours of rainfall.

For more information



Lawn Conversion & Irrigation Upgrade Rebates

Get up to $2,500 for converting lawns and upgrading irrigation equipment at single-family homes and multi-family residences of 4 units of less.

The Magic of Mulch 

Save water, beautify your garden, and enhance soil health with mulch.

Graywater Rebate

Get a rebate of up to $50 for purchase of a graywater system 3-way diverter valve.


Lawn Conversion and Irrigation Upgrades

Multi-family properties: up to $20,000 for 5 units or more; up to $2,500 for 4 units or less (includes drip irrigation, high-efficiency nozzles, pressure regulators, submeters and lawn conversion.)

Commercial Properties

Up to $2,500 (single-family and multi-family residences of 4 units or less)
Up to $20,000 (commercial sites and multi-family residences of 5 or more units)


June 14th voted to lift mandatory water restrictions


For turf conversion and/or improving the efficiency of your irrigation system
Graywater rebate program
Rainwater harvesting

For more information


Smart Irrigation Controller Rebates
Install a qualifying smart controller to irrigate your existing landscape and you could receive up to $300, $700, or $1000 depending on the number of stations.

Go to: www.waterprograms.com/solano or call 855.512.1221 

Water-Efficient Landscaping Rebates
Replace your lawn with water-efficient landscaping and receive $1.00/square foot, up to $1000 maximum; see Turf Replacement Rebate Program and check out FAQs about the Landscape Rebate Program. Please read the terms and conditions before you remove your lawn. Contact 707.455.1113 or solanocash4grass@scwa2.com for details. 

Gardeners’ Guild works in the above areas including Napa, Sonoma County, Marin, San Francisco, East Bay and Solano County.

We have a dedicated irrigation division and can diagnose, repair, design an irrigation system. Our awards since the mid 1980’s demonstrate we’ve been ahead of the pack in our long term planning that water management would be one of the most important issues of our time.

Call us at 510-439-3700 or 415-457-0400








If you are a Property Manager, you are likely knee-deep in budget season

Remember that landscaping can increase the value of a house from 5% to 12.7%.  On a $400,000 home 5.5% is $22,000; 12.7% adds $50,800.*  Conversely, a degraded or disorganized collection of plants detracts from a home or commercial building’s value.  Bob Vila says that the biggest mistake homeowners make is a lack of a coherent plan. Similar for commercial properties and residential communities.

With the long term in mind, make sure you have these 4 categories covered in your landscape budget for 2017.

Landscape management:

  • Allow for materials cost increases for items such plants, including annual color; mulch.
  • Mulch replenishment is important. It has a neat appearance and helps soil hold water.
  • Annual color replacement
  • Allowance for IPM (Integrated Pest Management) treatments

Irrigation upgrades and repairs**

  • An irrigation system installed more than ten years ago may be wasting water and costing you money. Ensuring efficiency may mean replacing and repairing.
  • Smart (or weather based) irrigation controllers can also save up to 30% off your water bill.
  • Converting from spray to drip is something to consider for your budget.
  • State of the art precision spray nozzles can improve spray irrigation efficiency and save water too.

Large Tree Care

  • Routine pruning and fertilization are important for the health of your trees – an important part of your asset. Older trees may need more maintenance.  With proper care your trees will last many years.
  • A tree care plan will alleviate the stress of emergency tree work needs.

Landscape Improvements**

  • Turf care includes aeration and soil building or possibly overseeding.
  • Because of California’s ongoing drought and San Francisco Bay Area restrictions, you may consider converting turf to drought tolerant plants.
  • Consider converting annual color to more permanent perennial plant material.
  • The useful lifespan for large shrubs or small trees is approximately 7 to 10 years. When plants are past their useful lifespan they should be replaced with new plant material.

* Source: Hortculturalist Alex Niemiera of Virginia Tech researched the impact of landscaping on the value of a home. 

**Note: Depending on your location there could still be rebates available from your water district.

Delosperma Firespinner2
Firespinner Iceplant “Delosperma”

There are a number of resources for firesafe landscaping.  This post summarizes some of the best practices, plus links for more information.

Tip 1: Create Defensible Space

Defensible space is the clearance created between a structure and the grass, shrubs, trees or any natural area that surrounds it. State of California says it is a property’s “front line of defense against wildfire”.

It is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and also protects firefighters.

There are two zones; the first is 30 feet, the second, 100 feet.

Zone 1

  • Essentials are to remove dead plants, leaves, grass, weeds and woodpiles.
  • Remove branches that hang over your roof.
  • Keep tree branches a minimum of 10 feet from each other
  • Separate patio furniture and equipment that could catch fire

Zone 2

  • Keep grass height to be maximum of 4”
  • Vertical spacing between grass, shrubs and trees
  • Horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees.

Tip 2: Landscape Design

Note: no plant is fire-proof, but there are plants more fire resistant.

In addition to plant selection, factors such as size, height, density and spacing between plants are very important.

Marin County Firesafe promotes the use of masonry, gravel, stepping stone or stone walls and decorative rock.

Mulch does help conserve moisture. However, it will burn. Do not use it in garden beds near home our outbuildings. Note: stringy mulches ignite and burn more rapidly.

A Sample list of fire resistant plants (below is a link to the complete list)


Dwarf lily-of-the-Nile


Lily turf

Vinca minor

Dwarf periwinkle

Lavandula angustifolia

English lavender

Rosmarinus officinalis*

Tuscan blue’ rosemary *(when irrigated, free of dead material)

Salvia chameadryoides


Thymus serpyllum


Achillea millefolium

Common yarrow

Ceanothus ‘concha’

Wild lilac

Ceanothus maritimus

Maritime ceanothus

Cistus purpureus

Orchid rockrose

Dietes fortnight


Lavandula dentata

French lavender

Limonium perezii statice

Sea lavender

Ribes viburnifolium

Catalina perfume

Solanum jasminoides

Potato vine

Tecomaria capensis

Cape honeysuckle

Eschscholzia californica

California poppy

Mimulus longiflorus

Monkey flower

Echinacea purpurea

Purple coneflower

Rosa florabunda


Rudbeckia fulgida

Black-eyed susan

Erigeron karvinskianus fleabane

Santa Barbara daisy

Festuca glauca


Iris douglasiana

Douglas iris

Kniphofia uvaria ‘DWF’

Red-hot poker, torch-lily

Lantana camara


Lavandula angustifolia

English lavender

Rhamnus californica


Santolina virens


For more information

Tip 3: Landscape Maintenance

  • Regular irrigation is important. Plants with high moisture content will be less flammable. We must walk the fine line with enough, but not too much water. Dead and woody branches can more easily catch fire.
  • Control invasive weeds
  • Prune dead branches within tree canopy
  • Thin out dense shrubs to reduce fuel load
  • Clean up of dead branches
  • Selectively remove trees and shrubs to improve spatial separation

Sources include: State of California, County of Marin and Western Arborist

The State Water Resources Control Board, responding to pressure to relax water rationing from June 2015, is allowing water districts to set their own conservation targets based a projected additional three-year dry spell. 
An important caveat: the state will have oversight and each district will be required to submit a monthly water use report.  And, if projections are found to be unrealistic, there could be a return to state regulations.

Permanent Restrictions

  • Hosing down driveways or sidewalks
  • Washing cars without shut off nozzle
  • Using non recirculated water in decorative fountains
  • Causing runoff when watering lawns or within 48 hours of rainfall
  • Irrigating turf on public medians

California May 2016 Drought Map

The water picture for Northern California is quite different from Central and Southern California.  Sections of these areas remain parched.  The US drought monitor reports that 90 percent of the state remains in a drought.  See map. In fact, there are some communities whose supplies of water are limited.

Emphasis on Long Term Planning

The message was a sobering reflection on California’s future reality, in that it is likely to include more frequent drought years.  The Governor underscored the need for effective long term drought planning.
Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state’s Water Resources Control Board, said Our emphasis is on conservation as a way of life in California.” She also stated that we no longer have the luxury of taking our precious water for granted.


California’s Major Reservoirs


Irrigation and Other Landscape Rebates Are Available!

*State of California Residential Turf Replacement Rebate

About the program: The California Department of Water Resources is offering rebates to single-family homes throughout the state who replace high water-using turf grass with landscapes that require little water. The State will rebate $2 per square foot of turf removed, with a cap of 1,000 square feet, for a maximum rebate of $2,000 per household to applicants who reside in the service area of agencies that have not offered turf rebate programs. The total rebated amount, including any rebates the homeowner has already applied for from another agency, can’t exceed a total of $2 per square foot.


Only the State* residential turf replacement rebate program is mentioned on their website.


Conservation Message

EBMUD declared an end to the drought emergency on May 10, 2016.

State outdoor water use restrictions are suspended effective July 1, 2016.

Some restrictions will be folded into our permanent rules.

Current outdoor watering rules

The following outdoor watering restrictions are in place until June 30, 2016. Some of these restrictions will be folded into permanent rules.

  • Water outdoor no more than two days per week. 
  • No watering of ornamental turf on public street medians allowed.
  • No washing of driveways and sidewalks; except for health and safety.
  • Use only hoses with shutoff nozzles to wash vehicles.
  • Recirculated water only for fountains or decorative water features
  • Use of hydrant water outside the EBMUD service area is prohibited.
  • Use a broom or air blower, not water, to clean hard surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks, except as needed for health and safety purposes. 

Rebate Information

Residential customers – see State Turf Replacement Program* (See above)

The following property types qualify for six listed rebates below:

  • Residential/Multi-Family properties (with 4 units or less) Up to $2,500*
  • Multi-Family properties (with 5 Units or more) Up to $20,000
  • Commercial properties – Up to $20,000

6 rebates

  1. Convert high water use lawns to sustainable landscaping.
  2. Convert sprinklers to drip irrigation.
  3. Replace conventional sprinkler nozzles with high-efficiency rotating models.
  4. Replace conventional irrigation timers with self-adjusting models.
  5. Install pressure regulators to improve system performance.
  6. Install sub-meters to improve leak detection and irrigation efficiency.


Conservation Message

The district reminds customers that the following restrictions are still in effect:

  • Irrigating ornamental landscape areas or turf grass with potable water more than three days per week
  • Irrigating during or within 48 hours after measurable rainfall
  • Irrigating between 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., except for system testing and repair
  • Using a hose without a shutoff nozzle
  • Allowing irrigation water to run off or overspray the irrigated area
  • Hosing down sidewalks, driveways, and other hard-surfaced areas
  • Non-recirculating decorative fountains

Rebate Information

Residential customers

  • See State Turf Replacement rebate*

Commercial and Multi-Family

  • Rebates for commercial & multi-family customers
  • There is a rebate for irrigation improvement for commercial and multi-family irrigation customers.
  • Up to $1,500 per irrigation meter

NMWD (North Marin Water District)

Rebate Information
Residential or Commercial

  • Weather Based Irrigation Controller Rebate
    • Rebate amount: up to $1,200 per controller. Rebate cannot exceed the purchase price of the Smart Controller.  Offer good until December 31, 2016

List of requirements on website.  http://www.nmwd.com/pdfs/conservation/2016/Smart%20Controller%20Rebate%20Form%20FY16%20010116.pdf

Residential Only

Option 1 – Local “Cash-For-Grass” Turf Replacement Incentive

NMWD is offering residential customers a cash incentive for removing automatically irrigated lawn area in their landscapes and replacing with District approved, low water use planted landscapes. 
The incentive is limited to

  • $400 for single family dwellings,
  • $100 for townhouses or condominiums,
  • $50 for apartments.

Option 2 – Single Family Homes can opt for the State Program*

Residential and Commercial

Water Smart Landscape Rebate –

Rebate amount:

  • 50% of the actual cost of District approved items, up to a maximum of
  • $100 for residential customers.
  • $500 maximum for commercial customers 

The following upgrades are eligible:

  • Drip irrigation systems
  • Water pressure-regulating devices
  • Check valves
  • Multi-stream rotating sprinkler nozzles (for lawn areas only)
  • Rain shut-off devices
  • Mulch
  • Soil conditioner/amendment

Commercial Turf Conversion – evaluated on a case by case basis. It depends on the size of the property. 

Santa Rosa Water Agency

Rebate Information

  • Turf removal rebates available for residential and commercial properties
  • There are irrigation hardware rebates available for residential or commercial properties


Irrigation Efficiency Rebate: up to $100.00* for qualifying equipment/hardware


Irrigation Efficiency Rebate: up to $1,000.00* per meter for qualifying equipment/hardware

*Rebate cannot exceed the cost of materials. Rebate amount excludes labor. Cash for Grass and Irrigation Efficiency Rebate cannot be issued for the same treated area.

Residential Rebate

  • Cash for Grass Rebate:  $0.50/sq. ft. up to max of 500 sq. ft. or $250.00
  • Irrigation Hardware Rebate:  $100.00* for qualifying equipment/hardware 

OR customers can utilize the state rebate program* (see above)

Commercial Rebate

  • Cash for Grass Rebate:  $0.50/sq. ft. up to 5,000 sq. ft. max or $2,500.00
  • Irrigation Hardware Rebate:  $1,000.00* for qualifying equipment/hardware

*Rebate cannot exceed the cost of materials.  Labor is not included in rebate amount.  Cash for Grass and Irrigation Hardware Rebate cannot be issued for the same treated area.

Special Water Management Rebate – for dedicated irrigation meters
This rebate is available to those commercial customers who already have a dedicated irrigation meter. Water Conservation staff will calculate a water budget based on your specific landscape. Customers can earn rebates based on how closely their irrigation water use mirrors the calculated water budget. For more information, please contact water conservation staff at (707) 543-3985.

City of Petaluma

Rebate Information

Smart Irrigation Controller for Commercial, Industrial and Institutional accounts as well as Multi-Family Residential accounts up to a $900 rebate

Rebate Amount:
Up to 12 active stations: $300.00
13 to 24 active stations: $600.00
25 or more active stations: $900.00

Residential customers can take advantage of state turf replacement program* (see above)

Solano County

Their rebate program is on hold and expected to resume July 1st.

Alameda County
There is a rebate program for water efficient landscaping for both residential and commercial landscapes.
Residential customers can take advantage of state turf replacement program* (see above)

Contact Gardeners’ Guild for help in navigating through the sometimes confusing rebate process and also, ideas on water efficient landscaping as well as efficient irrigation spray, drip systems and “smart” irrigation controllers.

Main 510-439-3700
Caitlin Patterson – Irrigation 510-439-3704
Suzanne Harris – landscape maintenance 510-439-3728