Garden Design and Plant Selection

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Design and Install Your Garden Yourself

The FREE Landscape Design Templates, originally created for the Fire rebuild, but available to anyone, include eight scalable front yard designs that fit landscapes up to 2,500 square feet. Each landscape design is ready to permit and complies with the Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance.

The Master Gardeners of Sonoma County offer a free consultation to any Sonoma County resident about their garden. While at your house, the Master Gardeners can provide you with a variety of information needed to create a successful garden. They offer how- to information about lawn conversion, converting sprinklers to drip irrigation, and choosing appropriate drought-tolerant plants. They will also provide a basic site-specific sketch that shows what your future garden will be.

Find a Landscape Professional

Once you’ve decided to start a garden project, you may need landscape professionals to help you with the design, installation and maintenance.

Remember to get pre-qualified for your landscape rebate before starting work.

The City of Santa Rosa does not endorse specific individuals or companies, but we can suggest that you look at the following professional certification groups for landscape professionals to hire:

  1. Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers – QWEL professional certification provides landscape professionals with 20 hours of education on local water supply, sustainable landscaping, soils, landscape water budgets, irrigation system components and maintenance, irrigation system audits, and scheduling and controller programming.  In order to obtain the QWEL certification, an individual must demonstrate their ability to perform an irrigation system audit as well as pass the QWEL exam.
  2. California Landscape Contractors AssociationCLCA professionals must complete an irrigation audit, pass a written exam, manage at least one landscape site for a rolling 12 months and successfully complete a performance site review by CLCA administration.
  3. These local irrigation stores might also be able to provide suggestions for irrigation specialists:

Other landscape professional certifications include the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, and the American Society of Landscape Architects, both of which have local landscape professionals who can help with landscape design.

How to Select a Landscape Professional

The key things you should consider when hiring a landscape professional:

  1. Is the individual a licensed C-27 landscape contractor? Use California’s Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board to verify that who you’re hiring is licensed.
  2. Do their references and portfolio of their past work inspire confidence?
    1. Are they local? Remember that local contractors are trying to pay their employees a living wage for Sonoma County and that generally, you get what you pay for.
    2. What services are they going to provide? Ask for a written plan and/or contract so expectations are clear prior to starting work.
  3. The EPA has additional questions that you might feel are helpful to ask a prospective landscape professional.

WaterSmart Plant Selection

Choosing plants for a new garden is the fun part! There are also many Sonoma County specific plant lists that highlight plants that will thrive locally.

  1. The Water Use Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS) is the required plant list to qualify for our landscape rebate program. Plants MUST be off this list AND considered Low or Very Low water use in order to qualify for the Cash for Grass program.
  2. The Gardening With Natives page by the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society has multiple plant lists tailored for Sonoma County, including lists of habitat plants for hummingbirds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and appropriate plants to plant under Oak Trees. You can find pictures of these plants at CalScape.
  3. The Master Gardeners of Sonoma County have multiple plant lists including Sonoma County Superstars, plants for small gardens, plants that are avoided by deer, and more.
  4. Or browse local nurseries that offer low water use plants. The Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership provides a list of local nurseries that carry water smart plants.

Artificial turf

Artificial turf is not consistent with a holistic landscaping approach and we do not provide a rebate for or encourage artificial turf for a variety of reasons (PDF).

Grow Food

Looking for low water use and edible plant varieties? Look at our low water use fruit tree list. These trees qualify for our Cash for Grass rebate program. The Master Gardeners show how you can grow a vegetable garden with less water. (Note: many edibles are not low water use and do NOT qualify for the Cash for Grass rebate.)

Problems with Weed Fabric and Rock Mulches

Good, healthy, alive soil is needed for plant and animal life. While weed fabric and rock mulches provide a useful barrier beneath pathways or a good option for creating fire-defensible space in the first five feet around a building, they create problems in larger areas.

  • Rock mulches radiate heat and can cause extreme temperatures around plants.
  • Weed fabric and rock mulches physically block earthworms and other organisms from cycling nutrients and creating healthy soil.
  • Weed fabric suffocates the soil, decreasing the flow of air, and this gets worse over time as it becomes silted up. Not enough oxygen gets to plant roots, and ammonia gas, phosphine gas, and hydrogen sulfide gas can build up in the soil.
  • Weeds grow on top – we've all seen old weed fabric with weeds growing in the dust and silt that collect on top of the fabric. And you can't just remove it and put in new weed fabric without damaging the roots of your plants.
  • Weed roots grow through the fabric, making it almost impossible to remove the weed roots when you pull the weeds.

Use organic mulches to save water, build soil, and make your plants happy!

Firewise Gardening

The Master Gardeners of Sonoma County have compiled a list of resources for gardening with wildfire in mind.

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