Photo Credit: Matt Pfieffer

Did you know that you can help the San Lorenzo River right from your own home or garden? Learn some tips and best practices, as we summarize some of the lessons learned from Monterey Bay Friendly Landscaping and River-Friendly Landscaping Guidelines by the Sacramento Storm Quality Partnership in collaboration with

So, what is river-friendly landscaping?

An approach where you look at the whole ecosystem and think about ways you can support its continued growth and longevity in every part of your landscaping/gardening. In looking at the whole ecosystem you look at your local watershed and work to protect it by using your best practices and knowledge.

Benefits of river-friendly landscaping

Did you know that if you follow the principles of river-friendly landscaping here in Santa Cruz County, you can certify your garden and receive discounts at many local garden retailers? Plus, you’ll get a beautiful sign to proudly display to your neighbors celebrating your accomplishment and encouraging others to get involved. Learn more from Monterey Bay Friendly Landscaping here.

How do we create river-friendly landscaping?

There are many ways to create a river-friendly landscape including landscaping locally, nurturing the soil, conserving water, conserving energy, protecting air and water quality, and creating and protecting wildlife habitat.

Tip: Landscape Locally

Your landscape is a part of the larger ecosystem and you can positively impact this ecosystem in your own backyard. The first step is to get acquainted with your site. The best way to do this is to create a site map that includes sunny vs shady areas, hot spots (often southern facing), wet vs dry spots, windy and exposed areas, slopes, planting areas and their size, water flow on the site, and zones with difficult to no access. Once you have accessed the topography, climate, and exposure of your site then it is time to test your soil. Knowing the types of soil on your site can help you find the best plants for the job and help you to know what you can do to enrich your soil. You can test soil with lots of fancy equipment or just your two hands and a little water. Instructions for this test can be found here.

Tip: Nurture the Soil

Now that you know your soil type you can learn how to nurture it. The better your soil, the better your landscape will thrive.

Our soil is full of life including microorganisms, bacteria, decomposers, and so much more. “One teaspoon of healthy soil can contain billions of beneficial bacteria and fungi.” So how do we nurture our soil? Well with most of our river-friendly guidelines we go back to nature and take notes. There are many ways you can do this, but I am going to focus on two, mulching and composting.

Compost is an extraordinarily rich organic material full of microorganisms that can help your plants grow and thrive. Compost is highly recommended for poor soils including clay, sand, and compacted soil. Adding compost to your soil will bring it to life, which is exactly what we want. With compost we need to be careful because it can be too powerful. To add compost to your soil you will need to combine one yard compost with 3-5 yards of soil (preferably topsoil). Once it is mixed you can respread the topsoil. Another method of applying compost is the sheet mulching method. This can be done by putting compost on top of your well laid out and thick mulch. This will allow the compost to slowly absorb into the soil. The main thing you want to remember is you do not want fresh compost on your plant’s roots. Compost is so nutritious that it can burn your plant’s roots.

Another method to nurture your soil is mulching. Mulch is a layer of material used to cover soil to enrich and protect the soil. You want to keep 2-4 inches thick of mulch over any bare soil around a plant, especially in its developing stages. Mulch is important because it can insulate and cool down the soil which will help keep water in and depending on the mulch it will also keep weeds out which will reduce plant competition. There are different options of much including organic and inorganic. I personally recommend organic mulch like chopped leaves, straw, grass clippings, wood chips, compost, shredded bark, pine needles, sawdust, paper, and even cardboard. There are non-organic materials as well, but I do not recommend them because unlike organic mulch they do not add any nutrients and they will not break down.

Take Action: Volunteer at CWC’s River Health Days

If you’re interested in learning more, we invite you to join the Coastal Watershed Council’s upcoming River Health Days volunteer events. There, you’ll work alongside River Ecologist Kaiya Giuliano-Monroy and get the chance to put this newfound knowledge into action as you plant and care for native plants along the lower San Lorenzo River. Sign up today using the form below!

River Health Days Volunteer Sign Up

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