"Landscape Locally" means creating a landscape that collaborates with, rather
than working against, nature — resulting in plants that stay healthy and
beautiful using less water, fertilizer, and pesticides. This is done by
identifying the site characteristics listed below and using that information to
select plants that will thrive on the site.
1. Evaluate your site’s climate,
exposure, and topography
The first step to landscaping locally is to determine
the characteristics of the site, so that landscape plants can be chosen that can
naturally thrive on the site.
Begin by determining the
Sunset Climate Zone for
your site. Then make note of the site’s micro-climates by identifying the
Consider your site when planning your
- Sun exposure — which areas are sunny, shady, partly shady?
spots along south facing walls and fences
- Which areas are particularly wet or
- Are there windy or exposed areas? If so, what is the direction of
- Frost pockets
- How does rain water flow onto
and/or through the site?
- Location of neighbors’ trees
- Are there potential
hazards such as flooding or fire?
Determine what type of soil you have and how well it
drains. Check the soil for texture, organic matter, and fertility and identify
problems such as compaction layers, poor drainage, or contamination.
texture — is it mostly clay, silt, or sand? Here is a simple test: Slowly add
water to a small sample of soil, kneading with your hands until moist. Try to
form the sample into a ball. Gently stretch the soil out between your thumb and
forefinger and try and make a ribbon. Note the feel of the soil as you are
working it and use the table below to determine its texture:
||Can easily be formed into a ribbon 1 inch or longer and feels
||Can be formed into a short ribbon that breaks when about 1/2 inch
||Cannot be formed into a ribbon. Loose and single-grained. Feels
- Take soil samples from different areas in the landscape. Send them to a
professional lab for a full analysis of the pH, organic matter, nutrients, and
potential contaminants; or use a home soil test kit to determine pH and
- Check for compaction zones with probes, augers or shovels. Test
drainage in several spots.
Survey and protect flora & fauna
and fauna provide insight into the ecosystem health and the landscape
possibilities. Native vegetation, wildlife habitat, and sensitive areas such as
wetlands may need protection. Invasive species will need active control.
- Identify plant species and communities, especially California natives,
or endangered species and wetlands.
- Learn what wildlife inhabit or move
through the site or have historically inhabited the site. Consider what they
used for food and shelter. Plan for restoration.
- Become familiar with local
tree ordinances and wetland or endangered species regulations.
- Develop a plan
for preserving existing trees and shrubs or engage the services of a certified
arborist to help you create the plan.
4. Consider the potential for fire
Consider the topography, fuel, and local
weather in designing and maintaining a landscape that reduces the potential for
loss to fire. For sites adjacent to fire-sensitive open space or wildland —
Identify exposure to prevailing winds during the dry season, steep slopes, and
vegetation type (particularly species that burn readily). Mitigate fire hazards
by creating a “defensible zone” immediately surrounding the structure, using one
or more strategies for firescaping, such as:
- Emphasize plants with low fuel
volume and/or high moisture content.
- Avoid plants with high oil content or
that tend to accumulate excessive dead wood or debris (pyrophites).
that trees are well-spaced and pruned to 6 feet minimum above ground, and that
dense shrub plantings are separate from trees, to minimize fuel ladders.
- Assure that trees and tall shrubs are planted where limbs and branches will not
reach the building or grow under overhangs as they mature.
- Avoid fine shredded
- Face and construct decks out of fire-resistant materials. Contact
the local fire department for assistance in understanding the fire risk at a
particular site and for additional guidance in reducing that risk, particularly
for sites at the urban-wildland interface.
Model natural plant communities.
5. Use local, natural plant communities as models
Plant communities are
relatively distinct regional patterns of vegetation. The Sacramento area has
five local plant communities: valley grassland, riparian woodland, foothill
woodland, chaparral, and freshwater marsh. Using these local, natural plant
communities as a model allows you to work with nature to create spectacular
landscapes that can help replace what’s so often been degraded or lost.
Click on any section to learn more
Here are some more in depth articles on specific RFL topics that you might
find of interest:
RFL Inspiration Garden
Mulch, Grasscycling, and Compost
Fertilize Naturally — Is Feeding
Frenzy Really Needed?
Plant Trees, Save Energy!
Right Plant, Right Place!
Take Action to Save Water Outdoors…
Lawn Care: How Green is Your Grass?
Rethink Your Lawn
Pests Bugging You?
River-Friendly Pest Control
Managing Common Pests
Interview about RFL (MP3)
Choose California natives first
Don't Blow It!
Reducing Outdoor Asthma
Watch the YouTube video
Flow - Make Your Landscape Act Like a Sponge"
to learn about the importance of landscaping to stormwater quality.