Irrigation & Soil Improvement

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Landscape Soil Problem-Solving & Irrigation Management

“The irrigation system is the keystone element of the Bay Area landscape ecosystem- yet it is almost always mismanaged and in disrepair- thereby causing a myriad of soil related plant disease”- Zachary Smith, Horticulturist

The Bay Area’s Mediterranean climate necessitates a well-designed irrigation system (that is monitored regularly and adjusted throughout the year.) A mismanaged irrigation system is often the cause of our sick trees, weedy lawns, and dying plants. Even a tree has spotty leaves or dying branches, the problem often is related to the soil conditions. After all, a tree is completely dependent on its root system, and those living roots in the SF Bay Area to Monterey are typically buried in a heavy clay soil that has poor drainage, a high propensity to hold on to salts, and little pore space to provide oxygen to the respiring roots. Excessive or too frequent watering can make your plants sick faster than almost anything else.


Most irrigation systems are the cause of, and not the solution to, a diseased and suffering landscape of trees and shrubs. We find that the average sprinkler system applies too much water (and too frequently). In that same yard we can observe other plants suffering from drought stress.

Part 1. Smith’s Irrigation System Improvement Program:

We provide a thorough run-through of your irrigation system. Following the evaluation, Smith’s will prescribe and in most cases perform, the needed modifications and repairs to bring uniformity and regularity to your landscape’s soil moisture profile.

Remember, our local climate requires that we irrigate most plants. But improper irrigation (too much or too little water) is typically the root cause of most tree and plant health problems.

Furthermore, most gardening services have little understanding of irrigation science, and their “rough guess” at irrigating often misses the mark. We can educate property owners and gardeners on how to better irrigate, and thereby reduce plant stress, water waste, and nutrient deficiency.

Part 2. Smith’s Drought Management Program:

Many of our “drought tolerant” trees and shrubs are not set up for success. A good living soil with plenty of mulch, organic matter and healthy mycorrhizae are prerequisites to most plants having a chance at thriving in dry conditions. Smith’s can help you build great soil and ideal growing conditions so that your drought-tolerant landscape can flourish in the Bay Area summers.

Supplemental water: We have seen water restrictions unnecessarily kill mature trees all around the Bay Area. These trees could have been saved with a supplemental water, at a very reasonable cost, and without violating water use restrictions in most cases. Smith’s can provide occasional deep-root watering for stressed trees. We also can add soil humates, conditioners and humectants to help hold more water and make it plant-available.

Mulching: Healthy soils are well-covered soils; covered in a thick blanket of mulch. Mulch is not just a decorative addition to the landscaping, it is mimicking nature’s cover of fallen leaves, twigs and decomposing annuals that are seen covering most of the Earth’s surface. Mulch keeps soil temperatures cooler. Mulch reduces water evaporation. Mulch helps reduce compaction and the degradation of soil structure by irrigation and precipitation. Mulch breaks down and adds to the organic matter. Mulch feeds earthworms and microbes. Mulch suppresses weeds. If you have not noticed by now, we are pretty passionate about much around here. Smith’s can help you with your mulching program and explain the benefits in to a drought-tolerant landscape.

As you can see, our Drought Management Program provides a multi-pronged solution to declining and sick trees and wilting shrubs during times of low water availability. Much of this program will work wonders for lawns too. With our application of soil amendments, soil conditioners, humectants and mulches, as well as deep irrigation around ailing trees, Smith’s can help you drought-tolerant landscape design come to life!

Part 3. Smith’s Soil Sample, Soil Analysis and Soil Minerals Program:

As the age old saying goes: “Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice” and yet it is very rare that a property owner or manager sees the results of a soil analysis before undertaking a major fertilization program. Sure, many fertilizers are designed to be safe and effective under a wide range of soil conditions, but when we are trying to do the very best for our trees, lawn and landscape, we want to start with a good soil sample and soil analysis. We want to determine the balance and availability of soil minerals. These micro nutrients can be lacking or excessive, and thereby harming our plants almost invisibly. By taking a soil sample and sending it to a lab for analysis, we can prescribe a fertilizer program that is specifically designed for a property’s needs.

Similarly, we want to measure soil organic matter before applying additional compost or humus to the soil. While “you can never have too much organic matter” seems to hold true, it is best to aim for 3-6% organic matter and not go overboard in this regard.

A note on compost: Soil minerals are often overlooked when we talk about a “great soil” We add compost as if it is the be all end all soil additive, but lets say we need minerals like zinc and copper: If the compost we apply does not have zinc in it, there will be no zinc added to the soil in our compost regimen. With a soil sample analysis we can see if we are low on an element like zinc, and if need be, add it specifically.

For more information on how Smith’s can help your landscape’s soil quality or  irrigation system, contact us today!

Jack J. - Santa Cruz, CA

“My home is surrounded by an orchard. Hundreds of gophers. I have a lawn and a Japanese garden. I have tried to control the gophers myself, upon failing, I hired three companies, who also failed. I discovered Smith’s. They saved my lawn and garden. Nice people too. Worth the money. Trap three or four every month. It is either them or no lawn and garden.”