12 Ways to Create Low-Maintenance Landscaping in San Diego

large house on the water with a driveway, shrubs, and trees in the front yard

Life’s a beach in San Diego. You’ve got perfect weather all year, entertainment for days, and some of the most coveted natural landscapes in the world. Honestly, it would be embarrassing to waste your free time on yard work when you’ve got so many better things to do. 

Enter low-maintenance landscaping. With the 12 techniques we’re about to cover, you’ll be able to have a lawn and garden that’s the envy of the neighborhood and the talk of the town — with even less work than you’re probably doing now. 

12 Steps to a Low-Maintenance Landscape

1. Save water and time with xeriscaping 

xeriscaped front yard
Photo Credit: Downtowngal / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

For most Southern Californians, conserving water is a major concern. Xeriscaping, a water-wise alternative to traditional landscaping, can help.

In xeriscaping, you use drought-tolerant plants and hardscapes to create a yard that thrives when it’s dry. What this means: Even during droughts, you won’t have to worry about watering a xeriscape. 

Luckily for San Diego homeowners, there are loads of plants that thrive in SoCal and are perfect for xeriscaping.

Succulents are a good example, of course, including the coastal prickly pear cactus and many species of live-forever. Drought-tolerant palm trees such as Mexican blue palm, Guadalupe palm, and jelly palm are also great options. 

2. Rain gardening: Make every drop count

Rain garden with colorful flowers and rocks as mulch
Photo Credit: James Steakley / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

A rain garden is a garden that gets its water from nature. These gardens collect stormwater runoff, so you never have to worry about watering them. They also help prevent larger issues like erosion and flooding. 

I know what you’re thinking: “A rain garden in a place where it doesn’t rain for months on end?” But hear me out. Even though rain gardens are more common in wetter climates, they’re still a solid low-maintenance option for San Diego. 

The key to making your San Diego rain garden work is plant selection. Pick plants that can tolerate both droughts and flooding. That way, your rain garden will look great with little help from you whether it sits in a pool of standing water for 48 hours or goes half a year without seeing a drop.

Native plants are definitely your best bet for a successful rain garden. 

3. Native plants to make your life easier

close up of a bright orange California poppy flower
Photo Credit: Rojer Wisner / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Speaking of native plants, it’s smart to use them in your landscape whenever possible.

Plants native to San Diego are used to dealing with the local climate and pests all on their own, so they won’t need much maintenance to look and grow their best. Using native plants in your landscape means less fertilizing, less watering, and less need for pest control. 

Some California natives that would thrive in your San Diego landscape are the California poppy (pictured), island alum root, and bush sunflower. 

4. Say adiós to fall cleanup with evergreens 

Man swimming in inground pool lined on both sides with palm trees
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Evergreen plants keep their leaves year-round, which means you can skip the annual fall leaf cleanup by replacing your other trees with evergreens. You also can find dozens of low-maintenance evergreen shrubs, ground covers, and vines for your landscape. 

The category of evergreens even includes palm trees, which are perfect for San Diego’s tropical vibe.

If you like the idea of a low-maintenance palm in your landscape but don’t want to look like every other house near a beach, check out these creative ways to use palm trees in your landscaping.

5. Perennials are perfect for the Pacific coast

Close up of tubular bright red California fuchsia flowers
Photo Credit: Curtis Clark / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

Planting perennials is a low-maintenance landscape technique that saves you two ways: No need to rip out annuals every year and you’ll likely spend less over time. 

Perennials are plants that come back every year after the dormant season on their own. Plant a perennial once, and you’ll be able to enjoy its blooms year after year. There’ll be no more replacing dead flowers every spring. 

The good news for you is many flowering plants are perennial in San Diego, since the mild winters don’t kill them. Bougainvillea, geraniums, and the native California fuchsia (pictured) are examples of beautiful perennials for your San Diego landscape.

6. Ditch plants and build a rock garden

A large boulder in a Japanese Zen garden with bushes in the background
Photo Credit: Pxhere

The lowest maintenance landscaping doesn’t involve plants at all.

In a rock garden, the essential building blocks are stones, boulders, gravel, and the like. You can add a few plants into your rock garden design if you crave that touch of green, but they aren’t necessary. 

The benefits of a rock garden are obvious. You don’t have to maintain it (or use your precious  water supply on it) and yet it can serve the same purpose as a traditional garden, whether that means boosting your home’s curb appeal or creating a relaxing outdoor space.

7. Hardscaping isn’t hard

Curtains Around Pergola
Photo Credit: Pexels

In a low-maintenance landscape, hardscaping follows the same concept as a rock garden, but taken a step further. 

When you install a hardscape, you’re filling your yard space with aesthetically pleasing features that require far less maintenance than plants. Hardscapes include things like patios, decks, pergolas, outdoor kitchens, and paver pathways. 

The more hardscapes you have in your yard, the less grass and plants you’ll have to care for.

That isn’t the only benefit of hardscapes. Many hardscapes, especially outdoor living spaces, will increase your home’s property value. Outdoor spaces are even more valuable in mild climate areas like San Diego, where you can enjoy them year-round. 

8. Get out of the dirt and plant a container garden

three pots with flowers in a backyard
Photo Credit: Needpix

Maybe you want to fill your yard with plants but don’t have the time or energy to get down on your knees to dig holes and tend landscape beds. In that case, think inside the pot. Instead of a traditional garden, a container garden might be for you. 

Container gardens consist of plants in pots, planter boxes, sacks, buckets, wheelbarrows, rain boots, you name it. If you can put a plant in it, you can incorporate it into your container garden design. 

Choosing to go with a container garden not only gives you more room to be creative, it also means you’ll have an easier time caring for your plants than you would if they were in the ground. 

9. Mulch is more important than you think

close-up of bark mulch
Photo Credit: Needpix

If your heart is set on having traditional plant beds in your landscape, make sure you always use mulch. Mulch smothers and prevents weeds, eliminating pulling garden interlopers from your to-do list. 

Added bonus: Mulch also helps plants retain moisture, so you won’t have to water them as often during droughts. 

While inorganic mulches, such as rocks and rubber, last for years at a time with little to no maintenance, organic mulches will need replacing each season after they break down into the soil.

Organic mulch, like wood chips, has other benefits, too, like adding nutrients to your soil.

In addition to mulch, consider installing a landscape fabric or alternative weed barrier for extra weed-killing power. 

10. Let automatic sprinklers do the work 

three sprinklers watering a lawn with building and trees in the background
Photo Credit: Ildar Sagdejev / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

To help your lawn and garden through San Diego’s dry summers without having to manually water them, you might want to install an automatic irrigation system. 

How is this a low-maintenance landscaping idea? With automatic irrigation, you simply set a timer and let your sprinklers look after your landscape for you.

If you’re worried about the high price tag of hiring a contractor to put in sprinklers, you can try to install automatic sprinklers yourself

Of course, this is Southern California, and you can’t be willy-nilly with your water use. Remember to follow water restriction guidelines and schedules. The City of San Diego has developed a calculator that can help you figure out exactly when and how much you can use your sprinklers.

11. Go the artificial route

Artificial grass lawn with bushes and patio in background
Photo Credit: Soft Surfaces Ltd / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If maintaining a golf course-perfect lawn isn’t your thing, go for the mini-golf course look instead.

With artificial grass, you won’t have to water — or mow — your lawn in the San Diego summer heat. 

Installing artificial grass can get expensive, but the extra cost might be worth the hours of lawn care you will avoid. 

Added bonus: Artificial grass is kid-proof and pet-proof. Your furry friends and little ones can tear through this grass without tearing it up. 

12. Use ground cover as a living lawn substitute 

green mondo grass ground cover
Photo Credit: David J. Stang / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Did you know? You can have a beautiful, lush lawn without having to mow it. It’s true. Ground covers are a living alternative to traditional grass that require far less maintenance. 

Some ground covers, such as the mondo grass pictured above, mimic the look of regular grass, while others have showy, colorful blooms that can make your yard look more unique.

Flowering ground covers for San Diego include ice plant, creeping phlox, and bugleweed.

FAQ About Low-Maintenance Landscaping in San Diego

What are the best low-maintenance landscaping shrubs for San Diego?

Native evergreen shrubs will be the most low-maintenance options because native plants almost always need less care, and evergreens don’t shed leaves.

Some examples of San Diego native evergreen shrubs are:

  • Buckwheat
  • Bush monkey flower
  • California lilac
  • Catalina currant
  • Chaparral mallow
  • Flannel bush
  • Lemonade berry
  • Manzanita
  • Silver lupine
  • Toyon

What low-maintenance grass is best for San Diego?

Bermudagrass and tall fescue are good low-maintenance grass types for San Diego.

What planting zone is San Diego?

San Diego is in USDA Hardiness Zone 10.

When to Call a Landscaping Professional

Low-maintenance landscape techniques like the ones detailed above are all fine and good, but what about those of us who have no eye for landscape design? If you’re at a loss for how to make your yard look its best, a local landscaping pro can help. 

When you hire a landscaping contractor, he or she will help you figure out which landscape features and plants are best suited for your specific property. 

Once you’ve got an established landscape, professionals can help you maintain it, too. If taking care of your yard is more work than you’re willing to do even with our low-maintenance landscaping ideas, simply hire someone else to do it for you. 

Many landscaping contractors offer regular services such as bush trimming, leaf removal, and lawn mowing.

Stop worrying about your landscape and start enjoying your beautiful city (which everyone else in the world is jealous of, by the way) with these 12 techniques for low-maintenance landscaping in San Diego.  

Main Photo Credit: Pixabay

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer, editor, and classical literature student based in Colorado. When she isn't reading or writing, she enjoys goofing off with her cats and spending time in nature.