Tag Archives: lawn replacement

Rethink the Lawn

Water is a precious and vital resource. Our bodies are about 60% water and our brain – a whopping 70%. Less than 1% of the water on the Earth, however, is suitable for human consumption. With the population increasing and the water supply staying the same, water conservation indoors and out is important. A well planned landscape makes water conservation outside the home even easier. Since up to 70% of summer water use comes from landscape irrigation it’s a good place to start.

Both San Lorenzo Valley Water – http://www.slvwd.com – and Scotts Valley Water Districts – http://www.svwd.org – offer many tips and incentives to conserve water. Scotts Valley Water District has a great list of low water-high performance plants. Check out their website for rebate information.

This garden sitting area looks inviting after the lawn was removed.

The fun part begins when you redesign the area where you took out the lawn or modify the plantings in other beds to include same water use plants. It doesn’t make much sense if you have some plants that require more water than others in the same bed. You have to water to the highest water-use plant to keep everybody happy.

Hydrozoning is the practice of clustering together plants with similar water requirements to conserve water. A planting design where plants are grouped by water needs improves efficiency and plant health by avoiding overwatering or underwatering. And as you move farther away from the water source your plantings should require less water.

When redesigning your landscape start with simple things. Rock, stone, and permeable paths and driveways add visual interest to the landscape and don’t require irrigation. Improving your property’s soil quality aids in saving water regardless of the plants grown there. Organic materials added to the soil help establish a strong root system for plants. Nutrients in the soil allow the plants to become stronger, too. Adding a layer of mulch increases the plant’s efficiency by retaining moisture and keeping the soil temperature stable.

Choose the right plants for your location. California natives or plants from similar climates in the world are low maintenance, low irrigation plants and usually need less tending, fertilizer and pruning. Your choice of groundcover can make a big difference, too, in how much water the landscape saves. Keeping grass areas to a bare minimum reduces the amount of water needed to keep the landscape looking green and fire safe.

Replace an old lawn with edibles.

Your method or irrigation helps conserve water. Hand watering where possible, especially new plantings, directs the water exactly where it needs to go and you can shut off the hose as soon as the plants receive enough water. A soaker hose is another efficient option that reduces evaporation during the watering process. An automatic irrigation system with a rain sensor, weather based controller or soil moisture sensor are the newest way to save water.

There are lists of drought-tolerant plants and water smart grasses, as well as replacing lawns with drought tolerant or native plants on the Scotts Valley Water District website. Permeable landscape materials such as mulch, decomposed granite, permeable pavers are other ways you can keep your yard looking beautiful and also be water efficient.

Now is the time before it gets hot to look at your irrigation system, plant choices and rebate options to save water and money and recharge our aquifers.

Rethink the Lawn & Save $

This garden sitting area looks inviting after the old lawn was removed.

Water is a precious and vital resource. Our bodies are about 60% water and our brain – a whopping 70%. Less than 1% of the water on the Earth, however, is suitable for human consumption. With the population increasing and the water supply staying the same, water conservation indoors and out is important. A well planned landscape makes water conservation outside the home even easier. Since up to 70% of summer water use comes from landscape irrigation it’s a good place to start.

Both San Lorenzo Valley Water – http://www.slvwd.com – and Scotts Valley Water Districts – http://www.svwd.org – offer many tips and incentives to conserve water. Scotts Valley Water District is even having a limited time offer to double your Lawn/Turf Replacement Rebate from $1 to $2 per square foot when replacing with low water-use alternatives. All sites must have a pre and post inspection completed my June 30, 2021 so don’t miss out on this great opportunity. You can apply on their website by requesting a pre-inspection lawn measurement before April 15th.

The fun part begins when you redesign the area where you took out the lawn or modify the plantings in other beds to include same water use plants. It doesn’t make much sense if you have some plants that require more water than others in the same bed. You have to water to the highest water-use plant to keep everybody happy.

Hydrozoning is the practice of clustering together plants with similar water requirements to conserve water. A planting design where plants are grouped by water needs improves efficiency and plant health by avoiding overwatering or underwatering. And as you move farther away from the water source your plantings should require less water.

An edible garden replaced the old lawn.

When redesigning your landscape start with simple things. Rock, stone, and permeable paths and driveways add visual interest to the landscape and don’t require irrigation. Improving your property’s soil quality aids in saving water regardless of the plants grown there. Organic materials added to the soil help establish a strong root system for plants. Nutrients in the soil allow the plants to become stronger, too. Adding a layer of mulch increases the plant’s efficiency by retaining moisture and keeping the soil temperature stable.

Choose the right plants for your location. California natives or plants from similar climates in the world are low maintenance, low irrigation plants and usually need less tending, fertilizer and pruning. Your choice of groundcover can make a big difference, too, in how much water the landscape saves. Keeping grass areas to a bare minimum reduces the amount of water needed to keep the landscape looking green and fire safe.

Your method or irrigation helps conserve water. Hand watering where possible, especially new plantings, directs the water exactly where it needs to go and you can shut off the hose as soon as the plants receive enough water. A soaker hose is another efficient option that reduces evaporation during the watering process. An automatic irrigation system with a rain sensor, weather based controller or soil moisture sensors is the newest way to save water.

There are lists of drought-tolerant plants and water smart grasses, as well as replacing lawns with drought tolerant or native plants on the Scotts Valley Water District website. Permeable landscape materials such as mulch, decomposed granite, permeable pavers are other ways you can keep your yard looking beautiful and also be water efficient.

Now is the time before it gets hot to look at your irrigation system, plant choices and rebate options to save water and money and recharge our aquifers.

Sheet Mulch Away that Old Lawn

Replacing that water guzzling lawn or dramatically reducing the size is a good place to start conserving water and is easier than you think. If youve been paralyzed with the thought of digging out and hauling away hundreds of square feet of heavy sod or using dangerous grass-killing chemicals, sheet mulching is the method for you.

sheet_mulching_in_progress
Sheet mulching in progress

This simple technique eliminates the lawn by smothering it with layers of compost and renewable materials. Heres how to do it:

  1. Mow the lawn down to 1-2, leave the clippings in place and soak with a hose.
  2. Flag the locations of sprinkler heads you will be keeping for your new plantings and cap off the ones you wont need.
  3. Add an inch of compost to speed up the decay of the grass. If your lawn borders a driveway, path or sidewalk youll have to remove about 3 inches deep of soil along these edges and back 8-12 so that the new mulch doesnt slide off into the sidewalk.
  4. Put down 2-3 layers of newspaper or one layer of cardboard overlapping the edges by 6-8 to prevent regrowth at the edges. You can buy recycled cardboard in rolls for larger projects or find your own at appliance or bicycle stores. Wet the cardboard or newspapers to keep them in place as you go along. Its best to use cardboard or newspaper thatwill break down quicker. Dont use plastic sheeting because water and air cannot penetrate it.
  5. Add a 3 layer of mulch such as bark chips from a tree trimming company. You can use compost, straw or shredded plant material. If you have Bermuda grass or other weeds like oxalis you will need to layer about 8 of mulch to smother them.
  6. Water thoroughly.

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Plants installed immediately after sheet mulching

If you can wait a month or more to let the decomposition process get going so much the better. If you just cant wait you can begin planting now by scraping away the mulch and poking a hole in the cardboard or newspaper where the plant is to go. Then add some compost to help the new plant become established. Be sure to plant high enough to prevent crown rot and keep the mulch a couple inches away from the stem. The top of the root ball should be 1-2 above the soil and just below the mulch.

Modify the sprinkler to drip and remember to adjust your irrigation system run times to accommodate your new plantings.

This is a basic lasagna method for lawn removal. If you are planning to replant with water smart grasses you would choose finer composted mulch instead of bark chips. Either way the process works on the same concept as a compost pile. As the lawn dies from lack of light, it decomposes with the activity of beneficial worms, insects and microorganisms coming up from the soil and doing their job to break down the nitrogen and carbon in the sheet-mulch layers. Its a win-win situation for the environment and your water bill.

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One year after lawn removal by sheet mulching

Water conservation starts with losing or reducing the thirsty traditional lawn and reducing irrigation. Transform your landscape into a resilient garden that not only saves water but acts to build the earth into a living sponge that harnesses rainwater and replenishes the aquifer at the same time. Attracting wildlife to your new beautiful garden is a bonus.

Be sure to apply for your rebates and have your lawn inspected, even if its dead, before you start.

Looking at Grasses in a New Way

Calamagrostis Foliosa
Calamagrostis Foliosa

I regularly receive plant availabilities via email listing what’s looking good in that wholesale nursery for the week. Besides being a good reminder of plants that have fallen through the cracks in my memory many times I’m inspired to think of them in a new way. With spring around the corner yes, hard to believe but true this is the time to rethink your landscaping again. From saving water to saving time there are lots of ways to change what you have in your landscape to make it look more inviting and pleasing to the eye.

Tired of looking at all that moisture conserving but uninteresting mulch you spread last year? Whether you are replacing the lawn you allowed to go brown last summer or just want an expanse of water smart low grasses or grass-like plants for an area I’ve got some great suggestions for you.

 

carex meadow
carex meadow

If you want a lawn substitute that you can walk on but don’t need to use it as a play area there are California native and prairie meadow grasses that will be perfect for this kind of situation. They need little irrigation and even less mowing. Some can be planted from seed, others from plugs or sod. Good choices include Idaho fescue, Calif. and red fescue, carex pansa, Berkeley sedge, June grass and Halls bentgrass. Occasional shearing keeps them looking best but they may be left alone with no mowing at all. Weed control is important during establishment but a healthy stand may be sustained with virtually no weeding after that.

Other meadow grasses to walk on include buffalo grass and carex texensis. They stay short and can be either left alone or mowed every so often. Tough enough for soccer games yet soft enough for bare feet. Scotts Valley Water District has a good list on their website of lawn substitute grasses and other water conserving plants.

Other areas in your landscape might look great with an expanse of a grass or grass-like plant with a slightly taller profile. Here are some of my favorite ornamental plants that are water smart, have beautiful foliage and often showy flower heads to sway in the breeze and bring life to the garden.

Moor grass or more specifically Sesleria ‘Greenlee’ is a new-ish introduction. This evergreen, clumping blue-green grass grows to 1 foot tall and a little wider with rose-purple flowers in spring and summer. It tolerates a wide range of conditions from wet to dry, sun to shade and is hardy down to 0 degrees. Lovely planted in swaths to give your garden that restful feeling.

Libertia peregrinans
Libertia peregrinans

One of my very favorite small grass-like plants is Orange Libertia. Native to New Zealand this stunning plant is great back lit and planted in masses. Growing to just under 2 feet tall, the leaves are green in the center and bright orange along the margins. Lightly fragrant, pure white blooms appear in the spring. This beauty takes the sun or light shade and has moderate water needs. It’s hardy to about 15 degrees and forms colonies by rhizomes.

Blue oat grass is another small grass that add elegance to borders, containers and moonlit gardens. In late spring graceful stems bloom with delicate oat-like flowers that age to tawny brown by midsummer. Ruby grass, festuca ‘Siskiyou Blue’ and Chinese fountain grass are also small grasses that can be massed together for a stunning effect.

Plants with grass-like foliage like mondo grass, liriope, small phormiums and many of the dianella or flax lily are also water smart and can be used alone or in groups.

Time to start thinking of new ways to save water and time this growing season.

Tips for New Landscaping after Replacing a Lawn

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santonlina, euphorbia, phormiun – low water use plant grouping

Tired of looking at that brown patch of lawn and trying to convince yourself its a badge of honor in these times of drought? You tell yourself It greens up in the winter so Ill water just enough to keep it from totally dying now. But wouldnt a beautiful, sustainable, low water use garden be a more inviting place to spend your free time?

Replacing a lawn that is not used anymore can be the first step in a whole new kind of landscaping-a landscape that looks like it belongs where you live. Here are some very good reasons to lose the lawn and benefit the planet at the same time.

Even in years where we have normal winter rainfall we always have a seasonal drought. Its called summer. Without our usual winter and spring rains, though, even native trees and shrubs are struggling. All the more reason that plant selection now is even more critical than before.

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libertia peregrinans

Youve see pictures of some not-so-great looking lawn replacement projects. A drought tolerant plant here, another there, add an accent rock and thats supposed to thrill you when you come home for the day? Whats missing is a garden designed to enhance our natural environment. When you remove your lawn, its a wonderful opportunity to not only create a garden than conserves water but also provides habitat for wildlife including birds and butterflies and improves the soil.

A living landscape does as much for our own pleasure as it does for the environment. It increases biodiversity of plant, animal and insect populations. It fosters healthy soil which can hold more moisture by supporting microbes and insects. Healthy soil can filter pollutants and improve water quality.

Think of using native and well-adapted, non-natives that connect with the natural landscape. Use tough plants on the edges and group greener, low water use plants closer to the house. Here are some good plants to use in a lawn-less landscape that wont break your water budget.

When planting time rolls around this fall consider a green carpet of blue grama grass. This native sedge can provide a green carpet on much less water and can be mowed or not. Its on the list of approved water-wise grasses eligible for rebates from our local water districts.

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dymondia groundcover between flagstones

Another ground cover eligible for lawn replacement rebate is dymondia. I love the grey foliage of this low ground cover. It fills in nicely between stepping stones or can take light foot traffic in larger areas.

For a taller look that you dont need to be able to walk on, the ground cover forms of ceanothus, manzanita or creeping rosemary are good very low water alternatives to a lawn. I have a very low Hearts Desire ceanothus that hasnt been watered yet this year and it still looks green and lush.

Native yarrow, penstemon and salvia are the work horses of the garden needing little water once established and attracting all sorts of insects and birds. Other natives on the 800+ Approved Low Water Use Plant list include Pacific Coast iris, helianthemum, libertia, santolina, California fuchsia, rockrose, lavender, myoporum, coffeeberry, teucrium, verbena and kangaroo paw to name just a few. You can download the list from www.sv.org or www.slvwd.com.

I am not a big fan of artificial lawns. They do not provide habitat for wildlife, beautify our environment or improve the soil. They get significantly hotter than the surrounding air temperature contributing to the heat island effect by increasing air temperatures. Also artificial turf is a synthetic material with a relatively short lifespan ranging from 10-20 years and will eventually end up in a landfill. They can not be recycled. There are many other beautiful, low water use options that result in more sustainable and beneficial landscapes.

Water and soil management as well as plant selection are key to water conservation in the landscape.

Water Conservation Tips from Scotts Valley

lower lake.1280
lower lake

I am fortunate as a garden columnist and landscape designer to be invited to see, stroll and learn about beautiful gardens. Sometimes its a particularly successful method of irrigation, plant selection, placement or care that someone wants to share. Other times its the story of how their garden evolved. All gardens are interesting in their own way.

Recently I received an email from a reader in Scotts Valley who wanted to share what Montevalle Park has been doing to save water. Well I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about water.conservation. Here is how this unique mobile home park has changed their landscaping to save water.

Vickie Birdsall, my host and President of the HOA, welcomed me to her little corner of the world. Officially Montevalle is a mobile home park but is unique in that each lot under the oaks, pines and redwoods is a different size. Vickie told me that back in the early 70s when Ray Retzlaff developed the park it was the first in California where people could purchase the lot they lived on and collectively own all the amenities. The lots were divided with the trees in mind so that a pre-made home could be installed without disturbing the trees.

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Sea Holly

As you drive through the park on winding roads each homeowner has made their property unique. Many have views of the woods, some with mountain vistas. All have established landscaping and enjoy the common areas including 2 lakes connected by a waterfall.

Vickie is now the President of the Association but for many years was in charge of the landscaping. She knows about the sandy soil of the park and the well water with its high mineral content that is used for the irrigation. On the positive side the deer seemed to be browsing other neighborhoods these days leaving the park to the occasional fox and the raccoon.

There are 56 pocket gardens in common areas throughout the park. Vickies goal is to convert as many as possible from lawn to drought tolerant plantings.

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putting green area

The putting green area-which is across from Vickies house- used to be all lawn. She started taking out the lawn little by little a couple years ago and last fall finished the new landscaping. Incorporating re-purposed stepping stones and feather rock from other places in the park. a new path bisects a lovely garden which will use little water once established. Starting from gallon cans the new plantings are growing in nicely. Vickie told me she uses plants with different textures, foliage colors and heights and repeats the groupings which makes all the elements work together.

She was proud to show me how well the Carmel Creeper ceanothus is filling in. Other nearby plants include Little John callistemon, Rose Glow barberry, Golden Sunset coleonema, euphorbia, Emerald Carpet manzanita and Moonshine achillea to name just a few. The real eye catchers are 2 very drought tolerant sea holly. The metallic, iridescent blue flowers and stems of these eryngiums glowed in the afternoon sun.

The park has 2 lakes and as we walked along the shore of the lower lake, Vickie pointed where they installed a bio filter area to clean the nitrates from the water flowing down from the north lake. Yellow flag iris, gunnera and tulle grasses help keep the algae down. Several turtles and koi were enjoying the water lilies that have just started to bloom.

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Step ponds between the lakes

Vickie has taken out the pockets of lawn along the step ponds connecting the two lakes. Under locust and birch trees, the small waterfalls are bordered by myoporum ground cover, shasta daisies, asparagus ferns, ornamental grasses and agapanthus. The new plantings are thriving under lots of mulch and are much easier to maintain.

Along the road to the lodge, Vickie pointed out more drought tolerant plantings which have replaced lawn such as Jerusalem sage, Pride of Madeira, manzanita, ornamental grasses and Purple-leafed hop bush. At the lodge she has installed small areas of artificial turf for barbecues and the front garden is a work in progress converting the lawn to dymondia and other plantings. The gophers are not helping with the progress, she admitted.

Vickie says she started converting the lawns in the park way before the drought. She has done 10 so far and has plans for many more.

Montevalle park is a good example of how an area can still be beautiful and serene without all the lawns. With lots of soil amendment and mulch the new plants bring lots of color plus birds and butterflies using a fraction of the water that was used previously. I was invited back to see the pink lotus blooming in the north lake in July and August. Ive put it on my calendar.