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How to remove your lawn, Part 2
Posted on 06/25/2015
So, what once was your lawn is now percolating beneath cardboard and mulch. Or maybe you didn’t actively seek to remove your lawn, but it’s frying under the summer sun anyway, and dying of thirst thanks to new water restrictions.
Either way, it’s time to think about what you can do in place of that lawn, so you’ll be ready to plant later this year, like in October or November. Not sure where to start? We can help!
The first thing to do is come up with a plan. Write it down, sketch it out – but do more than think about it in your head, it’s far too easy to lose things up there.
You need to get ideas about what you want your grass-free or low-grass yard to look like. So become observant – walk around your neighborhood or other neighborhoods to see what you find attractive. Visit some nurseries, and write down the names of plant you like. Take a look at city parks and along trails – many of those already have waterwise plants in place.
Take photos – you want to remember how tall that plant was or what color the blossoms were. You can do a little research then too, to see if those plants are drought tolerant, or what their sun needs are. Read some magazines, look at plant catalogs, see what draws your eye.
The options are almost endless. Big plants, little plants, colorful ones, plain ones. Do you want green plants that flower, or is a desert-like landscape your thing? Take the time to decide on your favorite style. Or mix styles – it’s your home, do what makes you happy (while saving water, or course).
But beyond specific plants, get an idea of what feel you want your yard to have. Casual? Formal? Do you want plants in place of lawn, or maybe hardscaping or mulch where the grass once grew. Or perhaps a green groundcover in place of grass tickles your fancy and your feet.
Take a good hard look at your yard, too. Is it flat, or does the ground slope gently? Maybe you’d like it to be a bit uneven, to make it seem more natural.
Draw, write, erase, look some more. Repeat as often as necessary. But have a plan before you plant.
And remember, you don’t have to do everything all at once, nor do you have to remove all the plants you have now. If you love some less-than-waterwise plants, it’s OK to keep them! Azaleas, roses, camellias – a few won’t hurt to keep around. And of course bigger plants like trees and shrubs – they help cool your house and clean our air, so those are important to keep.
But you will want to expand your palette, past the traditional to the drought-tolerant. In all likelihood, you already have some of these in your yard, like lavender, rosemary or autumn sage. Now you want to add some new plants, be they California natives, or waterwise plants from the U.S. Southwest or Australia. For trees, natives like Valley Oaks are always good, or consider the incense cedar in place of the coastal redwoods we see so commonly in our Valley neighborhoods.
If it seems overwhelming – either financially or mentally – take your time. You don’t have to do everything at once. Do one section of the yard now, more next year as you get a better idea of what you like, or when you see something new that inspires you.
And be realistic, because it will take some work to make your yard beautiful and efficient. For example, while you are planning, you will want to consider how you irrigate. Now would be a good time to switch to a drip system if you can. Or perhaps you can start using greywater from your washing machine to water some of the trees in your yard. If you are going to keep some of your old faves that need more water, you’ll want to make sure they get a watering station that goes a little longer than it does in more drought-tolerant zones.
Consider your soil, too. Valley soils are mostly depleted of nutrient value. You’ll want to amend them with compost and organic soils (native plants are especially fond of all things organic, and grow much better in those soils). Soil is the key. We spend so much time thinking about beauty above ground, but the reality is, we need to think about below the surface too!
A good topping of mulch is a necessity, at least 2-3 inches’ worth. Mulch holds in moisture so plants stay wetter and cooler longer – meaning you could use 30% less water. You can use chipped bark, compost or even rock, depending on your tastes. Just make sure you don’t mulch over the stems of plants, especially smaller, more tender ones. That could lead to rot.
Still unsure what you can do with your yard? Here are a few samples of plants that will thrive with less water, while still providing beauty!