Tips for Replacing Your Water-Hungry Lawn

If you’re ready to lose all or part of your lawn in favor of easy care, water-wise landscape, fall is a great time to start the project.

Photo, left to right: Bolax gummifera (ground cover), Coprosma repens (landscape plant), Leptinella squalida (ground cover).

Sheet Mulching

This no-dig method of lawn removal involves layering cardboard, then compost and other organic material over the existing grass. First, mow the lawn on your mower’s lowest setting. If you have sprinkler heads, flag them so you know where they are before covering the lawn. We’ll talk about converting sprinkler heads to drip irrigation in the Converting Lawn Sprinklers section. Water the grass, then cover it with a single layer of unwaxed, corrugated cardboard and overlap the edges by six inches. No grass should be peaking through. Thoroughly wet the cardboard. Then cover with a thick mulch of organic material. Start with a layer of compost, then use something like shredded bark, grass clippings, or straw. The organic mulch layer should be 4-6 inches deep. Thoroughly wet the organic material. Cut holes in the sheet mulch to accommodate your new landscape plants (Razor knives can be handy). Soak the root balls of the plants in water before they go in. You might need to set up your drip irrigation system now to handle watering the new transplants until rain kicks in.

For visual learners, this YouTube video demonstrates the process step-by-step.

Planting a New Landscape

Fall is the ideal time to plant. Native plants are well suited to local conditions and many are very attractive plants, shrubs, and trees. Beyond natives, there is a myriad of specimens that come from arid or semi-arid climates. There are also a variety of water-savvy ground covers that will take light foot traffic. From creeping thyme to tiny, fern-like Leptinella squalida, and tough plants like variegated Dymondia margaretae and stiff, ground-hugging Bolax gummifera, there is sure to be a ground cover that will work for you. Bunch grasses mixed with yarrow, sage, and lavender can create a nice border in a sunny yard, that butterflies and bees will love. There are several Carex varieties that can be mowed but require little water and care. Your local nursery should have many good choices that will thrive in your area. When plantings are interspersed with rocks or other hardscaping, an easy-care yard can become a showpiece.

Converting Lawn Sprinklers to Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation applies water directly to the roots of plants instead of using wasteful sprinklers that lose much of their water to evaporation or runoff. If you already have a sprinkler system installed, you can convert one or more of the sprinklers to accommodate a drip system and close off the rest. Below you find a video showing how easy it is to convert to drip irrigation.

Other Drip Irrigation Options

A drought-tolerant garden may need to be irrigated once every week or two in summer, depending on plant choices, climate, and weather patterns. If there are other plants in the yard that require more regular watering, you can set up multiple zones and program a timer to handle the watering schedule for each area. A Drip Depot kit may be perfect for you...and adding a timer will automate the system.  

Compared to the chores and expense of lawn care, the effort involved in lawn replacement will soon pay off. The savings on your water bill should be substantial once you’ve switched to drought-tolerant landscaping with an automated drip system. Converting a lawn can also add to the value of your property, as water-wise landscapes are important selling points these days. Don’t forget to ask your local water district if they have any cash incentives for lawn replacement. Are you ready? Feel free to post pics of your project on our Facebook page. It might inspire others to take the leap!