While we wait and pray to the rain gods for some love down in southern…
As temperatures warm and the rainy season becomes a distant memory, the thought at the forefront of most Californians’ minds is water. Prolonged drought and its associated detrimental impacts are now quintessential to California living. Water conservation and the importance of protecting this limited resource have become paramount to Californians across the state.
In order to conserve water many Californians have changed simple everyday habitats, including taking shorter showers, shutting the water off while brushing teeth, using less plastic, recycling what items we can, carting reusable bags to the grocery store, and countless other environmentally savvy solutions. While these small changes are incredibly effective, there are also changes we can make to our homes that will result in even better, longer lasting benefits to our environment and our wallets.
When the drought was declared in 2011, there was a huge push to let your lawn go brown. Allowing perennial grasses to die off in an effort to use less water, while effective, was a temporary and aesthetically displeasing fix. Allowing grass to die also inhibits the water cycle, leads to less than healthy soils and doesn’t offer much native habitat to passing birds and pollinators. So rather than simply letting grass die, why not transform that green lawn into a landscape exploding with color and countless environmental benefits?
The EPA estimates that a typical grassy lawn (25ft x 40ft) consumes 10,000 gallons of water every summer. Lawns in southern California also tend to require lots of year-round upkeep while depleting what little freshwater resources we have available. Instead of planting and maintaining a thirsty lawn why not plant species that thrive in our Mediterranean climate? Plants like hummingbird sage, manzanita, sticky monkey flower and other native trees and flowers require less maintenance and less water than grass.
Converting that pricey lawn to a gorgeous, native landscape is both cost effective and environmentally beneficial. Outdoor water use makes up the largest percentage of residential water use and getting rid of a thirsty lawn can greatly reduce that percentage. Climate appropriate landscapes also replenish and enrich soil health, retain more water, diversify plant species, benefit native species, reduce stormwater runoff, and can potentially reduce fire risk in prone areas. In addition to the environmental benefits, converting grass can also offer financial incentives in the form of rebates from your local water district. Check out awesome rebate programs and whether you qualify by visiting the LA County Waterworks Rebate page, the BeWaterWise website or the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District rebate page.
There are several ways to remove grass, but they differ in aesthetic and environmental impacts. You could use toxic herbicide, but these chemicals have been known to be detrimental to the health of native pollinators and wildlife. Another option is to utilize solarization, but this method can take several weeks and requires a large amount of clear plastic tarping to suffocate the grass. The simplest, most cost-effective and environmentally sound way to remove pesky grass is to smother it through a process known as sheet mulching.
For sheet mulching, all you’ll need is some cardboard, compost or soil amendment, mulch and some basic yard tools like shovels and rakes. Ensure your lawn is cut before laying down cardboard. Flag all the sprinkler heads and temporarily shut off irrigation. When laying cardboard ensure a few inches of overlap to properly smother the grass. Wet the cardboard once it is properly covering the grass. Lay soil amendment on top of the cardboard and wet that down as well. The point of dampening the cardboard and layers on top is to start the decomposition process. Eventually the cardboard will biodegrade into the soil. Lay a final layer of mulch on top of your layers of cardboard and soil and water everything one last time. It will take a few weeks for the grass to die and soil to become sufficiently enriched, but afterwards you’ll have an entirely new landscape.
Plant native species adapted to your specific climate zone (visit this website to find your climate zone) by digging through the layers (including the cardboard) and be sure to tamp soil back in place once your new plants are in the ground. Provide additional water and care to your new plants as needed, though most native plants will establish after a few years, when they can access their own water. In no time at all your lawn has gone from a water sucking hassle to a climate appropriate, multicolored, vibrant oasis.
Beat the heat this summer and contribute positively to our water cycle by removing your lawn and creating a climate appropriate haven. Native wildlife, neighbors, and your water bill will thank you!
A special thank you to Chris Imhoff at TreePeople and Steve Williams at Selva EcoGardens for providing guidance and feedback on this article. Your expertise was invaluable and your helpful edits greatly improved this post!
Photos from Canva & Sublime Garden Design