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You’ve Ripped Out the Lawn, Now What? 6 Tips for Planting Drought Tolerant Gardens

If you live in Southern California, unless you’ve been living in the dust under a rock, you know we are in the midst of a terrible drought. When it does rain, people get all excited; the local news media goes on “STORM WATCH!”; and the complaining starts. No one can drive in the rain. Mudslides! No one can drive in the rain (yes, I know I said that twice). People are taking this drought seriously. Dead and dying lawns pepper our neighborhoods (well, maybe not in Beverly Hills – appearances need to be kept up you know). We show pride in how dirty our cars are. We discuss the merits of grey water and rain barrels. And we jump for joy that our Mayor, Eric Garcetti, just approved an increase to the Department of Water and Power’s (DWP) turf removal rebate program. If you are approved, you can receive a rebate of up to $3.75 per square foot to get rid of your water thirsty lawn and replace it with drought tolerant plants.

Herein lies the problem. Pulling up the turf and popping in a few Agaves and other succulents probably won’t  do much for the curb appeal of your house. Filling the area with drought tolerant California native plants without knowing how big the plants grow, what they look like if they go dormant (here’s my lovely front yard full of stick plants!), and how to maintain them throughout the seasons will only lead to gardening regret. I’ve come up with some tips to help save the value of your house, save your sanity, and save on your water bill.

1. Hire a designer.  Hiring a qualified garden designer or landscaper who knows about drought tolerant plants and design will ensure that the right plants for the style of your house, sun exposure, soil quality, etc. will be chosen and planted with an eye toward what your garden will look like in 6 months or 3 years.

2. Hire or Consult with an irrigation specialist. Some landscapers also handle irrigation. Some don’t. It’s a good idea to have someone come out to look at your current system to ensure it is working properly. I can’t tell you how many times I notice leaks that the homeowner is unaware of. Where can you replace traditional sprinklers with a drip system? Do you have a working timer that can be customized to water different zones and be shut off when it rains?

3. Agaves. Listen, Agaves are a really beautiful plants, and there are numerous varieties, but in the majority of situations, they don’t really work in most gardens. Some including the very popular grey/green striped Agave americana can grow to 6′ tall and 6-8′ wide and they have sharp spines on the ends of their leaves. My neighborhood is full of pre and post-WWII single story bungalows. 6 giant Agave plants in your front yard of your 1940s bungalow may be saving you water, but it’s ugly.

4. Weeds. Part I. We all have them. Well, Martha Stewart probably doesn’t, but the rest of us do.  In my neighborhood, lawns usually consist of 40% grass of some sort and 60% weeds. When you rip out your lawn, you will leave roots and weed seeds behind. You will not use Round Up or any other horrible chemical treatment to kill your lawn or the weeds. Killing your lawn takes time. You can use sheets of cardboard or newspaper or black weed cloth.

5. Mulch! Mulch! Mulch! Once you have invested in a designer, plants, and installation, don’t forget to add mulch. Mulch helps keep new weeds from popping up, prevents soil erosion, and helps retain that precious water. It also the finishing touch help tie a design together. There are a lot of materials that you can use including bark chips, recycled rubber tire chips, and pebbles.

6. Maintenance (AKA Weeds Part II). Native plants are lovely, but unless you want your front lawn to look like a vacant lot, you will need to do some maintenance. Trim dead wood. Dead head spent flowers. Rake up the leaves. Check that plants are getting enough water (drought tolerant does not mean no water). Pull up weeds!

A well designed and maintained drought tolerant garden is beautiful. It will benefit the value of your home and the environment. BTW, fall is a perfect time to plant, so give me a call. I’d love to create something amazing for you.

60% of your water bill goes to watering your lawn.Agaves and Crop Circles(?) in a sea of dirt. Where’s the mulch?Some popular Agaves get really, really BIG!Not sure if the fallen leaves are a design choice. It just looks neglected.An Eden Condensed Drought Tolerant Garden