Simply Succulent. Fort Bragg CA.
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March 29, 2013
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July 28, 2016

Replacing Your Lawn To Cut Water Use

Replacing Your Lawn To Cut Water Use.

Drought conditions making your lawn brown? Spray painting your yard green? (there really are companies doing this). Here are some ideas that can save you time, money, energy and WATER.

It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century after the invention of the rotary mower and the development of seed mixes that the average American could have a lawn. The word “lawn” originally meant an area of meadow that was grazed by livestock. Early European lawns were composed of thyme, chamomile and clover, not turf grass. A recent NASA sponsored study found approximately 32 million acres of land in the U.S. covered by lawn, making it the largest single irrigated “crop” in the nation

To keep lawns green, weed-free and mowed, nearly 30 billion dollars were spent in 2002 on lawn care at an annual cost of 1,200 dollars per household. (Note: these are the stats for 13 years ago so there is even more money involved.) California water groups estimate that between 40-70% of all residential water use is for lawn maintenance. A 1,000 square foot lawn uses between 25,000-40,000 gallons of water per year. This is one reason why water agencies throughout California are asking homeowners to reduce or eliminate the amount of landscape devoted to a lawn. Some cities offer “cash for grass” programs as a further incentive.

Perhaps a lawn isn’t even needed. If a grassy area is really just space filler consider hardscapes, rock gardens or un-thirsty groundcovers. This is especially important with slopes that tend to shed water faster than it can soak in. Water draining into street gutters discharges directly or indirectly into streams, rivers and the ocean. Run off from landscapes frequently contains fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Water-wise Plants to Replace a Lawn.

Light and moderate traffic

  • Thyme (Thymus) pink creeping, elfin or wooly (these aren’t the culinary but rather tiny leaved, very compact, mat forming thymes)
  • Chamomile. German or Roman (Matricaria recutita)
  • Hernaria glabra
  • Dymondia margaretae
  • Leptinella squalida syn. Cotula squalida ‘Platts Black’
  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
  • Sesleria caerulea (Blue Moon Grass)
  • Phyla nodiflora (formerly Lippia)
  • Cotula linearloba
  • Trifolium pretense (Red Clover)
  • Achillea millefolium (Immature yarrow)
  • Zoysia tenvifolia (Korean grass)
  • Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ or Dichondra repens

No traffic

  • Delospermas (of many varieties and flower colors with great temperature tolerances with both extremes) Recommended by the LA Water District and Fire Department as a ground fire retardant.
  • California lilac (Leonothus)
  • Manzanitas (Archtostaphlos)
  • Lavendars (Lavendula)
  • Rosemary, oregano, sage and Satureja sp. Mendocino
  • Sedums – there are 100’s of options and most are very reliable growers under varied conditions
  • Bolax gumnifera (sharp edges stop dogs, rabbits and other critters from crossing planted area)
  • Silene uniflora ‘Druett’s variegate’




  • Yarrow (Achillea)
  • Chamomile (Chaemamelum nobile)
  • Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
  • Reed Grass (Calamogrostis)
  • Silver Grass ( Miscanthus)
  • Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

For Friendly Landscaping

  • Landscape locally
  • Landscape for less to landfill
  • Nurture the soil
  • Conserve water
  • Conserve energy
  • Protect air and water quality
  • Create wildlife habitat

These lists are not exhaustive. There are many other wonderful plant options to explore. The challenge is to understand that our recent drought conditions can teach us valuable lessons for living sustainably. Making water-wise choices in our landscapes…be they ditches, eroded hillsides or lawns. Having a smaller lawn or replacing it entirely would meet each of these principles—an inspiring and sustainable goal.

My thanks to John at North Star Nursery in Fort Bragg for his suggestions and to the outstanding and educational 2015 Bountiful Gardens catalog. Simply Succulent will be carrying selected seed packets of some of the plants suggested in this article.