A lawn for our ever-parched climate

UC Buffalo Grass

Native Bentgrass

Recently there’s been much “ado” about the drought but if you’ve been a Californian all your life it can seem that we’ve been in a perpetual drought.  We’ve been supporting a non-sustainable model for decades in Los Angeles by supporting our lush, water-hogging landscapes with water piped in from afar.  They say about 1/2 of the water we use goes to the landscape so not only must we reduce the water we use, we then need to make every drop count by choosing the right plant material.  Lawns are beloved for their cooling effect, their functionality as a place of play and transition and they provide a nice visual element.  In terms of water savings, however, a critical eye must be taken to every lawn and the following questions should be asked….

1.) Do I use my lawn?  If the answer is no then perhaps a native ground cover is a better choice or a mix of low water plants and permeable hardscape.

2.) If I indeed use my lawn do I really need all that I have?  If the answer is no, why not reduce the lawn by widening other planting areas.

3.) Can I replace what lawn I have with a lawn that requires less water?  I’m not going to call them lawn “alternatives” because they are lawns in their own right and they are much better adapted to our hot, dry climate.  Below are the top contenders for lawns for our ever-parched climate…

UC VERDE BUFFALO GRASS: This light green, thinned bladed grass is very comfortable to sit or walk on.  Left un-mowed the grass reaches 4-8″ but can be mowed to your desired height.  It is sold in “plugs” which are typically planted anywhere from 8″ to 12″ apart.  The plant spreads by stolons and prefers full sun.  The best time to plant is during the active growth season which is spring and summer.  From about December through March the grass will go dormant (less so in warm winters) and take on a tan color.  Special attention must be made at planting time to remove all weeds and previous turf and to stay on top of weed removal as the grass fills in.  Buffalo Grass is super thrifty on water saving about 75% of the water used on a traditional turf.

NATIVE BENTGRASS (Agrostis Palens):  This emerald green, medium blade grass is also very soft.  Bentgrass spreads by underground rhizomes and can withstand low mowing heights or be left to grow into more of a meadow look with mowing only every 3-4 weeks.  This grass is happy in full sun but can take a little shade.  It’s available in sod or seed and can be planted anytime during the year, however, it is easiest to establish if planted in the fall.  Proper, deep watering is important to establish a deep root system during the first year and then the grass will only need about half the water of a traditional turf.  This grass will go dormant in the summer unless water is provided.

There are other species being used as lawn replacements such as Carex pansa or Carex praegracilis.  These lawns do save some water (about 25%) but they form tufts and are not as easy to walk on as the above options.

Lawn removal and replacement is a big investment so it’s important to get advice from a professional who focuses on sustainable landscapes as to what type of grass will work best in your situation.  Besides saving water these lawns are pest and disease resistant (so no herbicides or pesticides),  require only a minimum of fertilizer or compost tea and require less mowing.  Everybody wins with these great grasses!

For more information contact Satori Garden Design

 

 

 

Lush but not Thirsty

It’s hard to believe but this backyard landscape will actually save my client over 17,000 gallons a year. Why?  We removed 800+ sq. ft. of thirsty traditional turf and replaced it with a lovely covered seating area and firepit, climate appropriate plantings (Correa, Heuchera, Grevillea, Astelia, Sedum, etc) AND we installed Agrostis pallens (native bentgrass) as the lawn alternative. This bentgrass is my new BFF….it grows roots down to 6-8 feet once established so its very drought tolerant. It will go dormant under drought situations and bounce right back when it gets rain or water. Therefore, you have a lawn that easily saves 75% of the water of a traditional lawn.

It’s freakin’ fecund!

broken concret path leads to fire bown and fountainAloes and Artemesia in the foreground, outdoor kitchen in the distanceMy client and friend actually blurted “it’s freakin’ fecund!” when I was at her house taking photos of her garden.  I think her description is very spot on given the fact that when these photos were taken the garden was in for just 5 months!  I used mainly 1 gallon plants or flats with a sprinkling of 5 gallon plants.  It’s astonishing how happy her plants are and how quickly they’ve taken hold.  In fact, I offered her a few vegetable plants to stick in the ground right after I planted mine.  Wouldn’t you know it….hers are twice the size of mine and insect free.  I think this is due to the fact that there’s a good amount of diversity in this garden and we added a really nice organic soil conditioner called Tri-C Humate Plus.  The garden is largely native and all the new plantings are low water (except the vegetables which actually don’t get any supplemental water).  This is another Santa Monica Sustainable Landscape Grant garden of mine so this client received $5,000 towards the installation.  Not bad considering this was just a lawn and basketball court.  I’m really proud of this garden for many reasons.  First of all, it’s a total transformation of a backyard that was definitely not picturesque, inviting or sustainable.  This backyard will support some native insects and birds, offer gorgeous views from inside the house and lure the homeowners out to enjoy the beauty.  It’s also a low maintenance garden since the natives only need occasional attention usually in the form of pruning back.  In addition to the plantings we removed an old patio and replaced it with a beautiful permeable patio of Belgard pavers.  We also added an outdoor kitchen and a metal fire bowl by John T. Unger.

Where did all the green carpet come from?

Carex pansa lawn

Carex pansa lawn

Lawns have become such a permanent fixture in our collective psyche that it’s hard to imagine a time when everyone didn’t have their plot of green.  We can thank the wealthy, well traveled Americans in the early 1900’s who returned from England with visions of estates with sweeping green lawns.  The lawn soon became a status symbol of wealth, for only the wealthy could afford to maintain a plot of grass just for looks not for grazing.  If you consider how different our climate is from England’s and the East Coast, for that matter, it’s easy to see how out of place big lawns are in Southern California.  Replace your lawn and suddenly fertilizing, de-thatching, aerating, overseeding, mowing, lawn pesticides, grass clippings, constant water, etc… are a thing of the past.  If you’re still on the fence about going with a lawn alternative you may want to do the water usage calculations of your current lawn.  Imagine the savings in money and resources with less pollution and chemicals to boot!  Check out more scarey facts about lawns.

We can replace our lawns with ground cover, gravel, decomposed granite, permeable pavers, etc…  Santa Monica has a great description of many ground cover alternatives to lawn.  And for tips on how to get rid of your lawn so you can plant something else check out “Four Ways to Remove Your Lawn

Reaping the benefits of going “low water” in your landscape:

mediterranean meadow.smallBesides the obvious lower water bill there are great benefits to cultivating a low water garden. Many of my friends have mentioned their recent water bills to me and I remind them that we are in a Mediterranean climate typified by long hot dry summers and winters with unpredictable levels of rainfall.  We share our climate with parts of Australia, central Chile, the western cape of South Africa and around the Mediterranean basin.

Our climate in Southern California is undeniable Mediterranean and therefore dry.  It is also wonderful, and we are lucky to be able to spend so much time outside.  We can choose from a huge palette of native plants and plants from the other Mediterranean regions.  In fact, of the approximate 25,000 native U.S. plant species, close to 6,000 are native in California!  Theodore Payne has a comprehensive list of California’s Native Plants