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By Peyton Ellas
Gardening in the Central Valley 

Removing the lawn


Last updated 8/21/2014 at 9:20pm | View PDF

The biggest garden trend we are finding is the desire for removing the front lawn. Conserving water is the main reason for this garden renovation; reducing maintenance and increasing interest are two other often-cited reasons. The lawn is a garden fad that has hung on, but as more and more lawns are removed, we become better able to see what the possibilities are for the space between the road and the front door. We can envision an interesting use of that space which can be easy to care for, better suited to our local climate and precipitation, and wonderfully interesting and beautiful.

There are several ways to remove existing lawn plants, and it is a big job. Tree of Life Nursery, one of the largest California native plant retailers and growers in the State, has a good publication on removing the lawn on their website: Summer is a great time in the Central Valley to remove the lawn since we can use the summer sun and the lack of precipitation to our advantage.

Develop an idea of the look you want before you start considering specific plants. Sketch your ideas, or hire a professional to help come up with a concept.

Do you want a yard with a lot of space in between the plants, or a cottage-style yard crowded with plants? Do you want a pathway? What about seating, a bird bath, dry creek or garden art? You want the front yard to be attractive year-round and not require abundant maintenance to look tidy and cared after?

Consider how many hours a month you can devote to maintenance either yourself or by hiring it out. Many people don't mind annual pruning in fall and occasional weed pulling or pruning, but everyone is different. One thing to be realistic about is that there is no such thing as a “no maintenance” garden.

The two plant-choice criteria to keep in mind are “low water use” and “keep it simple.” Low water use does not mean only cactus or dry-looking plants. Many plants from California and other parts of the world bloom well on little added water. Some examples include many California sages, California fuscia, buckwheat, many ornamental grasses, ceanothus and manzanita.

From Australia, we can consider the Grevilleas, including the popular coastal gem. From the desert southwest we may choose autumn sages, apricot mallow, sundrops, Mexican bush sage, germander sage and several ornamental grasses such as pink muhly. Lavender and rosemary are just two examples of plants that originate from the Mediterranean.

There is nothing wrong with a yard limited to just a few species. Use masses of plants and repetition to create a bold, interesting, attractive and easy-care yard. Don't be afraid to include open areas with wood or rock mulch or other hardscape. A few trees sized right for the yard, shrubs and some perennials can keep the yard cool and inviting, provide year-round, changing interest and support beneficial pollinators and birds.

There are many commercial sites using low-water use plants in place of lawn. Start noticing those plant choices, and consider if you want to be part of the new garden trend.

Peyton Ellas lives in Springville and is the owner of Quercus Landscape Design, specializing in California native plant-based gardens, and Auntie's Home Grown, a small sustainable farm.


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