Turf Alternatives


by Renee Roth, Rainscape Designs

“A lawn is almost always the single largest user of water in the home landscape and over-irrigation is very common. Many gardens have large expanses of lawn that are never used but require considerable water and resources to maintain. Save considerable water, money and time by reducing turf area to a size that serves a purpose, such as play or entertainment areas. or get rid of it.”

Kikuyugrass Pennisetum clandestinum

There are several different ways to manage or remove your lawn during the drought, some take longer than others. I encourage homeowners to consider methods that reduce waste generation and chemical use, and recycle turf (if there is anything left to remove) back into your soil when possible. If you simply want to learn more about how to better manage your turf during a drought, follow these links:

Your Lawn During Drought, UC AG & Natural Resources, Master Gardener Contra Costa County http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/186273.pdf

UC AG & Natural Resources Managing Turfgrass During Drought

If you are done with your lawn and know it’s time to remove or reduce it, you are in the right place. Maybe you want to make way for a native landscape garden that supports pollinators? Or maybe you want to transition over to a meadow lawn that grows slowly and naturally, needs less water and mowing and is only green when it rains?  Either way, using native or mediterranean plants that have adapted over many years have a better chance to survive and use less water and will take much less time to manage.

By removing some or all of your turf you can:

  • Reduce summer water bill dramatically
  • Reduce or eliminate fertilizer and associated polluted runoff
  • Eliminate weekly maintenance labor and expense
  • Free up square footage for more attractive and beneficial native plants or learn to grow your own food!

Create a Meadow 

“Lawn is the cheapest thing to plant but it becomes the most expensive thing in the garden to maintain. So once you’ve planted a meadow, you’ll get your money back (usually within the first year) from reduced maintenance, reduced water, fertilizer and all of those other things that a lawn requires.”

John Greenlee, grass guru, author of the American Meadow Garden

You have many options when looking at lawn substitutes.  An important thing to remember is that all the plants will need to share the same light and water requirements, so select plant material accordingly. If you would like, you can leave the current lawn and seed over top of the grass, but it will take longer for the alternative ground covers to dominate the yard.

One option to consider is chamomile. Chamomile is an aromatic herb that is quite pretty to look at. Chamomile has feathery leaves and during the summer it has a white and daisy-like flower. Chamomile is best used in lawns that are not high-traffic areas and greens out to reseed in the rainy season. How to grow info here

Another option for a lawn substitute is white clover[3]  . Many grass fans consider white clover a weed but, in fact, white clover makes a great lawn substitute. White clover can hold up to high traffic better than many other ground covers and is low growing. Be mindful of the flower blooms, which attract pollinating bees.

Another low growing ground cover is woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca Californica).  It’s tolerable of foot traffic and a variety of soil conditions, including sandy and heavy clay soils. Plant in full sun to partial shade. While it can handle foot traffic fairly well, mixing the white clover and chamomile in with Fragarai will provide even more stability. It also will grow in many places where you may have trouble growing grass.

Below are alternatives to consider when reducing/removing turf:

Water Wise Lawn Alternatives from City of Santa Barbara

California Native Sod and Seed Mixes from S&S Seed in Carpenteria

CA Native Plants- A Starter List from Tree People

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