The browning of California’s grass has become the new reality as we face the most serious draught in our history, with no end in sight. In fact, an alarming 63 trillion gallons of water has been lost in the west over just the last 18 months. Scientists are now alarmed that as the water deficit accelerates, relieving the ground of 240 billion tons of weight in H20, the ground is actually shifting and rising. Conservationists and municipalities have tried to sound the alarm, instituting no-watering days for lawns, washing cars, and trying to educate the public as to how cut back. But so far, our collective water bill hasn’t significantly shrunk – and we still insist on having putting greens in front of our homes.
So what can we do? The EPA estimates that the average American household uses 320 gallons of water a day, with about 30-60% of that in dry climates devoted to outdoor irrigation. Of that, more than half of it is dedicated to watering lawns, but up to 60% is wasted by over-watering, inefficient methods, and waste.
Point blank – we can install low-flow toilets, cut our shower time in half, and stop washing our cars, but the real and immediate impact into water usage will come from irrigation; our lawns. The good news is that many communities in arid climates like Arizona, New Mexico, or abroad, have already been through this and adjusted their landscaping accordingly.
So here are 10 alternatives to front lawns that will vastly reduce our collective water usage – and save you a big chunk on your next water bill. Hopefully when we take a drive around the same California neighborhoods in a year or two, we’ll see beautiful natural landscaping that conserves water in front of most homes – not lawns.
1. Lay natural rocks and fill in groundcover in between for a “hardscape.” It will require almost no watering and naturally keep weeds out, bust still offer greenery.
2. In areas that remain shady most of the day, plant moss. Since it’s not a deeply rooted plant, it will transplant very easily and within as little as 4-6 weeks it will take hold and spread, but never take over.
3. Plant beds of creeping thyme. It looks delicate but it’s actually a very tough and resilient low-water plant that will remain green all year, while also providing great fragrance. You never got that with your lawn!
4. Construct a brick or flagstone zero-scape, placing potted plants or small “oasis” areas throughout. Fill between them with mortar to eliminate weeds sprouting up.
5. Or, you can lay flagstones or pavers and fill in with your beloved green grass, or natural grasses. You can make great symmetrical patterns with these that make your property look bigger, or mix it up to replicate the beautiful chaos of nature.
6. As a general rule, think about plating flora that occurs naturally in your climate and geography. For most of California, that is not green grass and big oak trees!
7. Speaking of trees, you can take out the grass but plant a host of low-water, hot-weather trees, including almond, olive, avocados, figs, almonds, and pears, among others. Not only will you be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor (and nuts) but these will attract native birds and butterflies and keep your home cooler with their shade.
8. A fantastic alternative to grass is to fill surface area with sand, native crushed pebbles, or and crushed stone. You can still fill in with rocks, flowers, and plant groupings to make your yard the envy of the neighborhood – but with very little watering.
9. Synthetic grass. We hate to mention an artificial alternative when there are so many other great ways to replace your lawn, but if you must have that perfect putting green front yard, they make amazing synthetics these days. They aren’t cheap but you’ll never have to water again.
10. A new trend in landscaping is to replicate the natural ecosystem, planting native species of draught-resistant grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees but then letting them grow wild. By using native species you’ll ensure these plants require little water and thrive in our climates. After all, there is no better landscaper to emulate than Mother Nature!