Emotionally we loved grass for its lushness, its functionality, and even its smell. Intellectually we learned it made little sense in a dry climate with water in short supply, and that removing it would save both water and maintenance.
We bit the bullet in December 2013 and removed 3,000 square feet of grass. Most was a mundane expanse used as a walkway. The rest was the uphill climb there, wide grass steps we had earlier graced with Santa Barbara stone risers.
Left to right in the above photos, the grass was replaced with:
- Cherokee Creek flagstone terrace by the Santa Barbara stone bench built the prior year
- narrower gravel & flagstone steps with new drought-tolerant plants to extend existing beds
- mulch path with new groundcover to bridge to existing drought-tolerant beds
This area consumed 55% less after these changes, but I expected more. After all, we replaced half the water-loving grass with no-water stone, gravel, and mulch, and the other half with drip-irrigated drought-tolerant plants. A quick analysis revealed the culprit was too many little plants.
We had purchased, planted, and irrigated hundreds of Myoporum parvifolium, Senecio mandralisceae, and Sedum rupestre. These bitty, unremarkable plants with 2 gallon/hour emitters would take 15% of total available water! So much for an instant garden’s allure and these plants’ purported low water use, a deception described in Gauge plants by water/sq. ft.
Groundcover, especially in this area, was a low priority. I removed most and experimented with smaller emitters on the rest. These plants did well with less water and have filled in over time.
- This 3,000 square foot space now uses 80% less water than it did with grass.
- The area is more beautiful and functional than ever.
- I learned a valuable lesson: calculate consumption impact first, then tune, then implement.
- We gained inspiration and courage to convert thousands more square feet of lawn.
Photos courtesy of Pat Brodie and Buzz Hochberg