It's the dog days of summer, and after one of the driest winters on record in Southern California, that means less water to go around but more water needed to keep your landscaping lush. Instead of giving more water to that thirsty lawn, get rid of it completely — and even get paid to do it.
Through the city's Landscape Incentive Program, the Department of Water and Power is offering homeowners $2 per square foot of grass removed (up from $1.50 this past spring). LADWP is also providing rebates for water-efficient landscape equipment installed, such as weather-based irrigation controllers or rotating sprinkler nozzles.
But you don't have to be stuck with an empty dirt lot in front of your house. Curb water usage while boosting your home's curb appeal by replacing your grass with an edible garden; California native plants and wildflowers; succulents and cacti; permeable pathways; or mulch. Not only will you save money doing so, you'll also save water; according to LADWP, an estimated 40% of water use is outdoors, with most of that used to irrigate lawns.
Here are a few attractive alternatives to grass:
#1 Plant a front-yard vegetable garden. If your HOA allows it, put that valuable real estate to good use by growing your own organic veggies. Our mild climate means we can garden year-round, from tomatoes and melons in the summer to kale and peas in the winter. A more productive front yard also means you'll help save the bees and other pollinators by providing them with a local food source; in turn, they'll provide you with a bounty of food in the garden.
Some plants — such as artichokes, rhubarb, lemongrass, and rosemary — are not only perennial, they also make attractive landscaping plants that cover a wide area. If you plan to live on your property for the long term, citrus trees, berry shrubs, tropical fruits (like bananas and avocados), and perennial herbs (like bay and mint) are worthy investments with delicious returns year after year. If you prefer more of a cottage garden look, you can interplant edible flowers (borage, nasturtiums, violets) and herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro) among your flower bulbs. With proper mulching, your edible garden will generally only need an inch of water each week.
LADWP states that they don't provide incentives for seasonal gardens (presumably vegetable crops that change every season), so be sure to read the fine print when you sign up for the program and find out what kind of edibles they do cover.
Check out our checklist for the 10 most important things to consider before starting an edible garden, and give Ivette Soler's The Edible Front Yard a gander for more tips.
If you like to learn in a hands-on environment, the Department of Public Works offers free Smart Gardening workshops throughout the Greater Los Angeles area that focus on water-wise and fire-wise gardening, composting, native landscaping, and pest management. Or, join a series of edible gardening classes and become a UC-certified Victory Gardener with UC Davis' Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative.
#2 Go native. California native plants are well adapted to our climate, soil types, and drought conditions. According to Be Water Wise, a conservation site maintained by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a variety of shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals are "California Friendly®" — that is, they're resilient, non-invasive, low-maintenance, and need little water once established.
Try adding deer grass in place of a low hedge, California lilacs for a burst of color, fast-growing Western sycamore for shade, or our state flower, the California poppy, to cover an otherwise hard-to-plant slope.
Learn more about California native flora at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, which offers a nursery with hundreds of varieties of plants and wildflowers as well as beautiful, native-landscaped grounds, an art gallery, and a library.
#3 Go succulent. Succulent gardens don't have to be drab and dry. With an array of colors, shapes and sizes, succulents are just as beautiful as traditional flower gardens but require much less maintenance — less water (much less, sometimes only once a month will do the trick), no deadheading, and no pruning.
Even the most non-gardener of gardeners will be able to grow a lush and exotic-looking succulent garden, as the cuttings are easy to propagate and the plants quick to grow.
For inspiration, visit California Nursery Specialties in Reseda to see over 100,000 succulents on display in the gardens and greenhouses. The nursery is open to the public on weekends only, and you'll leave feeling overwhelmed — in a good way. For eastsiders, the California Cactus Center in Pasadena (just minutes from the Huntington Botanical Gardens and Los Angeles County Arboretum) offers an amazing selection of succulents, pottery, decor and accessories.
#4 Pave a pathway. Add interest to your landscaping with pathways that meander to your front door. Flagstones, decorative rocks, decomposed granite, pea gravel, wood chips, and other non-vegetative ground coverings are not only beautiful and functional, they also make great mulch around your California native plants and protect against soil erosion.
If you're not afraid of putting in a little sweat equity, The Family Handyman offers a step-by-step guide to building your own stone path, no masonry skills needed.