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A drought tolerant landscape after lawn removal
A drought tolerant landscape after lawn removal

The water saving garden

Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Issue 21, Volume 18.
Linda McDonald-Cash
Landscape Designer, Special to the Valley News

Hello fellow gardeners! Although I have discussed the drought tolerant garden previously, this is such an important issue here in Southern California that I wanted to continue on with this topic.

You may, or may not, be aware that once again we’re in a drought here in California. Governor Brown has asked for a voluntary 20 percent cutback in water usage and some areas, such as San Diego County, are already more stringent. I wanted to make you aware that you can currently receive $2 per square foot from the Metropolitan Water District ( for removing lawn and replacing with drought tolerant plants. Here is the web site that tells you about many of the plants that should be utilized in your landscape

For those of you living in the Fallbrook area, you can really get great rebates, the San Diego Water Authority is offering $1.50/sq.foot and will pay up to $3,000! Check out that information at They are also offering rebates for water timers, as well as water saving "rotary type" sprinkler heads.

If you decide to go ahead, read the rules for the program carefully and make sure you get the approval first before starting. You can either draw up your own plan or hire a professional to do so.

A typical project that removes lawn might incorporate some boulders, plantings (drought tolerant of course), possibly permeable pavers, and/or some gravel pathways. In the front, possibly a small courtyard surrounded by either a low wall or drought tolerant shrubs. Shady areas always require less water than full sun, so possibly a free standing pergola with grapes growing over it might add a nice touch to the backyard – or a tree that lets through some sun so that you can still plant underneath, such as an Acacia, Crape Myrtle, or Palo Verde. Any type of light filtering/blocking canopy will help cut back on water use during the summer and is a good idea.

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it is important to have ground cover over your soil – it helps prevent water loss through evaporation, and personally, I think it just looks better. Your ground cover can consist of gravel, shredded or chipped bark, as well as living ground covers, many of which are drought tolerant. You might also consider the addition of weed cloth underneath your ground cover, this helps prevent weeds from sprouting, however, if you’re utilizing drip irrigation, you shouldn’t have too much trouble with weeds, only right after the rains possibly.

If your ground cover is at least 3" deep, which is my recommendation, you have less chance of weeds taking hold also.

I’ve removed sections of lawn in my own backyard and inserted raised beds for veggies and gravel paths in between them, a far better use of the yard in my opinion than growing grass. I’ve even removed an entire section of lawn to the left of my driveway, planted several roses there, all on drip and bark chip mulch around and they use far less water than the grass did, not to mention I don’t have to mow and I get beautiful flowers to look at and bring into the house as a bonus.

Although I’ve listed plants in previous articles, I’m going to quickly name a few of my top favorite plant varieties to include in a drought tolerant landscape.

For color I’d recommend Salvias and Penstemons also Anigazanthos flavidus. I love succulents such as Echeverias, aeoniums, Calliandras, yuccas, and the smaller agaves. For ground covers, verbenas, iceplants, junipers (spreading) myoporum parvifolium, Creeping Thyme, and ‘Pigeon Point’ ceanothus, as well as the low growing sedums. Additionally, high on my list would be Leonotis leonurus, rosemary, Dasylirion wheeleri, Cistus (rockrose) artemesias, and clumping grasses. Olive, Arbutus Marina, Grevillea, Chitalpa, Acacia, Pistache, and Robinia, all grown in the right place are beautiful and water saving


Hopefully you learned something useful, and as always, I am available for consultations and design work.

Linda McDonald-Cash

(951) 764-4762



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