Out with the drought: Farewell to our grassy front yard of 60 years

by Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

I was so sure replacing our green lawn of 60-plus years was the right thing to do. Even though there are many fond memories growing up playing outside on our lawn, I was simply worn out trying to maintain grass that seemed to need water constantly. And over the past year, with rising temperatures becoming a common occurrence, it seemed impossible to keep up.

My neighbor had a beautiful front yard with a desert motif, and now that it was more mature, it was classy and colorful. Brown decomposed granite (DG) and rock were key to the design, replacing grass of any type. He also would not hesitate to remind me how much water (money) he was saving. That obviously got my attention.

Eventually, we ended up calling the very same landscaper he used, and started talking. After discussing design ideas and plant types, we eventually came up with a plan focused on drought tolerant plants and a drip irrigation system. Like our neighbors, sand and rock would be key components for the overall design.

It didn’t take long to make the decision to remove the grass and make the jump to native California plants. They may not have spectacular blooms, but they do have quite interesting foliage. At least we wouldn’t have our longstanding gopher problem any longer! Or so I thought.

Given we were still near the end of the pandemic when making this momentous decision, it would take months before work started. The front yard was finished just one week before the start of severe water restrictions in Claremont.

Yes, it was very lucky timing, but I still had no idea if we could reduce our water usage by 35 to 40%. All I knew was the water bill seemed to be getting larger by the week, with summer totals now reaching $400 to $450 per month. But we had a secret weapon: a proper irrigation system.

For our grass, all watering was set on a timer using pop-up sprinklers. We kept an eye on their maintenance to avoid surprises when away from home (one broken sprinkler can waste enormous amounts of water). Even well maintained, this system still was not as efficient as we preferred. And when the temperature reached 100 degrees or higher, I would hand water to keep up with the heat. Our weather is changing, and we had to adjust and adapt.

 

Impact of change

Fast-forward to September, and we could not be more excited about our new landscaping. What made it easier for us was the landscaper, Jonescape (jonescape.us) took our ideas, added their own and delivered on what they promised. The underground water system works like a charm, making it obvious the water is going to the right place … on the plants!

The use of rock also acts like a mulch, keeping those hated weeds from sprouting in all the wrong places. Speaking of out-of-control plants, we did have fountain grass added with the long furry stems. They are great at capturing light but also grow very quickly and can take over your garden. At this point, we are evaluating whether we want to keep them.

During the hot summer, we drip watered twice daily, then cut to once. We have noticed significant growth with most of our plants, although some of the very small ones have not been as active. The gray DG also sticks much more than you would think. It’s compressed into the ground and watered during installation, thus keeping spread to a minimum. Although clearing leaves off it is more time consuming.

The bad news was our 20-year relationship with a gopher(s) continues even after all the grass was killed and dug up. They started showing up about six weeks after planting. Very resilient critters!

 

Water savings

The water savings from last year has been substantial and welcome news for our pocketbook and the drought. We are saving about 55%, enough to keep our water bill under $180 during peak watering times. This is way more than anticipated but probably doesn’t surprise some of our readers. Literally the only change we made was removing the front lawn. That was expensive grass!

Finally, we were able to save $3,600 via a rebate through the Metropolitan Water District’s turf replacement program from SoCal Water$mart (socalwatersmart.com). The rebate is largely based on the amount of lawn reduced, which for us was around 1,700 square feet. It’s easy to sign up, but it takes about 10 weeks for the rebate to be paid.

Since my wife Betsy and I are not experienced gardeners, this route for a drought tolerant landscape worked for us. And with all the water restrictions that are most likely here to stay, it was something we had to do … and will eventually pay for itself in water savings.

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