February 2007 Los Feliz Ledger Column, “Lawns That Give Back"
Bouteloua gracilis lawn at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
We’ve all become quite familiar with the sights and sounds of the Southern California landscape: gasoline-powered blowers and mowers bellowing through neighborhoods while disbursing dusty leaf debris and choking fumes into the air and powerful sprinklers shooting water into streets well beyond the area intended for irrigation.
What if we could change all that? And, better still, what if we could keep our lush patches of green in the process of improving our air quality and conserving our precious water supply?
With the right plants, we can take the traditional notion of a lawn and turn it on its head. In place of lifeless mats of turf consuming hundreds of gallons of water per week per house, imagine fluttering wings of butterflies and hummingbirds, re-programming the sprinkler system to only turn on once every two weeks or less, flowing mounds of green and more.
A whole new crop of lawns that give back are not only possible, they’re appearing all over the city in place of the common sod we’re used to seeing. These lush lawns are easy, rewarding and urgently needed.
In July 2006, the Public Policy Institute of California (www.ppic.org) published a report entitled “Lawns and Water Demand in California,” which revealed that single-family homes consume twice as much landscaping water as multi-family complexes. And, the report cautions, “without efforts aimed specifically at reducing outdoor urban water use, the demand will pose significant financial and environmental challenges for California.”
Here’s one immediate thing we as individuals can do to help solve this serious problem: say goodbye to the sod. With a pickax and some muscle, rip out the old grass and get the area ready for new life. Be careful to avoid damaging sprinkler pipes or any electrical conduit or wiring. Place all old material in your green bin.
Next, plant a native lawn. Most will flourish without any or very infrequent mowing with a human-powered push mower (quiet and pollution-free). Try one of the following plants by seed or 4-inch or 1-gallon pots (check with the nursery to see which method is preferable for the plant you choose): Achillea millefolium (perennial herb with white flowers, handles moderate foot traffic, needs full sun to part shade, rocky to sandy soil, water once a week or less in cool season, mow once a month or less), Carex pansa (perennial sedge, handles moderate foot traffic, needs full sun or part shade, sand to clay, water once a week or less in cool season, not necessary to mow), Bouteloua gracilis (perennial grass, handles moderate foot traffic, needs full sun, sand to clay soil, water twice a months or less in cool season, mow once a month or less), Festuca rubra molate (perennial grass, handles moderate foot traffic, sun to part sun, sand to clay, water twice a month or less in cool season, mow once a month or less), Deschampsia caespitosa holciformis (perennial grass, handles light foot traffic, needs sun to part sun, sand to clay, water once a week or less in cool season, mow once a month or less).
There are many more options, such as a wildflower lawn and other native grasses and groundcovers. An Internet search for California native lawn alternatives or a visit to the following Web sites will give you lots of great ideas: www.laspilitas.com, www.theodorepayne.org, www.treeoflifenursery.com.