Drought Management Article 2

Ripping Out the Lawn

Gardening in a Prolonged Drought

If or when we go down to stage 4 drought restrictions, you will not be allowed to use your sprinkler systems at all.  If you use more than 12,700 gallons of water a month, you will be slapped with a drought surcharge. Most of our customers that have nice yards, use between 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of water a month. Folks, a large chunk of that water is going on your lawn.  The climate is changing and those lawns are no longer viable in this environment. This fall is the perfect time to rip out 90% of your lawn and turn your yard into a more beautiful place.
Your new yard will consist of raised beds of agaves, cactus, bear grasses (nolinas), sotols, and yuccas.  These plants will anchor your beds, and can be planted even in a drought.  Tough shrubs like texas sage in it’s many forms, the silver with pink-lavender blooms of Silverado, the darker green leaves with violet flowers of Green Cloud, and the stunning summer bloom of violet-blue on Lynn’s Legacy, all will give you a  flowering evergreen shrub that can also be planted in a dry year.  Evergreen Oleanders can also be planted in this climate. Lean towards the dwarf forms like Weeping Red, the salmon pink of Carnival, or the rosy pink of Turner’s Flirt.  These mini oleanders are a better option in our smaller yards, though the giant hardy red, white, and pink oleanders have there place where you have the room.
These evergreen shrubs and succulents will form the backbone of your new beds in the hot full sun areas once dominated by lawn, they will be in raised beds of well drained rich soil, covered in mulch. These beds will also be surrounded by paths of and areas of crushed granite (my favorite), river rock, and other favorite gravel and rock mediums. Don’t forget to intersperse beautiful pots, full of low water succulents like agaves, aloes, and cactus. Boulders and yard art will also have there place in this dryer landscape.  Things that never need water will help reduce your water bill.  Use dry creek beds where ever you can, put them in the main drainage areas, as well as the most difficult areas in the yard, you know the ones where nothing grows. Google dry creek beds and rock gardens, you will see all kinds of ideas, lots of books on the subject too.
When planting your new anchor plants in the raised beds, think about how your going to water them.  These plants are tough, but they will need water to get established, at least once every 7-10 days on the succulents, and every 5-7 days on the shrubs.  Once established these shrubs and succulents can make it on rainfall, but are much prettier if they get watered  3-4 times a month, if no rain falls.  If you’re willing to drag a hose that’s fine, but you should also consider drip irrigation systems.  Drip systems can be contracted to a professional, or can be done by you. In most cases the companies that manufacture drip systems also have on-line support, including how to videos.  There are also conversion kits that allow you to convert your sprinkler system into a drip system.
Now, when you are planting the raised beds we talked about earlier or putting in dry creek beds and rock gardens, don’t forget to put down weed barrier first.  Rainy years will bring up weeds from below, and weed barrier helps prevent that.
I’m not saying you can’t have any lawn whatsoever.  A little patch of grass out the back door, or off the porch is still nice, but it shouldn’t take up more than a couple hundred square feet, a 10’x 20’ area.  You will be able to reach this tiny patch of grass with a hand held hose and fan sprayer.  If you need a lawn fix, this will still allow you to walk barefoot in the grass.
In our next article, I will have pictures of some of the plants we have talked about so far, and the landscapes they are in. In the meantime think Rain.
Ronnie Grell
Rainbow Gardens