Here in Southern California the great big beautifully, rolling, grassy lawn is quickly going the way of the dinosaur. It’s not just municipal water regulations growing every more restrictive that’s causing it, but the ever increasing cost of water. In 10 years I predict that the “front lawn” will be but a memory and the lawn mower, if it exists at all, will only be seen on the playing field.
So what’s a gardener or homeowner to do if they want a bit of grass under foot or paw?
While a new form of buffalo grass called UC Verde has been engineered for our southwest climate, there is a problem with it. It does not do at all well in the shade or along the coast where the mornings are foggy or June gloom runs from May till August.
Here are three suggestions that will provide a lawn-like equivalent and allow for rolling around in.
1. Bermudagrass such as “Santa Ana” or “Tifgreen” is very drought-resistant and will stay green along the coast even in winter. It takes no more water than the daisy-like ground cover, gazanias. In a drought it will go brown but it will not die. As for watering, it’s far better to water it longer once a week than more shallowly and for a shorter length of time three times a week.
2. Creeping white yarrow or woolly yarrow (Achillea tomentosa) can be planted as a lawn. Plant seeds in fall and keep the ground damp until they are germinated. It will take a little time to become established but it will eventually make a ferny green mat that is very pleasant to walk on and very durable. The flowers are a bonus and can be taken off after blooms fade with a weed-wacker.
3. Lippia (Phyla nodiflora) is a drought-resistant, low ground cover that takes foot traffic, but it does bear pink flowers in June that bring bees. You can mow them off in June with a lawn mower in order that your dog’s paws won’t get stung. (Bees in the garden don’t sting except when you accidentally step on one or grasp one by mistake.) Or just be careful where you walk during that particular month.
There are also other drought-resistant solutions including eliminating the lawn all together and replacing it with drought-resistant native and Mediterranean plants. The result can be quite beautiful but it’s not ideal for your dog or child to play in.
As I hear of new or reengineered species of drought-resistant grass I will check them out and keep you apprised.
But if you don’t need a lawn for a specific purpose, think seriously about replacing it. It will save you great deal of money and make an enormous water-conservation contribution.