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     A Master Gardener's guide to the art of gardening in a hot dry climate 

drought tolerant front garden Pasadena
This Pasadena homeowner replaced a thirsty lawn with a glorious array of perennials including yellow and red kangaroo paw, sea lavender, purple salvia and, near the front, grey dyamondia for a flat ground cover.

Smart Replacements for Your Lawn

If you have finally decided that the big, green sponge in front of your home, also known as your lawn, has to go, we applaud you. We have a number of suggestions of lawn substitutes for you. If you are not sure you want to take this big step consider these figures.

Lawn grass type weekly water usage

Buffalo Grass 0.8 to 1.8 inches
Kentucky Blue Grass 1.2 to 2.2 inches
Zoysia Grass 1.5 to 2.5 inches
Bermuda Grass 1.5 to 2.5 inches
Perennial Rye Grass 2.0 to 3.4 inches
Tall Fescue Grass 2.1 to 3.7 inches

After you have looked at these numbers and before you hire a couple of guys to rip out the lawn, consider your choices of what to do with the space when it becomes bare earth again. The bare earth, by the way, should be in fairly good condition because the lawn grass roots have loosened the soil and you have probably put lots of fertilizer and water on the space. So keep as much topsoil as you can when removing your current lawn.

Now let's start with three things that could create other big problems after you remove that water-thirsty lawn.

1. Do not let Mother Nature replant the space for you. Unless you live in a rural area, this usually results in a mix of unattractive natives taking over and your home may begin to look semi-abandoned. Moreover, your neighbors and the home owners association may come knocking at your door with complaints. If you want a native plant garden, pick the natives that look best and plant them before nature chooses for you.

2. Think twice about simply spreading a truckload of rock mulch where your lawn used to be and calling that "desert landscaping". In direct sunlight rock mulch can quickly heat up to 150 degrees F. The result is that your house will be sitting in the middle of a furnace. Imagine what that will do to your air conditioning bill!

3. And before you roll out a carpet of artificial grass you should know that it, too, can heat up to 150 degrees F. in direct summer sun. Artificial lawn has come a long ways and can look quite realistic, but also creates the furnace effect. What you save on your water bill will show up on your electric bill.

Now for some positive choices for lawn substitutes...

mixed lantana ground cover

Replacing your lawn with ground covers.
One beautiful replacement for your lawn is low-growing, drought-tolerant Lantana (Lantana montevidensis L. selowiana). This fast-grower blooms almost year 'round. [more]

statice and iris Replacing your lawn with beautiful perennials.
Gorgeous drought-tolerant perennials can transform your water-slurping front yard into a thing of beauty. Read our tips on how to plant a perennial garden economically. [more]
fescue deer grass aloe

Replacing your lawn with ornamental grasses
Blue fescue, taller green deer grass and a large aloe have been planted among large rocks to create a beautiful desert landscape. [more]

Replacing your lawn with pavers

If a front garden of Rosemary or yellow Lantana sounds a bit over the top for you, consider using pavers to replace your lawn and space them widely enough to allow planting in between. [more]

Replacing your lawn with a knot garden or maze

We have now seen several small front yards where knot gardens and mazes have been created from carefully trimmed boxwood. This formal design complements...[more]  

Still not sure?  Then start small by replacing the water-guzzling lawn in your parking median.


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Our 9 Most Popular Hot Gardens Newsletters: 

1.  Flowering plants that reliably bloom in scorching mid-summer heat.

2.  Australian plants and trees that grow well in hot, dry climates.

3.  Weather-proofing palms for winter; cold weather palm trees.

4.  A white garden for night time viewing.

5.  Topiary can be easy to create and add charm to your garden.

6.  Techniques to combat death by heat exhaustion of plants in pots.

7.  Cactus as security barriers for your property.

8.  South African aloes for brilliant late winter color in your garden.

9.  Frugal gardening tips to save you money.

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