Lawn is the highest water consuming feature in a landscape. Typical turf grass uses 5,600 gallons of water per month per 1000 square feet of lawn. That’s 20-plus thousand gallons in the summer alone.
Proper maintenance of a lawn requires regular irrigating, mowing, edging, fertilizing and weeding, as well as occasional pesticide applications and vertebrate pest trapping. While the time and cost of these activities vary greatly depending on the size of the lawn, the type of grass and the level of care, it should suffice to say that a well maintained lawn requires the investment of more time and money than any other form of gardening in an area of a given size.
Maintaining a lawn has several indirect impacts, including the drain of scarce water resources, the noise and air pollution of gasoline engines, the long-term poisoning of the soil with synthetic chemicals, and the loss of natural habitat for wildlife.
Recreational space for kids or dogs
Recreational space for adults
Following the common practice
Many families intend to use their lawn for recreation, but actually use it very little for that purpose. These families may want to consider lawn alternatives.
If you do not already have an outdoor "room" that suits your recreational preferences, consider replacing some of your lawn with a patio or deck. An unbroken expanse of concrete certainly would provide visual relief, but better and less expensive options include flagstones or pavers set in sand. This design provides a permeable surface that conserves water and accommodates spaces in which low-growing plants can be installed for visual interest. See the Garden Gallery for photos of various hardscape choices.
Break away from the usual foundation bed, which typically takes the form of a narrow strip of shrubbery next to the house. There are endless design possibilities for an orderly, cultivated appearance while avoiding the overgrown look. Low-growing groundcovers with a few carefully placed accent plants and clusters of colorful annuals could provide an attractive setting. This approach also could feature California native plants, which work with nature and support wildlife. See the Plants section for a list of ground covers.
The nurseries are busily researching garden-worthy grasses and sedges in response to growing interest in these plants. A new book by "The Grass Guru," John Greenlee, is a source of inspiration for lawn alternatives, particularly the meadow look. The American Meadow Garden (Timber Press, 2009) provides a well-researched and readable guide to grassy alternatives to the traditional turf grass lawn, and to other ornamental uses of grasses in the landscape. The book takes a West Coast perspective, which ensures its usefulness for our Mediterranean climate, and includes stunning photographs by garden photographer Saxon Holt. If you create a meadow in your front yard, you might get raised eyebrows from your neighborhood's more conservative horticulturalists but you will have common sense and Mother Nature on your side. Look for a mixture of Fescues and Junegrass. Water smart grass sods are now available or your meadow may be planted with grass plugs. Look in the Plant Search for water smart grasses.
If you are just not ready to lose your lawn entirely, consider the minimalist approach. Reduce your lawn to the smallest area that still provides the recreational space or visual relief that you must have. This area might be similar in size to your living room. You'll still have to water and fertilize and edge on a small scale, but you could retire your gasoline-powered mower and instead use a quiet cordless mower, or even a manual push mower.
Lawn Watering Guide - http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8044.pdf
Tips for a Healthy Beautiful Lawn - http://www.ourwaterourworld.org/Portals/0/documents/pdf/Lawns%2009.pdf
EPA Healthy Lawn Healthy Environment - http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/lawncare.pdf