Merry D
Merry D
  • Hometalker
  • Fairfield, CA
Asked on Dec 4, 2012

Low maintenance lawn, starting from scratch, need input

Judy ParkeyArtist In The GardenMerry D
+8

Answered

We live in a very windy area near farmland, so our lawn was always dried up and weedy. We removed everything, grass, a bizarre mix of ratty lilies, rose shrubs and geraniums that were years past their prime. Now we have this bare earth, and hubby has asked me to design something that is low maintenance and low water needs. Unfortunately, I am stumped for ideas.
I do know that the property divider is river rock, and we planned on extending that down across the front, surrounding the utility boxes (we can weed control better that way.
I plan on planting bright red and yellow lantana in the bed along the sidewalk.
As you can see, we have some new growth springing up now our rainy season is here, so I need to get on the ball and get the weed control down. We do have a sprinkler system, but the wind made it worthless; most water ended up in the street. The soil is fairly heavy, some clay, lots of cement chunks (they used to make cement here and the builder failed to use clean fill.)
I'm thinking native grasses and/ or succulents surrounded by shredded bark for weed control would be best. There's time to establish before the frost (that will be in January) and they wouldn't require too much water later. (The sidewalk was also lined with echeveria, which are still piled on the side waiting for me to figure out where to put them.) I'd also like some shrubbery along the porch, as we have a few stray cats who seek shelter there and a wind break would be welcome. The house is currently a mix of grey, off-white and a faded Colonial blue, but we hope to have it painted sometime next year in earthier tones.
Any input/ design suggestions would be welcome. We are in USDA gardening zone 9B, if that helps. Thanks in advance!
We also have all the neighborhood utility boxes, phone, cable, water, streetlight.
We also have all the neighborhood utility boxes, phone, cable, water, streetlight.
We had the driveway widened.
We had the driveway widened.
The only "before" picture I have. The grass withered within weeks after we moved in; it was sod that had been improperly installed and never "took."
The only "before" picture I have. The grass withered within weeks after we moved in; it was sod that had been improperly installed and never "took."
11 answers
  • 3po3
    on Dec 5, 2012

    Your plans all sound great. I was cringing when I saw your headline and location, thinking you were insisting on a new green lawn in northern California, which I remember being almost as dry as northern Colorado, where I live. I was really excited to see the low-water ideas, though. Lay down some weed barrier ASAP to help prevent weeds. Commercial weed cloth is an option, of course. I used newspapers, which works OK, but we still get some weeds, and you have to be really careful to get it down thick and thoroughly overlapping. We have some Karl Foerster grasses in our yard and love them. They look nice all year, and are low-water and low maintenance. Russian sage also looks good and is really low-water and low maintenance. In fact, I have lived in our house for four years and have never watered my Russian sage. Every year, it comes back bountifully. Catmint matches the Russian sage nicely and also looks decent all year. Bearded iris is another easy grower that spreads easily and is pretty much maintenance-free. In fact, if it's anything like my neighborhood, someone on your block is probably thinning irises every year and would be happy to give you some. I also have another shrub I really like that we planted a couple of years ago, and it's pretty good-looking and easy. I can't remember the name off the top of my head, but we left the little tag on the trunk, so I will look tomorrow in the daylight if I get a chance. Hope that helps.

  • Tammy
    on Dec 5, 2012

    We live in the panhandle of Florida, but zoysia grass will grow in Cali easily. It's low maint. and drought tolerant also. You can grow the zoysia grass inbetween your tall grass gardens. My sister got some seed from here and grew a beautiful lawn without watering all the time. She lives by Lake Elsinor if that helps.

  • Merry D
    on Dec 5, 2012

    Thank you for the replies! Steve, yes, it's very dry for those months and I hated watering; With our thick soil, the water would be pouring onto the sidewalk within minutes. I had one pretty blue iris amongst the weird mix of lilies; it never spread. Everything seemed to clump instead, so I figured, why not go with small island plantings and work with what works already? Tammy, the zoysia grass looks pretty but I want to get away from "lawn" altogether. We're working toward this being a minimal utility household and I'd like the lawn out front to reflect that. It would be a selling point for the right buyer (water bills when using the sprinkler system ran $300-$400 per MONTH!.) I will, however, look into the zoysia or something similar for the backyard. Hubs wants grass back there, though we were thinking something closer to a fescue grass called No-Mow that doesn't need mowing more than once a year.

  • Douglas Hunt
    on Dec 5, 2012

    Merry, it sounds like you have plenty of ideas, and good ones. I don't think you're too far from Sacramento, and it may beinteresting for you to pay a visit to a turf demonstration project conducted by the extension service and local master gardeners. They grew various types of turf, including native grasses, with varying amounts of water. Details here: http://cesacramento.ucdavis.edu/Pomology/Turf_Demonstration_Project/ The UC Davis Arboretum has a list of 100 "All-Stars," tough, water-thrifty plants, many of which are California natives, here: http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/arboretum_all_stars.aspx Finally, there is a lot of good information on the web site for Sacramento's River-Friendly Landscaping program, including photos of yards of homeowners who have faced just the challenges you do: http://www.msa.saccounty.net/sactostormwater/RFL/ Good luck. We'd love to see photos of what you come up with.

  • 3po3
    on Dec 6, 2012

    You're welcome. The other shrub I was thinking of was the Pawnee Buttes Sand Cherry. Hope that helps.

  • Jeanette S
    on Dec 6, 2012

    One tip I have heard about in the past is using cardboard and newspaper as weed barriers, but since you have a small space, that commercial black cloth would not be too expensive. I would lay out this area to be used by laying some stone in an irregular pattern large enough to hold a couple of comfortable chairs and table, or perhaps a couple of small benches. Then wind a path to the driveway. Plant drought tolerant grasses, some tall, some shorter...and when you plant, put some PVC pipe with holes punched or drilled in it down into the soil at different depths. Then all you have to do is fill the pipes and only the plants will be watered...none wasted. Then put in some large pots. Use the plastic pots that are not so heavy when filled. Use good soil and plant some pretty annuals! You don't have to plant many to have some beauty. Get creative with your layout...tall grasses can add privacy too!

  • Rocky Mountain WaterScape
    on Dec 6, 2012

    What about a dry stream bed meandering through the yard? River rock and moss rock would add a different texture to your yard and certainly would not blow away...

  • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson)
    on Dec 6, 2012

    A couple of plants to add to your perusal list would be Yucca and Sisyrinchium angustifolium (Blue -eyed grass) And maybe even an Agave? You could incorporate those into the dry stream bed idea and some square step stones with gravel in a checker board pattern that curves...hmmm.. will try to draw a simple drawing for you ..I am sure that made little sense to anyone not inhabiting my head :)

  • Merry D
    on Dec 6, 2012

    Actually, that made some good sense, thank you. I grew up with blue-eyed grass in NY, I thought it grew wild! It would be pretty and add some lovely color. And thank you to everyone for the replies. I like the dry stream bed ideas, I was trying to figure a way to make a path up to the porch without having it look "pathy". I hadn't even thought of using planter pots along the front. That would definitely give more options, a good wind screen, and solve the heavy soil issue!

  • Artist In The Garden
    on Jan 22, 2015

    I visualize giant black or dark grey boulders piled high and arranged tightly together in the center ( slightly off center) of the yard. In the cracks between them would be a good soil mix and succulents. With all the blue in the sky and your building the best colors of foliage and flowers would be hot colors. There are succulents with coppery orange leaves. Silver leaves would look good with dark rocks. As far as the lawn goes--- 'Stepables' that take heavy foot traffic or fine sharp buff or yellow gravel ( on top of heavy duty weed barrier fabric) or both. Once you have that type of gravel purple foliage in the background would be visually appealing.

  • Judy Parkey
    on Apr 16, 2016

    Hopefully you have figured something out by now but study up on a rain garden if you have 10 ft from the foundation.

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