Turns out the grass isn’t always greener. I’m always saying, look at those lucky Californians, they can grow all the super cool stuff. But the drought and water shortage–not so lucky.

I enjoyed an article on Annie’s Annuals & Perennials’ blog this week. Nursery customers report feeling guilty about gardening. Some are planning on letting their plants die off.

But don’t freak out, okay?

The news coverage of the water shortage isn’t always helpful in giving people a realistic idea of what makes a measurable difference in water usage, so people are trying their best to do what they can to take shorter showers and stop watering their plants. Or in Annie’s experience, they’re yelling at strangers in public showers that they’re taking a few seconds too long. So what gives? Is your climate-appropriate garden slurping up all the water Californian’s need to live? Should you hassle strangers in the gym shower? In short, no.

Residential water accounts for about 5% of all California water usage according to the Public Policy Institute of California, so families cutting back 25% as mandated only saves about 1.25% of statewide water use.

Half of residential water use, or about 2.5% of California’s water is used on landscapes, so garden water is a good place to look for efficiencies at home, but that doesn’t mean we should aim for crispy brown yards everywhere.

Plenty of plants that are native or adapted to a climate similar to California are accustomed to drought and don’t need or even want frequent watering. Some edible plants may require more regular water, but 80% of California’s total water usage goes into commercial agriculture, and you’d be better off growing yourself a salad than eating a burger or a cup of greek yogurt for lunch, if you’re trying to reduce your overall water footprint.

However, not all plants are created equal. Turf grass is like a slacker friend who wears out their welcome crashing on your couch. It just sits there, doesn’t do much, raids the cupboards, uses up your shower water, and makes messes you have to clean up.

California has been working with residents and businesses to replace turf grass with friendlier landscape alternatives, but some people aren’t looking forward to the change. While I’ve never been a big turf grass fan (it takes up too much precious space I need for plants!), I get it. It’s sad to lose a plant you like, upending your whole design scheme.

If I could offer any words of encouragement to people facing this task with dread, there are so many alternatives that are way better, I swear. No lawn mower, no regular watering, no chemicals, no dormant brown yards in the heat of summer. Instead you can get self sufficient, low maintenance plants with interesting foliage, flowers, and fragrance, making you, the birds, and beneficial insects happy. Plus, you get to feel good about your water saving ways, without critiquing the shower technique of strangers at the gym. Win-win-win.

Hats off to the gardeners who have done such a nice job ditching the lawn, it makes you wonder why we weren’t always doing it this way.

1. Lawn 2.0, a carpet of gold

What would happen if we took the lawn concept, a lush solid block of color blanketing the hell strip, but instead mass planted a fantastic drought tolerant blazing orangey gold sedum? It would look absolutely gorgeous, that’s what.

sedum lawn full front yard 2

sedum lawn

sedum lawn close up

sedum lawn tree circle
How to handle the soil ring around the tree trunk in a pebble gravel yard? More sedum!

2. Groundcover tapestry

For those of us who want ALL THE KINDS OF PLANTS, a lot of low growing dry-soil loving plants mingle nicely together.

mixed planting front yard

mixed planting tapestry 2
A mix of sedums, wooly thyme, and an adorable dwarf mugo pine
mixed planting arctostaphylos
Glowing new growth on a low-growing Arctostaphylos
mixed planting tri color sage and lavender
Tricolor sage is happy in a hot dry spot.
mixed planting lavender and spiraea
Heat-loving lavender rubs shoulders with Spiraea

3. Charming Cramscaping

We at plant lust are big fans of cramscaping. It reminds me of the Stephen Wright line – “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” If these gardeners had a lawn, where would they plant their awesome grevillea, or their cardoon, or their bottle brush, or….

A lawn would just get in the way.

artichoke front yard closer

artichoke front yard semp mix
Once again, sedums to the rescue, saving us from unslightly bare soil
artichoke front yard buds and lavender
Interesting shape repetition in the buds and lavender flowers

artichoke front yard lavender and red flower

It turns out the drought has been driving a renewed interest in artificial turf, which sounds like an option if you must have a patch of green under a swing set or play structure, but it doesn’t support wildlife and ends up in a landfill at some point when it gets scrappy looking, so it’s not the earth-friendly option drought tolerant plants are.

rolling astroturf


If you’re growing a sensible mix of low and average water use plants YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. Home gardeners who are growing healthful fruits and vegetables or flowers for joy, beauty, and to support and enjoy our birds, butterflies and bees ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. You don’t have to stop watering your beautiful plantings – just be smart about it.

– Annie of Annie’s Annuals and Perennials

So if you’re facing a lawn replacement, don’t despair. Lawns? Where we’re going, we don’t need lawns.