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Here's the low-down on the smoothest alternatives for saving water on your lawn replacement. These methods are based on 10 years of experience as a contemporary Permaculture designer in Los Angeles, the SF Bay Area and Western Canada. There's a lot to know but I'm going to break it down to the 3 basic lawn alternative materials to consider and how to stay climate responsible using them (so droughts can get better not worse).

    Best Native Grasses & Groundcover
    Alternative Lawn Species


    Frogfruit Groundcover (sterile): Phyla nodiflora
      The only native spreading groundcover that currently works as full-coverage lawn in California. And it's a SUCCULENT. Most Waterwise option on the market. This low-growing groundcover plant survives on once a week watering in most areas. Lushes up quick with more.

    California Bentgrass Lawn: Agrostis pallens
      The closest thing to conventional sod that California grass has accomplished so far. Without mowing it gets 12-18" long and takes on a warm soft green look. Gets some brown patches in summer, greens up in fall.
    California Fescue Blends: Festuca californica, Festuca rubra, Festuca idahoensis, etc.
      These no-mow meadow grasses grow thick with a long and sweepy look. They're much more drought tolerant than conventional lawn grasses but not suited to high heat areas. Does awesome on slopes. Like Bentgrass, it browns in patches in summer.

    California Meadow Grasses & Wildflowers: Carex pansa, carex praceagalis, Boutlouea gracilis, Buffalo Grass, Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Aquiglea, etc.
      These low-growing ornamental grasses are native to dunes and meadows up and down California. We've mixed buffalo grass, California sedges and yarrow together for a more diverse native micro meadow. Space grasses and yarrow at 12-18" apart for full coverage. Or even further toseed poppies, lupins or other wildflowers in during Winter.

Tried & True Drought-Tolerant Plant Combos


Cactus & Succulents (Xeric Gardens): Some supplemental irrigation is usually a good idea where rainfall is less than 20" a year. Remember Cactus can be slow growing. And good SOIL DRAINAGE is key to their success.

  • Favorite Cactus & Succulents (sun): Rock Purslane (Caladrinia), Desert Spoon (Dasilirion), Thornless Prickly Pear, Chalk Lettuce (Dudleya)
  • Favorite Succulents (shade): Blue Agave, Foxtail Agave, Aeonium's, Aloe Vera, Paddle Plant (kalanchoe)

California Native Plants: Most are adapted to longgg periods of drought. They are susceptible to disease if over-watered in hot times. Some, like ceanothus, even die off entirely if summer watered. Natives are also OBSESSED with great drainage.

  • Favorite Sage Blend: Brushes like sagebrush and coyote brush, flowering salvia’s, buckwheats and other low-water perennials makeup this plant community. Try: Artemisia californica, any big Salvia ( apiana, gregii, leucantha, leucophylla) any Erigeron species and yarrow (Achillea).
  • Favorite Grass & Wildflower Blend: . Easiest small species to try: carex pansa, festuca californica, golden poppy, verbena (rigida or de la mina) & Oenothera. Muhlenbergias are great for a bigger ornamental grass.

Mediterranean Shrubs:In addition to being some of the easier and more versatile drought tolerant's, mediterranean herbs & small trees are also some of the more useful (whether you get around to using them or not). Here’s some top-performing industry favorite varieties for that clean, coastal, silver foliage feel.

  • Favorite Mediterranean Garden Plants: Rosemary ‘Boule’, Lavender ‘goodwyn creek’, Thyme - thymus citrodonis, Lavender cotton - santolina virens, Catmint ‘walker’s low’
  • Mediterranean Accent Trees: Dwarf olive - ‘little ollie’ or ‘montra,’ Strawberry tree (arbutus marina), Cypress ‘tiny tower’ and Bay laurel.
Spreading Groundcover: Spreading groundcover is the cheapest lawn replacement option. Though not walkable, these plants can cover slopes and spaces you’d like to leave open but not bare.

  • Southern California Groundcover Plants: Rock Purslane, Rosemary 'huntington carpet,' Ceanothus ‘yankee point’ and ‘Bee’s bliss’ Salvia can spread 5-10 feet if adequate drainage is provided.
  • Northern California Groundcover Plants: Juniper, Bearberry and creeping Manzanita can quickly cover hillsides. While yerba buena, bearberry, and columbines can fill-in under large trees.
  • Dry Shade: Hummingbird Sage (salvia spatheca) Deer Grass and Catalina Perfume or Evergreen Huckleberry can work wonders.
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