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7 Incredible Lawn-Free Frontyards for Southern California

Looking for ideas for lawn replacement? We've been snooping the streets to document the best (and most eco-forward). Checkout our favorite Southern California lawn-free front yard ideas. Because living without grass can still be bada- awesome. It can still be awesome. 
Scrolling down, you'll notice one thing these yards all have in common: a lot of plants. Gorgeous walls or oceans of foliage. Why? Because plants are the best water storage mechanisms on the planet. And their leaf canopies provide shade which cools surface temps at an efficiency rate of 23x air conditioning.
Yes, it's important we replace lawn grass with plants. Just plants that use less water! Which isn't a big ask, because the majority of perennial plants save up to %50 the amount of water as grass. And the majority of drought tolerant plants use only 20-30% the water of sod. These yards were all photographed in fall. So all the golden leaves, grasses, and pre-pruned sages are lookin' super fly. 

Caveat: I am one of those people who slinks around at dawn looking for incredible yards & design ideas… Is this one yours??? or did you design this landscape?? Please leave a link in the comments so we can attribute you and/or accommodate privacy requests. Love your work! 


1. A New Kind of Grass - the Meadow Garden 

Awesome ornamental grass lawn replacements deer grass and california natives instead of turf


Ain't nothing wrong with grass. IF it's a super drought-tolerant native variety! Large ornamental grasses are MUCH more drought resistant than conventional lawn sods and provide a lot more privacy too. Mound your soil up to create drainage and capture rainwater closer to thirstier plants. Mix in flowers for seasonal variety. And be ready to cut back ornamental grasses hard in Nov-Dec for the best growth in the following year.


  • Find 1-3 low-water ornamental grass varieties that you like and space 3-4' apart to fill in where your dead lawn used to be
  • Mix ornamental grasses with a few other similarly sized mounding shrubs for a more colorful look. 
  • Avoid invasive grasses (i.e. this purple pennisetum variety - use new zealand flax instead!) so they don't start showing up all over the place. 

FEATURE PLANTS: Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens - can be hard raked instead of cut back), Mexican Marigold (Tagetes limonii), Purple NZ Flax (Phormium purpureum - insetead of invasive Purple fountain grass) 


    2. White Stucco - Spanish Modern 

    Spanish Modern Frontyard Design ideas for california drought tolerant lawn replacement


    The color contrast of this sharp royal blue, brick red and white stucco house with lavender sages, golden kangaroo paws is HARD to beat. The other vibrant pops of color from crepe myrtle and lion's tale bring home the swan song. I happened to snap a pic of this yard 2 years ago before it reached maturity and I can tell you, it looked pretty good then too. 


    • Play up the formal Layout / Straight Lines (notice the hedging at the right & linear walkways)
    • Add a clean low privacy wall for a backdrop for your brightly colored plants (just a head’s up most neighborhoods require a 3-foot setback and wall to be under 3 feet in height)

    FEATURE PLANTS: Kangaroo paw (Anigazanthos), Palo Verde (Parkinsonia 'desert museum'), Santa Barbara Sage (Salvia leucophylla

    Spanish Modern Frontyard Design california drought tolerant ideas for lawn replacement 

    3. Sea of Jewel Tones

    Lawn Free Yard Ideas for Southern California - Contemporary Drought Tolerant Garden purple foliage

    This incredible garden is composed of cool blend of awesome year-round foliage plants to ensure you always have color. The variety of nicely shaped plants and drought tolerant species makes for easy maintenance. With carefully considered spacing and an occasional pruning schedule you're on your way!
    The best part? This gorgeous wall of foliage is planted on top of mounded soil concealing a very private frontyard patio / sitting space. That also functions as a rain water absorption bed because of the level grade, natural water break and permeable paving. 
    • Mound up soil towards property edges to frame private seating ares
    • Use dramatically contrasting foliage tones, keep flowering plants low-growing or to a minimum
    • Add 1-2 light-colored super spikey or angular shaped plants to frame the scene and contrast with the soft mounds of other foliage colors you’ve chosen 
    Design ideas really go next level here. Including the fabulous permeable paving walkways. Please if you designed this, we want to know who you are! 
    ACCENT PLANTS: Purple Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria 'purple'), Purple San Cherry (Lycianthes / solanum rantonnettii), Dwarf Olive (olea 'montra), Pea Shrub (polygala myrtifolia)
    Lawn Free Yard Ideas for Southern California - Contemporary Drought Tolerant Garden with purple foliage plants

    4. Mow-Free Native "Lawn"

    No mow native lawn california drought tolerant frontyard ideas


    If you’ve got even a bit of shade and an existing sprinkler system you can do awesome things with native lawn and groundcover options. See video here. Check out this beautiful installation of no-mow native Fescue

    Spanish Modern Frontyard Design california drought tolerant ideas for lawn replacementDESIGN IDEAS:   

    • Native grass or groundcover sod
    • Single accent tree with seasonal interest
    • Edge with drought tolerant ornamental grasses (link to ornamental grasses blog), your favorite cactus & 1-3 varieties of native wildflowers 
    ACCENT PLANTS: Redbud Tree (Cercis canadensis) Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana), Pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia), Gramma Grass (Bouteloua graciils), SOD: no-now fescue 

      5. Mediterranean Minimalism - Contemporary Drought Tolerant

      Lawn Free Yard Ideas for Southern California - Contemporary Drought Tolerant Garden with deer grass


      Contemporary Glory for this nicely terraced custom home. The large retaining walls frame conventionally modern garden beds, but instead of traditional roses are filled with similarly shaped blooming grasses and native wildflowers and a perfect placement of trees (olive & strawberry tree) 


      • Frame large STRAIGHT edged or rectangular garden beds at back
      • Alternate straight rows of 3-4’ tall architecturally interesting plants in square planters
      • Create round garden edges closer to the home where you fill in with softer smaller growing plants and a small groundcover, DG or alt lawn area
      • Place 1-3 medium- large growing trees strategically to enhance privacy

      ACCENT PLANTS: Strawberry tree (Arbutus marina), Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), Santa Barbara sage (Salvia leucophylla

      Lawn Free Yard Ideas for Southern California - Contemporary Drought Tolerant Garden with deer grass


      6. Sea of Silvers (with gold accents) 

      ,This is an epically low-water garden with lots of great natives and water-saving design features. The majority of most blue leaved plants flower yellow, so we know that this garden explodes with hot, nicely-contrasting gold accents in spring-summer.


      • Mix all blue & silver foliage plants or those with a powdery coating (foxtail agaves, etc.) with a few deep red or rust colored accents. 
      • Plant on or create a slope to ensure great drainage for soggy-sensitive native and low-water plants. 
      • Mulch & repurpose: A nice layer of mulch helps keep soil moisture in place (but just a head's up certain plants like Palo Verde don't like mulch)

      ACCENT PLANTS: Knifeleaf Acacia (Acacia cultriformis- not actually sharp), Blue spurge (Euphorbia characias), White sage (Salvia apiana), Variegated Smooth Agave (Agave desmentiana variegata)

      7. Low-Water Japanese Rain Garden

      Frontyard Design ideas for california drought tolerant lawn replacement japanese rain garden

      This gorgeous collection of dwarf ginkgo biloba's sits over an epic rain water collecting feature. Rosemary, mandarin, lavender and silver carpet dymondia pair with other low small dry grasses and wildflowers. A bonsai pine or 2 complete the effect. 


      • A staggered row of dwarf trees with seasonal interest
      • Rocks. No Japanese garden is complete without them. They symbolize miniature mountain ranges in this traditional form of design. 
      • Large “dry” streambed or rain garden. This one takes the cake by using a blue (silver carpet dymondia) groundcover to fill in the sunken flat surface of the rain water capturing feature, giving it the feel of water year-round
      • Groundcovers and mounding perennials 

      The topography of this garden is SO impressive. Having a nice deep seasonally dry stream bed like this really helps capture rain water in big storm seasons. Plus all the big rocks provide a lot of great drainage. A real high-functioning beauty.

      FEATURE PLANTS: Dwarf ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo biloba ‘menhir’), Silver Carpet groundcover (dymondia margaetae), Rosemary 'Boule', Bonsai Juniper

      Frontyard Design ideas for california drought tolerant lawn replacement japanese rain garden



      Bonus! Succulent Groundcover Lawn



      Awesome low-water lawn replacement alternative ideas for southern california

      Okay, maybe you can have a lawn, just with a bit of a different look. There are 2 super tough succulent ground covers on the market that are really putting the idea of Alternative Lawn to the test.

      California native succulent groundcovers for lawn free frontyards


      • Dwarf Carpet of Stars (Ruschia lineolata) which hails from South Africa and brings a nice little lumpy ice plant into an easy low-water mat form for all your groundcover needs. Holds up to foot traffic too.
        green groundcover lawn replacement hot new yard ideas
      • California native Japanese-patented Kurapia (Alt lawn ulta) that is mow-optional dog-friendly and also very low-
        water.  Each groundcover plug can spread up to 10' while sod gives you that instant super green. Stays green in winter though it stops growing. Spring blooms attract bees.
      • Silver Carpet Groundcover (dymondia margaetae) is a relative
      • of the african daisy that is a minimal bloomer. It can be tough to get it full coverage. But with well established conditions and the right watering system blue lawns are possible. 

      Ensure your soil has decent drainage and ammend lightly (lawn fertilizer is way too strong for this stuff). Lay your groundcover well spaced. Accent with broadly spaced drought tolerant shrubs or cactus


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