Want to replace your lawn? We have pulled together some helpful information for you.

  1. Find out whether your city and/or county offers rebates
  2. Identify the site's requirements as well as your functional needs. Questions that should be answered include:
    • Is the site sunny or shady?
    • Do I have clay or sandy soil?
    • Does the rain water pool up in winter or does it run off quickly?
    • Do I want to be able to walk on it?
  3. Select plants that support local pollinators and beneficial insects while also saving water and meeting your site's requirements. Grassroots Ecology's free native plant app — available for Apple devices — provides lists of plants for different habitats including which ones are good for lawn replacement, which ones are clay tolerant and whether they prefer sun or shade. To get the rebate, a majority of the plants needs to be on the preapproved list. NOTE: We have reduced the list to the plants that are native to CA so that you can provide quality habitat. [VIEW LIST]
  4. Come up with a design for your area. For the rebate, you may need a design but it does not need to be a professionally produced. A sketch and a list of plants should suffice. The California Native Plant Society has native plant sample garden plans to assist you.
  5. Assess the irrigation. Old spray heads can be easily replaced with high efficiency spray heads that mimic rainfall and achieve excellent growth while saving as least as much water as drip irrigation systems. The main difference with the high efficiency irrigation is that you need to run them longer than typical spray heads (about twice as long) but they still are very effective at reducing water. Drip irrigation can also be used or installed. There are rebates available for irrigation replacement, but usually you can only apply for an irrigation or a lawn removal rebate. Take note in the application whether the spray heads need to be a certain distance from the edge of the area to prevent overspray. Oftentimes, a landscaping professional can easily extend a spray head into the area with an extender pipe.
  6. Submit the application to the appropriate agency (SCVWD, BAWSCA). Some require a pre-inspection and that the lawn still be alive before you can begin work to get the rebate.
  7. Once you have the notice to proceed from the agency, you can begin work! Grassroots Ecology has had the best success removing lawns by sheetmulching. See this video to learn how to do it. This method is the cheapest and greenest way to remove your lawn, and we have done it with kids as young as kindergartners, so we have confidence that you can do it too. You can reuse existing cardboard or buy rolls of cardboard. You can even use your old newspapers. You can order woodchips from any garden supply company or try to get them for free from your local arborist. Of course, remember the old adage that beggars can't be choosers, and you have to accept what they deliver.
  8. It is best to let the sheetmulch sit for a few months to break down before planting. It won't look bad — it will just look like a mulched area. We have planted into the sheetmulch right away, but it requires you to poke through the cardboard or newspaper first to plant your plants rather than waiting for it to break down naturally.
  9. Order the plants. You can call your local nursery and ask them to special order the plants you would like, or you can visit any of the native plant nurseries that are in the area. Grassroots Ecology's Native Plant Nursery can also provide plants on a wholesale basis (link to the nursery page).
  10. Install the plants. Fall is the best time to plant as it allows the plants to get watered with natural rainfall and the cool of the fall nights will help the baby plants from getting overstressed. At Grassroots Ecology, we plant anywhere from October-April, realizing that you will have provide more supplemental irrigation the later in the season you plant. This video shows how to plant into sheetmulch. (Information starts at 5:53)
  11. Provide supplemental irrigation until there is a good rain to soak in the plants. We recommend one deep watering per week for the first 6 months and then you can go to once every 10 days to 2 weeks after that depending on soil and exposure. It typically takes 2-3 years for native plants to get established assuming a reasonable rainfall. After that, you can just water periodically depending on your desires and the weather. Las Pilitas Nursery has a helpful guide to watering California native plants.
  12. You can cut or deadhead your plants periodically depending on your desires. Grasses should be left to go to seed, and then they can be cut to remove the old seed heads. Perennials can be deadheaded once the flower is spent. If you have all of one species, and it is a rhizomatic grass like Dune Sedge (Carex pansa), you can mow once or twice per year. Maintenance is typically a lot less than a lawn because you don't have to mow as often or add fertilizers and aerate. That being said, native plant gardens still are gardens so require some maintenance to look good. Typically the effort is more in a quarterly basis, but will be higher in spring when you may need to remove any new weeds that have come up through the sheetmulch. It is also good to apply some fresh compost and wood chips every couple years as well as fill in with replacement plants. Sonoma County Master Gardener Program has compiled a guide for caring and maintaining native plants. IF you have gardeners, native plant maintenance can be a bit different from lawn care. There are green gardener programs that certify landscape crews in sustainable landscaping. Sponsor your gardener!
  13. Sit back, save water and watch your backyard ecosystem begin to heal itself. By not using herbicides or pesticides, you will see more beneficial insects and their predators, such as western fence lizards who inoculate ticks against lyme disease. You will see more birds because you are providing a diversity of plants which supports a diversity of insects. Enjoy your weekend not mowing or blowing but resting and observing.