As water starts to become more expensive, a lot of people are turning to getting rid of all or part of their lawn as a great way to cut down on water use in their landscape. Because lawn is so water hungry, this is a great tactic, but it brings up the question of what to replace their lawn with, especially in their front yard.
At my own home, we recently pulled out our boring front yard and replaced it with a fun terraced patio surrounded by drought tolerant plantings. What was once a fairly unattractive space is now ideal for outdoor living. We added a new low decorative fence to add a perception of privacy from the street without cutting ourselves off from our neighbors. The larger of the two patios is for a table and chairs. Converting the front lawn to an outdoor living space makes it a space you will spend more time in and get more out of. It also cuts down on maintenance time.
A few technical aspects to pay special attention to if you decide to remove your lawn:
1) Unless you want to be fighting grass that springs up everywhere you add water, you will need to properly kill your grass, not just physically dig it out. Roots left in the soil can and will germinate if you try to do it the easy way. Instead, get your lawn as healthy as possible and then spray it with roundup once a week for three weeks. Roundup is drawn into the plant as it photosynthesizes, so spraying a dead lawn won’t work.
2) Try to avoid the temptation of artificial turf. Even the best artificial turf is still a carpet of plastic in your yard. It uses fossil fuel based resources, often isn’t recyclable, and can become quite hot in the sun (adding to the urban heat island effect). Instead, consider other lawn alternatives such as yarrow, dymondia, or thyme. All of them are drought tolerant, quick growing, and attractive, but none can take as much foot traffic as lawn, so think about adding a walkway or flagstone path through a high traffic area.
3) Consider switching the focus to outdoor living. Instead of a lawn, focus your garden around a patio with a table and chairs, a bench, a birdbath/feeder, or a small fountain. Think about being in the space, not just looking at it. Use it as an excuse to enjoy our beautiful San Diego weather.
4) Think about edibles. Plenty of edible plants and herbs are drought tolerant. A great low water use herb garden could have rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, bay, yarrow, and savory.
5) If your lawn was large, it may seem daunting to try to fill up so much space. Generally it is not as daunting as it initially seems. Layering is the key here. Begin with larger shrubs against any large bare walls on the house. In front plant a smaller shrub, with an even smaller shrub and then a layer of ground cover in the very front. This planting technique could easily take up the fifteen feet or so between your house and the sidewalk.
6) Still overwhelmed? Consider hiring a landscape designer or Landscape Architect to help you. Contact ASLA at http://www.asla.org or search on a common business listing such as http://www.yelp.com.