Mar 16, 2018
by Kellen Watson, Daily Acts
What if you could have an earth-friendly lawn that was low-maintenance, soft to play on, and saved you money on your water bill? You can! There are some great water-wise alternatives now that fulfill the same role as a lawn, while reducing water use, fertilizer and herbicide use, and time spent on the lawnmower.
I was pretty surprised to learn some of the scary statistics associated with the classic lawn. For instance, 600 million gallons of fuels are used each year in the US to power lawn maintenance equipment. That could fill seven Rose Bowl stadiums. Even scarier, 17 million gallons of that fuel and oil end up on the ground (and therefore eventually in our water), which is enough to fill 340 railroad tank cars. Studies have found that dogs exposed to herbicide-treated lawns can double their chance of developing canine lymphoma and may increase the risk of bladder cancer in certain breeds by 4-7 times. According to the EPA, lawns account for a whopping 1/3 of American’s total water usage. Yikes.
If you’d like to get ideas for better alternatives, Daily Acts, with support from the City of Petaluma, is offering a free evening workshop called “Re-Imagining Your Yard: Low-Water Lawn Alternatives,” to be held at the Petaluma Regional Library on Monday, April 23rd, 6 - 8pm. You’ll learn the pros and cons of different drought tolerant plants and seed mixes that can take foot traffic, create a tidy aesthetic, and provide habitat value. We’ll also discuss how to prepare for planting. For inspiration, we’ll bring live samples of our favorite lawn-like plants for you to see and touch.
Green Carpet (Herniaria glabra) – This lovely bright green creeper spreads effortlessly in all directions filling up to two feet per plant. A fairly flat plant of about two inches, it has one long tap root (as opposed to many surface roots like a Creeping Thyme) which helps with water conservation. It likes full sun but it can take partial shade. It is soft to walk on and can take quite a bit of foot traffic, as long as it is not continual.
Creeping Sonoma Sage (Salvia sonomensis) – This creeping native can spread to 10’ across. Its lavender flowers appear in May – June on 6”spikes above 2” tall gray-green leaves. Pollinators love it! Salvia sonomensis grows best in dry shade/part shade, or under shrubs like Manzanita or Mountain Lilac. While it is very drought tolerant, be careful not to plant in intense hot sun. Occasional foot traffic is okay when it’s not blooming.
Dune Sedge (Carex pansa) – Among the most popular plants for creating an alternative lawn, this grass-like plant gives the effect of a wild meadow, looking best unmowed with water twice per month. However, a light trimming with a weed whacker twice or thrice per year can keep it thicker and more tidy. It’s soft to the touch and can take a fair amount of foot traffic, but not gophers.
Dymondia (Dymondia margaretae) – This is a slowly spreading, flat groundcover with gray-green leaves that are white beneath. Small yellow daisy flowers bloom close to the ground in summer. Plant in full sun to light shade in well-drained soil. It’s deep succulent roots help it be very drought tolerant, although it will grow more rapidly with irrigation. It is hardy to about 25-30 degrees F, so planting it in heat islands like planter strips and near stone walls is a good idea. About the only things that this plant does not tolerate well is a heavy or otherwise non-draining soil and gophers.
Creeping Oregano (Origanum vulgare humile) – Tough and deliciously scented! Two great groundcover varieties are ‘Golden Creeping’ and ‘Betty Rollins.’ They’ll grow in sun or light shade and only need to be mowed or sheared back once every two weeks in summer to maintain a tight to the ground appearance. Appreciates extra water during hot spells. They tolerate moderate foot traffic and are soft to walk on, and if you let them flower the pollinators love it!
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