Tag Archives: sheet mulching

Replace Your Lawn with CA Natives

Looking for a way to reduce your water consumption?  A garden of native plants offers color, texture, pollinator and bird habitat, seasonal interest, and the single biggest opportunity for water savings for most homeowners.

No argument: lawns make an unbeatable playing surface.  But many lawns, especially front yard lawns, are rarely tread upon.  Too often, they are grown by default for their reliable greenery.  But that greenery comes at a high cost.  Landscape irrigation accounts for 75% of residential water use in Butte County.  Replacing lawn with drought tolerant native plants can cut landscape water use by over 80%, resulting in potential savings of around 750 gallons per week during the peak of summer for every 1000 square feet.

A Native Rich Garden Save A lot of Water

A Native Rich Garden Saves A lot of Water

Keeping lawns lush and healthy expends resources in addition to water.  Pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides applied to lawns can pose health risks to humans and leach into waterways.  Gas-powered lawn mowers produce as much as 5% of the nation’s air pollution each year.  Native gardens, in contrast, provide beauty that is truly green.

The following three steps can guide you in successfully converting your lawn into a native garden.

First, observe.  What existing trees and plants, besides your lawn, do you want to keep or remove?  What are the sun and shade patterns?   What types of grass grow in your lawn?  Do you have an existing irrigation system that can be used for your new plantings?

Next, kill your lawn. Homeowners can use either of two eco-friendly methods to kill their lawns.  Solarizing is done in full sun during summer and takes 4-6 weeks.  It works best on fescue, ryegrass, and bluegrass, with limited success on Bermuda grass.  Sheet mulching can be started any time of the year.  It takes 6-12 months, works in sun or shade, and is effective on all grasses, including Bermuda grass.  See my earlier posts for step by step instructions for solarizing and sheet mulching.

Finally, replant.  Whichever method you choose, time implementation so that you are ready to replant in the fall through early spring when cool temperatures and moist allow native plants to develop the healthy roots they need to thrive with little water during the heat of summer.

Sticky Monkey Flower: great for pollinators and your water bill.

Sticky Monkey Flower: great for pollinators and your water bill.

Select a mix of trees, grasses, perennials, and shrubs for your native garden.  Trees such as Western Redbud and Desert Willow add shade, privacy, and colorful blossoms.  Dramatic bunch grasses like Deer Grass, California Fescue, and Blue Gramma grass enliven with texture and movement.  The flowering evergreen shrubs Ceanothus ‘Concha,’ Cleveland Sage, Coffeeberry, and California Buckwheat provide definition and screening.  Perennials such as yarrow, BOP Penstemon, Naked Buckwheat, and California Fuchsia bring pizazz and pollinators into the garden.  Sticky Monkey-flower and Hummingbird Sage brighten part-shade areas beneath existing trees. And, for those who miss the year-round green of their former lawn, there are evergreen groundcover manzanitas such as ‘Emerald Carpet’ and ‘Green Supreme.’

It’s a fine balance: a native garden can add so much to your garden while subtracting a chunk from your water bill.

Much Ado About Mulching

Sheet mulch with newspaper and wood chips to kill a lawn

What, you may ask, is this fabulous mulch of which I speak?  Broadly speaking, its a layer of material placed over soil.  My preferred mulch is made from chipped or shredded bark and wood. It can be also be gravel, lawn clippings, shredded leaves, black plastic, carpet scraps, cardboard, etc.

Oh, thick layer of wood chip mulch, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways . . . .

  1. Weed eradication.  Prior to installing new gardens, I often use sheet mulching to kill existing weeds.  This simple method works by blocking sunlight to prevent germination of weed seeds, by starving existing weeds by preventing them from reaching sunlight, and by creating an environment that encourages growth of beneficial microbes to speed decomposition of weeds.
  2. Weed prevention.  A nice, 4″ to 6″ thick layer of wood chips placed over bare dirt will greatly reduce weed growth in established and new gardens.
  3. Water conservation.  Mulch reduces evaporation; your plants will be happy with less irrigation.
  4. Soil improvement.  Organic mulches break down into compost, replenishing the soil with nutrients and organic material.
  5. Soil protection.  Mulches reduce damage to soil structure caused by compaction and erosion.
  6. Reduced soil temperatures.  A thick layer of mulch shades soil from the sun, keeping temperatures lower in the root zone of plants.
  7. A finished look.  A newly planted garden just looks neater with an even layer of mulch.
  8. Practically free!  Many arborists will deliver their excess wood chips for a small fee.
  9. Easy to place.  Organic mulch is light and easy to rake.
  10. It’s easy to figure out how much you need.  Just measure the area you want to cover in square feet, multiply by .33 and divide by 27.  That will give you the amount you need in cubic yards.

So much to love about mulch!  Get some for your garden today!

My Own (Demo) Garden

Look at all of that doomed lawn!

Summer is cooking along and I’ve been mulling over my own garden.  I moved into my new home last winter.  Its a darling vintage bungalow on a corner lot in the Avenues. Pistache and Hackberry trees planted in the parkway strips grace the front yard with dappled shade.  The back yard gets the most sun (great for the veggies) and has a shaded patio to keep me cool.  The dirt is deep and fertile.  And, the house came with a LOT of beautiful, green lawn.  Such potential!  I’m starting with the front yard: it has everything I need to create my own artsy-funky, highly visible native/edible demonstration garden.

First step: scare the neighbors.  Nothing catches the attention of passersby quite so quickly as burying a thriving front lawn under six inches of wood chips.  I had to stifle a chuckle when Pam, who walks her two pups by my house daily, summed up our post-burial conversation with a sigh of relief.

“Ohhhhhh . . . so you are going to put some plants in again.”

Yes, I am.  The brown look is just a means toward the goal.  The wood chips, and the sturdy layer of newspapers beneath them, are a low-tech way to kill lawn known as sheet mulching.  Sheet mulching works in gardens that receive partial to full shade.  In the fall, when the grass is composted, I’ll start rebuilding my yard.  I’ll add fun stuff like a low fence to

Sheet mulching: 5-8 sheet thick layer of newspapers topped with 6″ of wood chips.

define my space, an arbor over the front walk, a small patio of recycled concrete in the shadiest corner, and lots and lots of plants.  The parkway strip will be all natives.  The sunny side yard will have edibles like grapes and fruit trees.  In the front yard, natives will reign again except for the sliver right up against the north side of the house where shade loving shrubs, survivors from my home’s previous life, will remain where they’ve been growing happily for years.  Sometime next year, the neighbors will be smiling again.