Southern California Front Yard Landscaping Ideas
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Front Yard

Southern California Front Yard Landscaping Ideas

Beckie Brown hated wasting water to keep the grass green, despised paying a gardener to mow and blow, just wanted to get rid of the turf.

Today, she sees nothing but native shrubs in her yard – courtesy of water district rebates.

“It just was ridiculous to me that the norm is for people to have green lawns when we live in a desert, ” Brown said. “I think we need to evolve and get a little more enlightened.”

Brown is part of a growing group of homeowners across Southern California who are tearing out grass to battle one of the worst dry spells in history – and seeing savings.

Water agencies are offering rebates to customers who remove their lawns and install drought-tolerant plants or artificial turf. For example, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a consortium of cities and water districts that provides water to nearly 19 million people, doubled its rebate rate in May to $2 per square foot.

In a good year, Southern California gets about 14 inches of rain, pointed out Nathan Adams, water efficiency administrator for the Santa Margarita Water District. Lawns need more than 48 inches of water a year to stay green.

Biologically put, Adamas said, lawns don’t belong in Southern California.


Drought-tolerant landscaping was gradually gaining popularity in the past few years, but the demand has skyrocketed since Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January, water officials said.

The Municipal Water District of Orange County began offering the turf removal rebate in 2011. The district was receiving fewer than 10 applicants per month, spokeswoman Darcy Burke said. Since the drought was declared an emergency, the number has gone up.

Now the district gets nearly 150 applications a month.

On top of the $2-per-square-foot rebate across Southern California, some water agencies offer additional rebates. For example, Los Angeles residents get $3 per square foot.

“All the phone calls I’m getting now are from people who want to take out their lawns – almost 100 percent, ” said Francesca Corra, president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Greater Los Angeles Chapter who owns a landscape design business in Los Angeles.

The rebates may not be enough to cover the labor, equipment and plant costs for the makeover – about $7 to $13 per square foot – but residents enjoy lasting savings on their water bills, Adams said. He estimated drought-tolerant landscaping consumes about 40 percent less water .

Outdoor watering makes up more than half of residential use, said Bill McDonnell, water efficiency manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. And indoor rebates also are available.

“We offer many, many water rebates, ” McDonnell said. “Turf removal is one of them and it just happens to get a lot of attention. It is important because it is outdoors.”


Drought-tolerant landscaping has other benefits over grass turf.

Landscape designers say drought-tolerant plants attract wildlife and give a distinct look that stands out among green lawns.

Brown of Mission Viejo hired a landscape designer and installed about 70 drought-tolerant plants, including lavender, California fuchsia and Cleveland sage. Although the plants aren’t fully grown, her 2, 100-foot backyard is already attracting squads of humming birds and butterflies.

“I spent so much time just looking at it, ” Brown said. “It’s like Christmas came early for me.”

Mike Evans, owner of Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano, said people have a misconception that drought-tolerant plants will make their gardens look dry, mostly because of what they see on the local hills.

“They have to be shown that, choosing the right plants and taking care of them properly, the garden will look beautiful year around, ” Evans said.

Drought-tolerant landscaping is also easier to maintain than lawns, experts say.

Alan Dymond of Studio City took out his front yard lawn and added California native plants two years ago.

Before the renovation, he was hiring a gardener to mow the lawn once a week and watering it a few times a week in the summer. Now he spends about an hour a week checking his plants and pulling out weeds.

“It’s more of a pleasure than a chore, ” he said.


A new Los Angeles company is offering free turf removal and drought-tolerant landscaping in exchange for rights to all available rebates.

Turf Terminators has received more than 1, 000 inquiries since May, said Andrew Farrell, head of business development. The key is to take on as many projects as possible, Farrell said, so that the company can buy bulk materials at discounted prices.

A company crew removes turf, covers the ground with either mulch or decorative rocks and installs prepackaged styles of California-friendly plants and drip irrigation.

“We did pick the right time to enter the market and we’ve been doing really well, ” Farrell said. “The more jobs that we do, it increases our chances of achieving our goal.”

But Katie Cool, who runs Cool Designs and Landscapes in Fountain Valley, said not a lot of her customers are willing to take out all of their lawns. Many families want to keep lawns for their children and dogs.