Low-Water Lawn and Garden Ideas


According to the EPA, outdoor water use can account for as much as 60 percent of total household water use in arid regions. Do you want to replace your high-maintenance, water-thirsty lawn, but aren’t sure where to get started? You can use drought-tolerant plants or plant-free lawn options to save on water and lawn care.

Drought-Tolerant Plants

Create a lawn with drought-tolerant plants native to California. This low-water option will keep greenery in your yard while benefiting the environment, because plants help the soil absorb and hold more water while preventing erosion. They also reduce the heat your yard creates from reflecting sunlight. Native plant species in particular promote the health of local bee populations.

Want to try it? You can stick to grasses that look like your typical sod, such as the native California bent grass or Native Mow Free, a trademarked California grass. You can also search the California Native Plant Society’s map for native plants suited to your area.

Succulents and ornamental, drought-tolerant grasses are another way to add beauty without the extra water and maintenance. If you still want flowers, try planting native perennials that tend to be hardier and require less water, such as blanketflower, common yarrow, and a few varieties of sage.

Need more inspiration? Check out other Californians who have replaced their lawns in the State of California’s Reimagine Your Landscape. Worried about the extra work involved in replacing your grass? Don’t be! A study from the City of Santa Monica found that a native plant garden uses 83 percent less water and requires 68 percent less maintenance than a traditional lawn.

Plant-Free Lawn Options

Looking for a yard that’s entirely plant-free? Mulch is your greenest option, allowing water to absorb into the ground to replenish local aquifers. Its heating effect is neutral, and it also tends to be the most affordable.

Artificial turf, concrete, gravel and decomposed granite are other lawn alternatives that don’t require any water. However, they provide little to no benefit to local wildlife and contribute to the urban heat island effect, so it’s best to limit how widely you use them. Whereas gravel and decomposed granite both allow water to sink into the ground, most artificial turf and concrete products are not permeable, so they don’t allow water to replenish aquifers. However, by using a tiling pattern, you can create spaces in between these hard surfaces for water to seep through.

Do you already have turf grass and want to replace it? Visit SaveOurWater.com for information on how to get a rebate for replacing your turf grass with low-water or native plants.

More Water-Saving Tips

  • Collect rainwater in rain barrels and use it to irrigate your lawn and garden, cutting down on water bills and wasted runoff.
  • Create a dry creek bed made of smooth rocks. It will direct the flow of rainwater while creating a striking visual effect in your yard.
  • Terrace sloping areas of your yard or use small check dams to increase your yard’s water absorption.

To learn more about taking good care of our water supply, visit our Clean Water page.