Low-Water Lawn and Garden Ideas


Interested in replacing your lawn or garden so that it doesn’t turn brown and die in the middle of summer, or guzzle endless amounts of water, but not sure where to get started?

Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) compiled a list of seven lawn alternatives to turf grass and evaluated each one based on how much water they require, their estimated installation costs and other environmental impacts.

Here’s what they found: Two low-water options that maintain greenery in your yard are a garden with local plants native to California and a drought-tolerant garden with plants from other arid environments such as Australia or South Africa. Native gardens rank as slightly better for the environment since native plants promote local biodiversity, such as the health of local bee populations. However, both cost anywhere from $3.75-$18.00 per square foot, including labor, to create these gardens, depending on the plants you select. Also, both can reduce the heat your yard generates in sunlight. For comparison, traditional grass lawns cost around $3.00 per square foot to install, SCPR estimated.

Looking for a plant-free, low-maintenance yard? Mulch, artificial turf, gravel, concrete and decomposed granite are all lawn alternatives that require no water. Mulch is the cheapest and greenest option, starting at $2.50 per square foot and allowing water to absorb into the ground to replenish local aquifers. Its heating effect is neutral. The other options, however, provide little to no benefit to local wildlife and contribute to the urban heat island effect. Most artificial turf and concrete products are also not permeable, so they don’t allow water to replenish aquifers. Costs to install these types of plant-free, no-water gardens range from gravel and decomposed granite at the low end — $3.50 per square foot, not including labor — to concrete and artificial turf that can run up to $15 per square foot, including labor. Read more about these lawn alternatives here.

While SCPR provided an approximate cost to put in these seven lawn-free options, it didn’t estimate the price to maintain the yards over time. However, a nine-year study from the City of Santa Monica found that, when comparing two identical test gardens — one with native plants and the other with grass — the native plant garden used 83 percent less water and required 68 percent less maintenance than the traditional lawn.

Ready to get started? Here are more resources to help you plan your perfect garden: