Improve your Home’s Curb Appeal by Removing the Lawn

Improve your Home’s Curb Appeal by Removing the Lawn

A short drive around Chico's various neighborhoods will convince you that people love their front lawns. They must, because the lawn is the most prominent landscape feature for the vast majority of homes. And yet, we seldom see people outside actually using their front lawn spaces. Maintaining a lawn just to view through your front picture window wastes time, energy, water and money. According to a 2011 study sponsored by the California Department of Water Resources (the “California Single Family Water Use Efficiency Study”), the average household in the state uses 360 gallons of water per day, around 50% of which is used outdoors. Replacing the lawn with waterwise landscaping can reduce outdoor water use by 30-70%. In addition, lawns need to be frequently mowed, fertilized and weeded, thus racking up additional costs. So replacing or significantly reducing lawn can result in considerable savings.

Most people enjoy watching birds and pollinators in their yards, but a lawn doesn't have much to offer critters in terms of food, shelter or a place to raise their young. Frankly, a lush green lawn may be soothing on the eyes, but it's boring. A well-designed garden of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in a variety of colors, textures and elevations will welcome wildlife, provide visual interest, and distinguish your yard from those of your neighbors.

Start your design with hardscaping. Hardscaping can include walkways, gravel paths, small patios or decks, dry creek beds and retaining walls. These provide visual interest and also reduce the area that needs to be irrigated. Plan a pleasing and obvious way to get to your front door. You can edge the walkway with plantings in the ground or in urns at intervals along the way. Meandering gravel paths provide a functional and low cost way to move about the garden to observe plantings more closely. A small patio allows you to relax and enjoy a cup of tea in the yard. Dry creek beds and small retaining walls are features that separate planting areas and provide elevation changes in the yard. You can also use an edging of stone or brick to separate planting areas.

Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide the backbone and structure of your planting areas as well as provide the soothing color that we enjoy in a lawn. Add trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials and groundcovers that vary in size, color and seasonal interest. You can mass several of the same plant together or repeat it throughout the yard to create a sense of cohesion. Mix textures and foliage to provide contrast. Balance colorful focal points with plants that are mostly gray or green. Place some elements so that they lead the eye from focal point to focal point; situate other features where they will provide a visual resting spot.

An important consideration is to plan for the size of the plants at maturity, so be careful not to plant them too close together. You don't want plants to crowd each other in a few years, and you want to avoid having to remove plants that outgrow their spaces. Too many large shrubs can impair your view of the yard from inside the house and also make it hard to see your house from the street. At the same time, areas of larger shapes or masses of plants will be attractive even from a distance.

The New Sunset Western Garden Book and Calscape (the California Native Plant Society's online database of native plants) are good sources of horticultural information about waterwise plants. If your yard will be irrigated with an automatic system, it makes sense to group together plants with similar water needs. The UC Cooperative Extension WUCOLS database allows you to estimate the water needs of thousands of garden plants grown in the Chico area. This database is a valuable tool for grouping plants into zones based on their water needs.

You may want to add some special features as focal points. A water feature will attract birds to the garden. It can be as elaborate as a fountain or as simple as a ceramic dish used as a bird bath. Large boulders also provide visual interest. A bench with large pots of colorful flowering plants at either end invites you to sit and enjoy your garden.

Mulching the bare spots will help to conserve moisture by reducing evaporation and controlling weeds. You can use organic mulch (like shredded bark) or inorganic mulch (like gravel or small rocks). Keep organic mulch a few inches away from the trunks of trees and plants. Excessive moisture that is trapped by mulch too close to the trunk can lead to fungal diseases in the plant. Inorganic mulch can itself become a design element, for example by using different sizes or colors of rocks in different areas.

Visit the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at Patrick Ranch to see a variety of themed gardens that are waterwise, interesting and beautiful without the use of turfgrass. The Demonstration Garden is located in the area in front of and to the east of the Patrick Ranch Museum Visitor's Center at 10381 Midway, Durham. The gardens are free to visit and are open whenever Patrick Ranch is open to the public.

To learn more about UC Butte County Master Gardeners and their upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, call our Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email