How to ditch the front lawn on the cheap (without it looking cheap!)


With the start of summer and more hot weather on the horizon, home gardeners in drought-stricken Southern California face a challenge: How to keep landscapes looking good while cutting back on water use. For ideas, we’re talking to landscape and garden professionals to see how they are adapting in their own yards and projects.

Ditching the lawn

Jennifer Gilbert Asher, co-owner of Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture in L.A. and a former landscape designer, pulled out the lawns at her family’s home. And she did it without spending a fortune.


In the frontyard, she wanted to replace the grass with wood chips but found it would cost a hefty $1,500 to cover the 30-by-40-foot area. Then Asher caught a break. “I saw a tree removal truck in our neighborhood, with a crew cutting down and chipping a pine tree,” Asher said. “I called the number on the truck and spoke with the owner, who was more than happy to give me the entire dump-truck load for free.” It was enough for a 4- to 5-inch layer of mulch, with extra left over for neighbors.

Asher planted low-water perennials, grasses and shrubs, including Westringia ‘Morning Light,’ Ceanothus griseus horizontalis ‘Yankee Point,’ purple fountain grass and kangaroo paws. “Eventually the plants will create interesting textures and layers, and give me a gallery for displaying artwork,” Asher said.

Asher is hand-watering the young plants until they’re established. But she’s noticed that even on hot days she can feel damp soil under the mulch, which means it is keeping moisture from evaporating.

She also wanted to remove the lawn in the backyard, which had a sunk-in-grass swimming pool. “The surrounding grass was part of the design, but we never watered it, so it looked like an abandoned yard,” Asher said.

She decided to check out Artificial Grass Liquidators in Woodland Hills. “Normally, remnants cost between $3 and $10 per square foot,” she said. “The day I went there, they had an entire football field of artificial grass for $1 per square foot.”

Asher went with the high-quality sports turf. After removing the dried-out grass, she leveled the area and spread sand over the soil. Then she cut the artificial turf to fit and used sod nails to anchor it in place.


Now the Asher family’s frontyard is covered in pine mulch and the backyard has a new, albeit artificial, carpet of lawn. Asher figures she’s turned off at least 30 sprinkler heads. “It’s nice to look outside and see green. My kids love playing on it, and our dog loves lying on it. And there’s a bonus: I don’t have to hear the noise of a lawn mower or smell the stink of gas.”


2 p.m. July 2: An earlier version of this post said Artifical Grass Liquidators sold artificial grass for $1 a square yard.