Before and after: A fungus-plagued lawn is transformed into a low-water habitat

At the height of the California drought, David and Christine Ramirez started to question the practicality of their Woodland Hills lawn.

When the Metropolitan Water District started offering customers $2-per-square-foot payments as part of their lawn-replacement program, the couple decided to trade their turf for a low-water alternative.

“We wanted to lower our water bill and change the landscaping, so it prompted us to act,” Ramirez says.

In the spring, the couple hired Sam Caldera of Sam’s Landscaping in West Hills to dig up the fungus-plagued lawn in front of their 1959 ranch house. By July, the couple had a beautiful new drought-tolerant habitat.


On the Ramirezes wish list were colorful drought-tolerant plants in a variety of textures. They also wanted to attract wildlife such as birds and butterflies including the state’s dwindling monarch butterflies.

Following some expensive landscape design bids, the couple decided to fashion the garden themselves, adding plants in wide gaps initially and then filling in as plants matured.

For color, they planted four different types of salvia, English lavender, Russian sage, Mexican petunia and two types of lantana.

Fortnight lilies and kangaroo paw add height, while dwarf rosemary, feathery cassia, dwarf bottlebrush, sun-loving gaura, red fountain grass and other miscellaneous grasses add texture.

A new bench and path paved with decomposed granite breaks up the yard and allows for meandering. “I like to walk around to see how the plants are doing,” Ramirez says. “I wanted to feel like I’m wandering in nature.”

Like any evolving garden, there have been some surprises. There hasn’t been as much wildlife as they had anticipated. Recent cold weather killed off all of the lantana. Some plants that were supposed to stop at four feet are now seven feet tall. “I do spend more time on maintenance than I had anticipated,” Ramirez admits. “But it gives us some privacy.”

The entire project cost just under $10,000, a total that got a big assist from the $5,000 turf rebate the couple received.

Three years later, Ramirez is happy with the results. He is also happy with his water bill. “I run the water for six minutes once a week,” he says. The result? “It has lowered my water bill by $100 a month.”

Show us your garden makeover

We’re highlighting yards and gardens that go from heavy water users to thrifty water sippers. If you’ve given your yard a drought-tolerant makeover, send “before” and “after” pictures to We may include your yard in an upcoming Saturday section.

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