Urban Garden Denver Blog

Minimizing Turf

The joke at our house is that I mow the lawn with my shovel. Over the course of several years during our last drought, I intentionally took out sections of our grass lawn and replaced it with low water ground covers and perennials. If you want to save water in your garden, minimizing and turf and intentionally replacing lawn with low-water plants is the best way to accomplish this goal. I would also argue that this solution is good citizenship in Colorado, or any other arid climate. This weekend, walk around your yard and assess which sections of lawn are essential — places your family loves to play, lounge or walk barefoot. If you are honest, there are many parts of your yard where lawn is unnecessary and requires too much maintenance. You might as well dig it out now, before you water it all season, and replace it with ground covers.

Start with the parking strip — if you live in an older neighborhood, there is likely a strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street. This is useless lawn. Dig it out and stop watering! Lay flagstone along the street, so people who park in front of your house have a place to step out of their car. Then plan low-water ground covers or perennials in the rest of the space. You will only need to water once a week (maybe twice the first year) rather than every 3 days with lawn. My favorite plant in my parking strip is a mat daisy that is very hardy and has a lovely flower in the late spring. Lauren Springer Ogden, horticulturist, coined the phrase “hell strip” for these areas, because of the heat they endure. She has suggested particular plants that do well in these areas in some of the pre-planned gardens from High Country Gardens. If you don’t have street trees in this section, plant one this spring. Check out specials at The Park People (for Denver residents).  If you do have trees in the parking strip, they will thank you for taking out sod, as it has been competing with the tree roots for moisture, and usually the thirsty sod wins.

Parking strip with flagstone, ground covers, penstemon and bulbs. Plants will green up in the next month.

Next look at places in your yard where the grass isn’t very healthy. Perhaps you have grass under large trees that is spotty. Mulch is just as attractive as half-dead grass. You can also use ground covers such as vinca under trees. Often people  have grass in little strips next to a fence or garage — this grass isn’t a play place or spot for barefoot relaxation — dig it out.

If getting rid of lots of turf makes you nervous, at least shrink the size of your lawn by a foot all the way around. You will still have an attractive patch of green and you can use the new garden space for alternative plantings. Some people feel like a patch of grass is essential for first impressions of their home. I have compromised by keeping a small oval of lawn on one side of the front yard, and planted ground covers and perennials that flower throughout the season on the other side of the front yard.

Most important — if you have a sprinkler system, you need to be careful digging out lawn, so you don’t break pipes. But you also need to readjust your sprinklers, or you won’t actually use less water and will probably be overwatering ground covers and plants that are happy with small drinks.

Finally – working on new sections of the garden by replacing turf is hard work! Be sure to enjoy what is blooming right now, because gardens are for enjoying, not just working.

Forsythia provides several weeks of bright color in early spring.

Snowdrops are blooming now!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tending of the Green « Urban Garden Denver Blog pingbacked on 9 years ago


  1. The picture above might actually be “squill” bulbs, not snowdrops. Sometimes (ok often), I forget what I plant.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 2 months ago
  2. * MHSDFred says:

    Even after the turf is replaced with other plantings, I find that there’s lots of maintenance. Kentucky bluegrass is successful because it’s successfully invasive. I find stolons popping up new grass in my iris bed, mulched tree circles, rose beds and everywhere else.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 2 months ago
    • This is true — especially the first few years you have to be on top of weeding, but there are some good groundcovers, such as vinca or creeping thyme that cover well once established.

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 2 months ago

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