What’s greener than grass?

Written by pete


This week’s question was sent in anonymously…

> I asked my city of Santa Fe Springs if I could do something with the parkway, other than grass.

> They denied my claim for concrete. I am trying to conserve water and they said no: the parkway *has* to be green . So I said ok i’ll purchase fake green grass. “NO NO NO” was their response.

> What should I do?

Any eco-friendly landscaping experts out there able to help? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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  1. Patrick

    Native California plant garden! Drought-tolerant, non-invasive, no need for frequent watering/pruning/pesticides, naturally adapted to the local soil and climate, promotes California’s biodeversity.

  2. Maryam Mohit

    I just started researching lawn alternatives for our yard and came across a fescue grass mixture called Eco-Lawn sold by Wildflower Farms. Hers is a link to their site and also to another site that discusses it. Looks promising for this type of conundrum. Green and alive but drought resistant and requiring no fertilizers or mowing…Anyone heard of this?

  3. Anna Olecka

    I am glad that the city of Santa Fe declined these ridiculous requests. Concrete or plastic grass???!!! To be eco friendly we’re suppose live in a concerete jungle?!!! I’d rather move to a cave. And how eco friendly is fake grass?
    That said, there are natural alternatives, such as ground covers and creeping perenials. To be eco friendly you need to research plants that are native to your area.

  4. Jean Scholz

    Patrick is absolutely right: plants native to your region! Once established, native plants require little or no maintenance of any sort. Moreover, they’re beautiful, and will help to make your parkway look like a slice of the real Santa Fe.

  5. Sara Pilling

    Plant red or white clover [along with nitrogen fixing bacteria when you seed]! Grows low, spreads, enriches soil [as it’s a legume that fixes nitrogen fixing bacteria].

  6. Geoffrey Keyworth

    Pardon my Canadian ignorance if Sante Fe Springs isn’t in California, but I came across the following awhile back:
    They have a free search tool for plants native to California.
    If only I could find something for Ontario…

  7. michael

    Crab grass, a Fescue mix, clover and perhaps dandelion. This mix creates a very interesting patchwork, especially in drought and you can eat dandelions leaves! If you want a little height, throw in some queen ann’s lace and native cone purple flower.
    all of these mixes require some sort of water to help them establish…water will fast-track the natural system.
    you can also just let this area go – assuming no erosion – and mother nature will find the right plants for you. This process will take longer but the plant group – assuming no invasives – will more than likely be a better choice.

  8. Nancy Caddigan

    Hi Geoffrey:
    There was post above your post pointing to a wild flower/native plant farm in ONTARIO.
    Hope that helps!

  9. Gabriele

    What about Buffalo Grass? It works in my neighbors yard where she has a very LOW maintenance landscape. She waters once every other month (maybe), and mows once a year! However, I like the clover ideas brought up earlier. Thank god they denied your concrete conundrum!

  10. Paul (Ontario)

    Yes. I’ve used Eco-Lawn and it is very tolerant of shade. I had a north-side patch of grass space that died after a beech tree took over the light. I seeded with Eco-Lawn (and the tree was pruned) and the grass filled out nicely. But, it still needs some sun: it is not a full-shade seed. Wild Flower Farms has native plants that can take over in those darker places.

  11. jm

    I favor the suggestion of natives provided, however Dymondia may also be a good choice. I found this site to be helpful:
    http://www.xericworld.com/forums/plant-profiles/2-dymondia-margaretae.html. Good luck – and once you hit on something that works, provide the information to the city and your neighbors to increase the likelihood others will follow your good lead.

  12. Pedro

    I am currently having synthetic grass installed in my backyard and it’s looking great. The latest stuff looks pretty real and if you have a digging dog like I do it’s a headache saver. The fact that it’s made partially from recycled plastic bottles, doesn’t use water or needs any hardly needs maintanance I’d say makes it pretty eco-freindly. I hate grass, so besides the synthetic we’re pulling our front yard grass out and using native drought proof plants. In the next 5-10 years the water shortage in CA will bring regular grass to a screaching hault and synthetics will be common place.
    BTW I was born and raised in Santa Fe Springs!

  13. michael

    Some of the synthetic grass available today is visually astoundinding! Maintenance is low as well. Synthetic grass was bron from a living material whoes position in the landscape was dubious from the beginning…but what green grass does to us psychologically – synthetic or not – cannot be argued with. It is quite soothing to our brains; the color and its connective matrix organize just about any place.
    Natives are a promising idea so long as you study their natural environment…each niche may require a different set of natives given sun, rain, slope, soil type etc. Natives also being other criters like birds, insects etc.

  14. jm

    If you’re proposing to use fake grass, please at least consider product content. Testing has shown a wide range of content between products, some including lead, which leaches into soil and waterways. This was looked at in San Francisco where because the city’s goal is zero waste these products are less appealing because fake grass is not recyclable, so must go to landfill eventually. Beyond that there are issues of topsoil removal, chemical cleaners, loss of habitat for small critters, loss of forage for larger ones …

  15. Gina

    One of the prettiest flowers that are used extensively in medians in New Jersey (yes, I said New Jersey, save the jokes) is the Cosmos. Here’s a link: http://www.americanmeadows.com/WildflowerSeeds/Species/Cosmosseeds.aspx?gclid=CMbnhNG2lpoCFQOuFQodLzf5Nw
    they need average to arid conditions, are an annual but can reseed themselves, and bloom in the most glorious array of colors with a delicate, fluffy leaf. There is nothing like that amazing burst of color as you are driving along, it looks like a wildflower meadow. Like the previous poster, I would ask that you think hard before using fake grass. As much as it may look the real thing, nothing beats Mother Nature!

  16. Anonymous

    Santa Fe Springs is not Santa Fe, NM. Santa Fe, NM encourages xeriscaping – not grass – and not concrete!

  17. Steve Nelson

    Is that what’s commonly known as “iceplant”?

  18. Steve Nelson

    Is that what’s commonly known as “iceplant”?

  19. Gina

    No, the iceplant is a succulent, and is considered invasive in some environments. It’s a beauty too though… we have them at the beach here..

  20. Ed Hagerty

    Zoysia grass grows just about anywhere, needs less watering than a lot of grasses, major low maintenance, is a bit evasive, doesn’t grow very high, is a joy to walk on or lie on. It does confuse some people in that it will look dead in the spring, it will be light brown in color, then turns green and stays bright green into late fall. You buy it in plugs which will spread rapidly once established crowding out everything else, weeds and other grass on your lawn.

  21. Cindy

    Why not plant ice plant, which is drought tolerant and green, plus no mowing? Our Arizona home has a rock garden with green flower bushes and trees. Mowing is so yesterday and does not save on water, which is necessary now in California.

  22. Ed Hagerty

    As someone who has never used fertilizers on my lawn, nor did my father before me, I’d love to let large sections of my lawn to run wild, but at least up here in the Northeast in the realm of Political Correctness, there are laws requiring a home owner to mow their lawns or be fined. I do however keep my grass higher than my neighbors and mow every few weeks. For now I’m not required to kill the dandelions and other native plants in my lawns, but I’m waiting for my neighbors with their high maintenance lawns to complain my daneelion seeds are landing all over their lawns and sprouting with all the fertilizer they use.

  23. Cynthia

    I can’t believe the number of places here in California insisting on grass. We bought a home in Arizona which insists on a rock garden in order to save water. It’s great to just clip bushes and trees and not to mow a lawn. Also, you can get ice plant, which is drought tolerant and green. Why spend time mowing a lawn. It’s so yesterday.

  24. Stephanie

    Just an fyi… now that many of our surface water ecosystems are polluted or dried up, we are using more and more groundwater. The more impermeable surfaces that cover the ground and stop precipitation from being able to percolate and recharge the groundwater, the worse this problem will be. Please plant grasses and flowers that are native to your area and be considerate of the climate in which you live.

  25. Peter H

    Even better, and cheaper……..but a bit slower is to use Compadre Zoysia which can be sown from seed. It is low water use,low maintenance [including minimal mowing and fertilisers] although watering at establishment is always recommended, and that also applies to many other species at establishment.
    see http://abovecapricorn.blogspot.com for photos and ideas about Compadre zoysia – need to search on the blog.
    Using clovers is a reasonable idea, too.

  26. MH

    I live in New Port Richey, Florida, and my water bill just increased by 50%. Yes, 50%!!! As you can imagine, I have a huge bill to pay every month, which is mostly due to watering the lawn. The grass has to go! Do you have any suggestion what to replace the grass in Florida? I also live in a deed restricted community, so the replacement should be something nice and fairly priced.
    Welcome any suggestions.
    Thank you.

  27. michael

    The Devil might siggest artificial grass…There are a few new ‘fake’ lawn manufacturers producing lawn that looks amazing…they incorporate fake dead grass, yellow grass etc into the mix. I cannot see the difference from about 10′. No water, fetilizer…dog poo washes away etc.
    It’s not for everyone…go native

  28. MH

    Thank you very much for your responses.
    Adam, I

  29. michael

    I agree, check with your local Planning and Zoning Department.
    I work with Planning and Zoning Departments on a near daily basis. An artificial lawn might read as a Red Herring and as such might get you some unwanted attention.
    Synthetic lawns do offer advantages and within the realm of a discussion about lawns…they do not have to be mowed – saves gas and emissions – they do not need fertilizer – saves more gas and emissions – and allow water to pass thru…etc. However, against the back drop of ecology as a whole and living entity, a synthetic lawn is perhaps not good choice for home owners in my opinion. And, I do not know how the manufacturing process stacks up against a natural lawn…an unwhitting activity at best?
    In the NE, crabgrass, white clovers and dandelion make a beautiful and sustainable lawn.
    The links Adam provided should help you but beware, indigenous plantings require a fair amount of research and experimentation. Though I cannot go into detail here, the endeavor is worth the effort. You will learn alot about your natural ecosystem, and the final product will be sustainable so long as you agree that it will and must change with time.

  30. Anna

    Michael –
    thanks for bringng up the impact of manufacturing the artificial grass. Your post is very fair and balanced. I wish I had that kind of calm in me. I see red when I read suggestions of replacing living plants with artificial grass ‘for the sake of environment’. I don’t give a damn how ‘amazing’ it looks. It’s equivalent to concrete as far as I am concern. You don’t have O2 exchange, living things won’t feed off it. Replacing anything living by anything dead is just very fragmented view of environment.

  31. michael

    I had O2 exchange clearly in mind as a wrap up but forgot.
    I cannot speak about southern states, but if folks are willing to plant their own lawns they should know the following…and this is general.
    Bluegrass is the best looking grass but this variety requires more water, fertilizer and pesticides to keep it looking good than any other grass. Bluegrass as sod is not as adaptable to different soils types as fescue or perennial rye. Many sod farms sll sod as a Bluegrass mono culture – a blend of bluegrass only…a no no in my mind.
    Fescue is drought tolerant, is shade tolerant, is tolerant to foot traffic, doesn’t require lots of fertilizer – in fact becomes much more blue if not fed – is far less prone to disease than BG, is more adaptable than BG…is more coarse looking than bluegrass.
    Perennial rye, considered a nurse grass because it germinates very quickly thereby ‘nursing’ the soil while other seeds take four to six weeks to germinate. PR is less prone to disease than BG but doesn’t have a lot of cold or heat tolerance – specie specific.
    If you do not require a gold green for a lawn, use 50%-60% Fescue blend ( a blend of fescue)20%-30% bluegrass blend, and 10%-30% perennial Rye blend – I did not check my math.
    I also encourage irrigation systems because you can accurate monitor water usage…but use the system manually; yes, install a controller/clock but turn individual zones on when water is called for. You will become much more sensitive to your property, you will learn about how a little drought stress is actually good for grass…there’s more but now i’m preaching.
    Also, cut lawn at the highest setting and cut every two weeks…roots will grow deeper…and if you know how to tease the lawn with just enough water the roots will grow deeper yet.
    Apologies for what is a very quickly wrtten reply…as all of mine are.

  32. michael

    I love your reply and your last sentence best.