Drought-tolerant options for your landscape

This garden in Clayton opts for bursts of bright color rather than a traditional front lawn. (Photo Nancy Niemeyer)

Garden Girl Nicole HackettCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA — There has been another explosion of interest at the nursery the past couple weeks, as folks consider removing lawns and installing water-wise landscapes.

Many are curious to see drought-tolerant plants, shrubs and trees. They are also seeking design ideas.

There are three approaches to removing your lawn.

The fastest approach is by way of sod-cutter. This may sound good, but it’s expensive and labor-intensive. Equipment rental and dump fees will cost you, and handling and transporting the cut sod rolls is hard work.

Another approach is to stop watering the grass. As the grass dries, you can spray concentrated herbicide like Remuda to kill the existing turf. Use a pick to loosen clumps of dead grass and thatch. You’ll need to make a trip to the dump for disposal. After spraying an herbicide, wait at least 30 days before planting.

Some may be interested in sheet mulching to get rid of their lawn. This is perfect for those who do not want to install a new landscape until late autumn or early winter. Sheet mulching is layering nitrogen (aged compost and manure) and carbon (newspaper and straw) on top of the existing grass. It creates wonderful, rich soil for happy plants. Sheet mulching is a forgiving process, and many websites and experts have different recipes for sheet mulching.

Variety of new planting options

Once you’re ready to replant, there’s a vast selection of drought-tolerant plants to contemplate. Start with foundation plants – the trees and evergreens that are needed to support the overall look of the landscape.

Foundation trees to think about are crape myrtles, smoke bushes, Fremontodendron, Arbutus Marina, fruitless olive and Western redbuds. These are easy to find, drought-tolerant trees.

Drought-tolerant evergreens to use in a water-wise landscape include ceanothus, cistus, Manzanita Howard McMinn, phlomis, grevillea and leucadendron. Ornamental grass-like plants such as lomandra and rhormium can also be considered foundation plants.

Once you have your foundation plants, it’s time to think about accessory plants and groundcovers. Some drought-tolerant accessory plants are many of the salvias/sages, Moonshine Yarrow, dwarf lavender, coreopsis, lantana, daylilies and sedum.

Use accessory plants to accent foundation installations. For example, if you are planting cistus, which blooms in spring, it would be nice for the landscape to plant a summer-blooming lantana as a companion installation.

Groundcovers are important to a lawn-less landscape. Some favorite drought-tolerant ground covers to consider are myoporum, manzanita, dymondia, gazania, correa and grevillea.

Design approaches

As you design your landscape, be sure to fulfil the needs of the area. Blank wall areas need some height planted near them. Retaining walls should have cascading plant materials. Property lines need to be accented. Gates need walkways. Highlight existing trees. Consider building a mound or berm if your landscape is flat. Layer plant material from small to large, depending on how the area is looked upon.

Drip system irrigation needs to be checked regularly. Delivering water to plant material by way of drip is water-wise, however, if drips get clogged or disconnected, plants suffer quickly.

Be sure to watch out for your plants because new installations will need additional water. Keep a watering can handy to help if needed.

Nicole is the Garden Girl at R&M Pool, Patio, Gifts and Garden. You can contact her with ­questions or comments by email at