It’s the height of spring in San Diego and our gardens look as beautiful, probably more so, than at any other time of the year. Flowering plants droop heavy with bloom, fruiting trees hold armloads of maturing summer fruits, ornamental plants sit with fresh canopies of leaves, and lawns stretch before us as verdant blankets of green. Wouldn’t it be nice if these iconic spring scenes would last throughout the year? They do not. Take photos in memory because, as we know, the beauty of spring is fleeting. As soon as the first prolonged heat spell arrives, the spring look fades much too quickly as plants brace for the summer.
The first sign of summer heat often shows in the lawn. Swaths of browning turf can be seen from home to home within a few days of sustained heat. The top of the soil profile dries rapidly and the tiny root systems of lawn grasses can no longer slurp moisture. It is a sign that irrigation timers are not programmed to account for the heat, or in many cases, these irrigation systems have not been correctly designed and installed. With patches of brown inching into the ocean of green, it is the perfect time to either replace or at least reduce the size of the lawn. But with what? The solutions to replacing lawns vary from landscape to landscape and can be a worthy challenge to professional designers. If lawn alternatives test the pros, they can bewilder homeowners.
Solving the lawn replacement puzzle is not an easy task and there are experiments gone awry in every neighborhood to offer as proof. And like a puzzle, there are many pieces or components that need to fit together to design an effective lawn alternative landscape. Unlike the lawn, where thousands of the same plant blades are massed and installed as easily as carpet, the landscape without lawn often needs a mix of dozens of different elements to be effective. Lawn provides a horizontal surface that can be used for walking and play, the landscape without lawn must take into account how to provide low surfaces not only for aesthetics but also for pedestrian access and use. Removing the lawn is a no brainer but replacing it with the right mix of landscape takes time, thought, and a bit of skill.