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Alternatives to Grass Lawns

The Challenge

During the last year, California (like an increasing number of states) experienced one of the most severe droughts in more than a century. During that time, the second highest use of water was for residential lawns; second only to California's huge agricultural use. Converting to astro turf, a hard surface, or plants that need little or no water (like cactus), maximizes conservation but diminishes aesthetics and carbon sequestration.

Instead, we can find alternatives to lawns such as gardens, drought-tolerant grass varieties or clover instead. We can xeriscape or grow vegetables, herbs, water flowers with rainwater, and utilize an extreme water-saving irrigation system. You can save up to 25% of your water use just by switching to a drought-tolerant grass type and up to 60% by growing native plants instead of grass. Even growing high water use vegetables and flowers with subsurface irrigation uses a small fraction compared to the water wasted by spraying in the air (where it has the highest evaporation to use ratio). In places where you prefer grass for playground or landscaping aesthetics, we have subsurface irrigation systems for lawns.

Converting your lawn to a garden can be as complicated and expensive as a professional landscaping renovation; or as simple and inexpensive as placing fabric beds on top of the grass and planting your garden in them. In the first year, fabric beds will turn the grass under the bed into a kind of compost layer and during the second year you can cut out or poke holes in the bed bottom so that the roots can grow into the composted grass nutrients. As you have time and financial resources, you can line the fabric sides with wood, stone, brick, or your artistic preference.

Grants and Guidance

The links below describe just a few of the cities, states, universities, and USDA co-op extension offices that support sustainable landscaping and gardens as alternatives to grass lawns. The number of state, county and local government programs that offer cash or rebate incentives for the conversion process is growing rapidly. Search for these funding sources locally or by contacting your local extension co-op program. Of course, the ultimate incentive of doing something with such a positive impact on the environmental crises we face dwarfs the monetary rewards.

The federal government gives grants, suggestions, and information for this kind of lawn-care business.
7 Types of Grants You Can Use for Your Lawn Care Business

Colorado recently set up a "Turf Replacement Fund" to expand statewide city programs that pay between $1 and $3 per square foot of grass that is removed before July 1st, 2023.
Colorado to incentivize residents to replace grass lawns with water-saving landscaping | Legislature | coloradopolitics.com

For Boulder County Colorado, Resource Central gives free low-water plants and lawn removal service discounts to people doing this.
Lawn Replacement Program - Resource Central

The state of California offers rebates, suggestions, and resources:
Removing Your Lawn

Los Angeles County has a "Cash for Grass" Rebate Program that gives homeowners up to $5000 for replacing grass with low water use landscaping.
LA County Waterworks Districts | Water Conservation | Cash for Grass

In metro Los Angeles, the West Basin water district gives $3 rebates for every square foot of grass removed -up to $15,000 total. Grass Replacement Rebate Program

Utah offers cash incentives
More Utah areas offer cash incentives to remove turf, replace with water-wise plants | KSL.com

Arizona cities
Mesa, Chandler offering homeowners cash to conserve water, get rid of grass
Mesa Az - $500 incentive
Grass-to-Xeriscape Landscape Incentive | City of Mesa

Pennsylvania
See Lawn Conversion

Maryland
Lawn Alternatives (University of Maryland Extension)

Oregon
Lawn Alternatives (Portland metro government)

Minnesota
Drought sparks interest in water-saving alternatives to thirsty lawns | MPR News

Massachusetts
When Grass Isn't Greener (Harvard Magazine)

Delaware
Turfgrass Madness: Reasons to Reduce the Lawn in Your Landscape | Cooperative Extension | University of Delaware

Michigan
Low maintenance lawns in the Midwest - MSU Extension