by David Salman

Zauschneria arizonica.

Just Say “No” to Brown

I recently read an interesting article in the New York Times about the frenzy of lawn replacements happening in drought stricken California. The article is entitled “Brown is the New Green”.
Zauschneria garrettii 'Orange Carpet'
Zauschneria garrettii 'Orange Carpet' is a deer resistant groundcover, perfect for raised beds.
But I take serious issue with the concept the article proposes as it shows a real lack of understanding of the value of greenery in our urban / suburban areas. That, and the fact that high water turf lawns can be replaced with native turf grasses and groundcovers that use a fraction of the water and STILL BE GREEN!

The Urban Heat Island Effect

Let me be clear when I say, there is no need to rip out lawns and replace them with gravel. (“Brown is the New Green”.) When we lose the cooling power of our lawns and landscapes, it intensifies the urban “heat island” effect. The heat increases and we use much more energy to cool our living spaces. The majority of lawns are really just a green place holder.

Don’t Sacrifice Our Shade Trees

As the high water lawn grasses are removed, there is often considerable collateral damage with the loss of our urban/suburban tree canopy. The trees that have been planted into or on the edges of lawns, often die from lack of water when gravel is spread and the lawn irrigation is abruptly shut off. What a waste to lose all that time growing trees that shade, cool and clean our environment when the lawns are replaced. Use groundcovers instead of gravel!
Cotula 'Tiffindell Gold'
Creeping Gold Buttons (Cotula sp. ‘Tiffendell Gold’)has bright evergreen foliage, gold button-like flowers, and tolerates light foot traffic

Galloping Groundcovers: Vigorous Growers

There are numerous spreading groundcover plants that we can use to replace lawns. The really vigorous ones I like to call “galloping groundcovers” because they are fast growing and cover the ground quickly. When replacing a lawn with groundcovers, it’s important to loosen the soil and enrich it by mixing in compost, trace mineral fertilizer (Planter’s II) and organic fertilizers like Yum Yum Mix to a depth of 12 inches. Old lawns are often growing on lifeless, compacted soil, damaged by many years of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. So bring life back into the soil before replanting is essential. Some of my favorite fast growing groundcovers include:
Saponaria ocymoides 'Soapwart'
Saponaria ocymoides 'Soapwart' has bright pink late spring flowers and semi-evergreen foliage.

Planting Groundcovers: Spacing the Plants and More

When planting your new groundcovers, space the plants 12 to 18 inches apart. With good soil preparation, you can expect to get full coverage in about 3 months or so. Spread some corn gluten as a natural pre-emergent herbicide to prevent the germination of weed seeds between your groundcover starts. Water 2 to 3 times a week to get them established. By the second growing season, most groundcovers can get by with a once weekly watering (or less) depending on the summer heat and rainfall. You’ll use 50 to 75% less water on groundcovers when compared to Kentucky Blue Grass. © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without Permission. By David Salman