Our smallest and easiest to convert lawn is in the front of the house beside the driveway. It measures nearly 1000 square feet, has some lovely contours, a river rock face, and backs up to some mature shrubs and conifers. It is clearly where we should begin, since it will not require any hardscape or permeable paths, other than a little track for the golf cart to go from driveway back to pump house and water tanks. Today we began prepping the site for planting at end of summer by sheet mulching.
Sheet mulching is a layered compost/mulch system that uses cardboard or newspapers as a barrier to help suffocate and decompose the lawn, without having to dig up the sod and haul it away, along with all the beneficial micro organisms that live in the top few inches of the soil. Compost and mulch are then layered on top of the weed barrier, mimicking the build up of leaves and debris on a forest floor. To plant trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals in the new planting medium, you simply cut holes in the mulch and cardboard. We plan to start planting in late August, when temps start to drop. The later the better, actually, and a lot of the mulch and cardboard will probably be decomposed by then,
Sheet mulch ultimately creates a humus-rich soil where bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms can thrive and help make nutrients easily available to plants. The thick layer of mulch also discourages weeds and conserves moisture.
By the end of summer this converted lawn space will be composted and ready to plant with California natives and Mediterranean plants. Over the cooler months of fall, winter and spring, the plants will develop root systems that can endure our dry, hot summer weather with minimal irrigation, no maintenance, and no chemical fertilizers or herbicides which might run off into our creek and the aquifer that feeds our well.
And, by the way, even drought-tolerant plants need watering to get established, and a drip irrigation system is the most efficient way to deliver needed water. Fall planting is also advised to take advantage of cooler temperatures and the winter/spring rains.
If you are thinking about the SCVWD landscape rebate program, check out their irrigation hardware rebate offers, as well.