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Drought Tolerant Front Yard - Converting Lawn to Soil

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Picture of Drought Tolerant Front Yard - Converting Lawn to Soil
This is a process for converting your front yard to good soil with no grass, without ripping up every blade of grass or taking the top layer off your soil. It actually builds up the soil while killing the grass. It is also extremely inexpensive (water and fuel for hauling compost).
I did this because California is facing an impending drought, this may not change in the next few years, and frankly I'm tired of watering my front yard. I want only drought-tolerant plants in my front yard, and fruiting trees and bushes on a drip system.
Also, I happen to live in a city with clay soil, and this will improve it tremendously.
 
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Step 1: Step1: Before

Picture of Step1: Before
Right side of front yard. I had allowed the grass to grow long. I was planning to overhaul it. Your picture, of course, may look very different on Step1.
The heir apparent helped me. He's a good waterer.

Step 2: Step2: Mow Lawn Short

Picture of Step2: Mow Lawn Short
Get out your lawn mower and mow your lawn on the shortest possible setting for your mower. You won't be watering this lawn any more.
megmaine4 years ago
Thank You!
I will try this to smother out the grass this Spring, just as it is coming up, in preparation for a Chamomile lawn! I have a tiny lawn so I can start enough Roman Chamomile from seed, to do the trick thriftily.
By the way, if it survives in your area, Roman Chamomile smells nice, is drought tolerant, tolerates light foot traffic, confuses some vegetable pests, attracts beneficials, and never needs mowing if you don't mind an ankle-deep lawn. If you grow Roman from seed, you will get flowers you can harvest for tea.
I will take photos of my project and see if I can make an Instructable on the whole thing! Thanks again, I will do the cardboard method, starting now as it is pouring rain daily.
My brother has a house in phoenix, with a huge back yard. The problem is he hates to mow, so he's just let it all dry up until so he's at the point where his front and back yard are both wastelands of dirt. Any suggestions for plants for that area to be used for this 'ible? I doubt he'd do it, but it's worth a try.
lisascout (author)  kokopelli_fella4 years ago
Well, there are lots of plants that would be evergreen that would grow well in his climate zone. I would buy a Sunset Garden Book and go to my local nursery and tell them I need a bunch of low-maintenance plants. You can even see bush roses growing near the freeway, there are a LOT of low-maintenance plants these days.
Personally, if I had a huge back yard (which I don't because my house is on a corner), I would turn a large part of it into vegetable beds and raise my own food. There is so much nasty stuff coming down in the food chain these days, it's nice to know what goes into what I eat. You can do that with a drip system that really doesn't use much water.
In Phoenix, I would raise citrus. In fact, I could raise a Sarawak there - and I can't raise them here at all, it just doesn't get hot enough.
welshwaters4 years ago
What a great idea, we live in Wales and even though we have got enough water here, we will follow your instructions so next year we can plant a wildlife garden in the front of our house. Thank you for the step by step instructions.
To help your plants in your new lawn grow you can use a week manure tea.
sir_h_c5 years ago
I've tried this same method a couple of times to start new garden plots. Once it worked great; Put it down in the summer and planted the following spring. The second time was in Oklahoma where lawns are largely made up of Bermuda grass. It just crept up right through the layers! Know what you're up against, I guess.
lisascout (author)  sir_h_c5 years ago
Part of my lawn is Bermuda grass. I was willing to do nearly anything to avoid chemicals. How long did it take to come through?
Bermuda won't necessarily come back. I smothered about 200 square feet of it a couple years ago with 2 inches of sand and 2 inches of mulch on top of that. Anyone thinking of doing this needs to check local prices. In my neighborhood compost delivered costs about $70 per cubic yard and it takes 4 cubic yards per 1,000 square feet to pile it an inch deep. You should be able to get truckloads of chipped trees from a tree trimmer for free, though. Many municipalities give away a coarse compost if you are a resident and you load it and haul it away. I could be wrong but I think you will regret having smothered your lawn before the end of the year. In my experience picking weeds out of bare soil has always been more trouble than weekly watering and mowing a dense stand of tall (3-4 inches) grass.
lisascout (author)  dchall85 years ago
We shall see. I doubt I'll want the grass back. I have 13 citrus trees, a peach and an almond planted in the front yard so far - many of them in the past 2 years - and it was getting really difficult to mow anyway. I'm planning to move to a drought-tolerant ground cover now, and haven't decided which one. Maybe creeping thyme. I've also erected a tipi out of tree poles, and planted scarlet runner beans to climb up the poles; and I have a tree torso laying on the ground for my boys to climb on. I'm thinking of putting a platform around the willow tree for them to use as a "treehouse". All this in a city that objects to anything taller than 3 feet! We'll see how many nastygrams I get from the city. But a green lawn in the midst of all of this playground just wasn't cutting it - and it was an invasive lawn. I'm not planning to give the weeds a lot of opportunity. In fact, I'll probably be putting out squashes in mounds today. The compost was all free (and there's tons more), very close to home, at the local recycling center. I don't know how that compares to other cities; I'm in California. The compost has been cooked according to organic standards, and should not have live seeds. The chipped wood I have to drive farther for, at my property that is mostly trees where I have to chip to keep the forest pushed back. I have tons more of that, too. I chipped it myself and know it's not full of weeds. Thanks for the tip on the Bermuda grass, it's nice to hear that someone managed to dominate it. Seems to be one of the rats of the plant world!
CapnChkn5 years ago
All you all is so sweet! It depends on the amount of moisture your soil gets in one season. If you lay the compost on top of the corrugated paper, it gets enough moisture, and the temperature is right, it will lay the weeds in the dirt, Lay the cardboard overlap about 6 inches (15cm). In the heat, the pile will heat up, it needs time to cure. This is the right time to try this technique, but don't expect fast results. The pile needs to cool and so on... I'm just growing Capsicum in the hot pile, I didn't get the technique until spring of this year. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. Cap'n!
ericCycles5 years ago
I believe this is called "Sheet Mulching". When I did it, I made the mistake of only using a single layer of cardboard (I should have used two or three). I put down clover seed on top, since its nitrogen fixing. A friend did his entire backyard that way, resulting in no weeds, great soil, but an incredible slug problem. Apparently all that decomposing vegetation material is just a smorgasborg for slugs.
strmrnnr5 years ago
Here is something for you to check out. This guy states, "There is enough aerobic bacteria and fungi in a good 5 gallon batch of aerated tea, that is the equivalent of about 10 tons or 40 cubic yards of regular compost!"

He tells how to make it here:
http://faq.gardenweb.com/faq/lists/organic/2002082739009975.html

Your yard should be about ready for a good dose of it by now. It will speed thing along.
Also if you happen to till this lawn up in the Fall or add additional layers to your treatment this Summer I would suggest adding a lots of char in one of the bottom layers. It will help to hold the nutrients while still breaking up the solidness of the clay soil. It is funny how it works - it helps drainage but also helps to hold water. Carbon is a good thing.
lisascout (author)  strmrnnr5 years ago
OK, good idea, I can try that. I hadn't thought about adding more in the fall, but I'm becoming so good at schlepping compost...
Here is a little chart that may help some. They say the ideal ratio for good 'good' bacterias growth in the soil is 30:1 - carbon-nitrogen.
Carbon to Nitrogen Contents.jpg
Calorie5 years ago
Beware the picture new features, such as add images via drop and drag. It just erased a detailed message of wild flowers sown by seed and how they might be an excellent option.

I know it is a Beta feature, but it shouldn't eat my messages.
***
Anyways, try Americanmeadows.com

They sell seed in bulk, either single spieces or mixed varieties for all sorts of areas and climates. I've used them and found their mixes to be excellent. Be sure to check their members meadows to see what others have done. They've used their seeds to eliminate mowing in large meadows, encourage wildlife (butterflies, etc), mitigate sewage impact and just look plain cool.

I've spread plains coreopsis over an empty field and it is really coming into its own this year.

Check out this photo of what it can look like. The photo is from the Ritz, and I think it says a lot that they used the idea as well.

MM_RitzCarlton1.jpg
lisascout (author)  Calorie5 years ago
Oh, yeah, I love this kind of thing, and on my property in the mountains I can do this, but not in the city - I already get nastygrams from the city telling me that they don't like my flowers touching their sidewalks. They would freak over a front yard of wildflowers. In fact, my husband spread poppy seeds (California state flower, no less!) in the planting strip between the sidewalk and street one year, and it has cost me a tremdous amount of labor because the city doesn't want them there, and there were weeds in the mix. I have to get out there and extract them by hand every year. Lisa
That's unfortunate. I live in an unincorporated part of Florida. We are basically part of Tampa, and live in close proximity to the city. However, there were never any suburb rules established on my street, nor does the city bother us (no jurisdiction.) The budget has been dramatically slashed by a very poorly conceived and misleading constitutional amendment that did little to cut actual property taxes (which were already among the lowest in the nation.) The average Floridian homeowner saved about $240, or to make it relative...the cost of a Big Mac Value Meal, regular size...not value size. Code enforcement really doesn't exist unless your neighbor really gets worked up. And you would have to be building a nuclear reactor to get the code enforcement guys out. American Meadows guarantees their mixes against weeds. But if it becomes a concern, try square some sort of square foot gardening. Someone on 'ble has done this with success. Good Luck in California. It's going to get bumpy.
A good name5 years ago
Lawns should be quite drought resistant if the soil is good.
This has been a great method for treating areas that you would like to grow something, and don't want to mess with removing the grass. Thank you for sharing your method of this technique.
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