With the coming of rising water rates, people are realizing that the 'old front lawn' is nothing more than a maintenance hog. A common response I get from my clients and friends regarding their love affair towards their lawn is that, "I like my lawn, it makes my house look nice." That is, after paying a gardener to weed-n-feed, mow, edge and water continuously.
Ground covers, not only look nice but use less water, and in some cases very little trimming needed. If you live in an area that doesn't get enough rainfall to support turf grass most of the year, you should consider using ground covers. They are versatile, come in a wide range of colors and textures. Some can even take foot traffic, just like the old lawn!
Mid to late autumn is the best time to plant ground covers like California natives or Mediterranean perennials. Planting in the fall allows the root system to become better established, while the soil temperatures are still warmer, but after the heat of the summer weather. Planting at this time accelerates the plant’s ability to produce new root growth before winter comes.
Create a plan before beginning work. This includes gathering not only information about
the plants, and the site's characteristics, but about how best to irrigate them as well.
Knowing what type of soil, how much sun or shade an area gets throughout the year, and if an area drains well or is on a slope are all important constraints that will shape your designs.
Keep in mind the size of the plants at maturity when creating your planting and irrigation layout. Don’t let the small size of young plants fool you into planting too closely or too densely. Likewise, make sure the irrigation system is installed with future growth in mind. Make sure to have the irrigation system complete before the planting begins.
"The closer the plant is to a seedling, the better it will grow" is a good motto to follow. Avoid the temptation to purchase large container stock. Plants started from seed, ground cover flats, 4 inch pots, 6-packs, or quarts establish themselves much quicker, and fill out nicely in one growing season, and are much less work to plant than those planted from gallon containers.
Start with healthy, vibrant looking plants from a reputable, local nursery. Nurseries that specialize in California native and Mediterranean species can be a great source of water-wise plants, and have more variety than most home centers.
Mulch the area after planting. A layer about 2 to 3 inches deep, will help minimize the need for weeding and help retain moisture in the soil. Mulches made from recycled green wastes (lawn clippings, leaves, chipped tree trimmings) are inexpensive, readily available, and
help divert products destined for the landfill back into creating healthy landscapes.