Here at Creative Concepts landscape, one of the most common calls we get from prospective clients is that their lawn has died, and what can be done about this?
Lawns can be somewhat tricky in Southern California. They require quite a bit of maintenance and water, and as drought restrictions decrease the amount of landscape water we can use, home and property owners are increasingly asking if they are worth having. Although lawns might be wanning in popularity, they are still a common landscape feature.
Creative Concepts landscape has been installing and upkeeping lawns for decades know. So, we get the call, the lawn is in trouble, what can we do?
First, a Couple Important (if obvious) Questions
With the new drought water restrictions in Southern California, all lawns are going to look bad in the summer. Watering a couple times a week for eight to ten minutes in the heat will simply not produce a lush green lawn. We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but it does not appear that more water is going to be available in the near future. So, keep this in mind – the era of the expansive deep green lawn in Southern California might be coming to an end. Change is inevitable.
Do you want to keep your lawn even though it will not look very appealing for much of the year? If so, then let’s move on to the next question.
What type of grass do you have? Forgive me if you’re already ahead of this, but certain grasses (such as St. Augustine and Bermuda) go dormant in late fall through early spring.
Dormant grass can look as if it has died, but dormancy is a natural part of the grass’ cycle, and it will green back up in spring.
Dormant Bermuda grass
Alright, let’s say the lawn is not dormant. What can be done for your unhealthy lawn? Let’s take a look.
We asked an important question earlier – do you want to have a lawn? If you had a lawn which has gone to pot, and upon deep reflection you decide that you are not interested in having another one, then we have the answer for you – let’s get rid of it.
This is becoming a more popular choice among many homeowners, and we understand why. First off, you won’t find expanses of green grass in the natural ecology of Southern California for a reason. There’s not enough natural water to support it. We have to import the water.
Another reason to remove a lawn and replace it with something like a water wise native (or partially native garden) garden is that it attracts beneficial pollinators. It supports the native ecology.
A lovely, water wise landscape
One can replace a lawn with just about anything, from a rose garden to a paver stone patio. The most common lawn removal request we get is to have a water wise, aka drought tolerant, garden installed in place, so let’s take a look at the steps for that.
- Remove all weeds and remaining grass. Again, this might take a few cycles of removal to get all of it.
- Cap off the sprinkler irrigation and install a low water drip system. Water wise plants usually are well suited to be water by efficient drip lines – placing targeted irrigation near the base of the plants. This water system will also help to reduce future weed growth.
- Amend the soil (if needed) with nutrient rich compost and grade the soil level. Amending the soil with compost might not be needed for water wise planting. Many native shrubs will grow perfectly well in the natural soil of our area. We will still want to make sure the soil grade does not promote areas of water pooling. Proper drainage will help most every type of plant, from native salvia to turf grass.
- Install a fabric weed barrier over the planter area. This one is not always necessary. We will be happy to talk with you further about the pluses and minuses of fabric weed barriers to see if one would be right for your property.
- Install native or non-native (but climate appropriate) plants and shrubs. There are many potential choices here. Again, we will be happy to talk with you in more detail about options that are right for your property.
- Apply a layer of organic mulch over the planter areas. A thick layer of mulch helps in so many ways: it retains soil moisture so less irrigation is needed, it protects drip lines, it helps to reduce weed growth, it adds organic compost to the soil, and it looks pretty.
These water wise landscapes will still need occasional maintenance; however it will usually be less continually intensive than lawn maintenance needs.
Some lawns that are in bad shape can be refurbished without a total overhaul. This is often the case when they have had a continual lack of water.
Here are the steps Creative Concepts Landscape takes to *refurbish a lawn.
*Not all lawns are the same. Different site conditions will require different approaches. The below steps are a general description. A solid lawn refurbishment plan needs to be specifically tailored for your property.
- Check the irrigation system to make sure it is in proper working order. If we find errors in the system, we will repair them. Unless you want to spend a considerable amount of time hand watering your lawn, it will need a functioning sprinkler system with sufficient water coverage.
- Remove all weeds that have grown in the lawn area. There are always weeds to be removed, but some lawn areas have more than others. Again, the amount of and exact type of work needed to remove weeds from a lawn is case by case. Regardless, the weeds shall be removed.
- Apply a layer of seed and compost topper. Compost topper is absolutely needed. This topper will supply the seeds with nutrients, protection, and moisture to help them germinate. We want to keep the seed/topper moist but not sopping wet (this is where having a proper sprinkler system is very important). The seed/topper will be applied over the entire lawn area. This process usually needs to be repeated two or three times.
- Here is a caveat: St. Augustine grass does not come in seed. It grows by stolons which are horizontal root stems. St. Augustine refurbishments will need to be done with plugs – small root stems planted into the ground.
Grass seeds (topper not pictured)
There you have it. The basic outline of a lawn refurbishment. If a lawn is in bad shape, but not completely dead, this can be the most cost-effective way to get it green and lovely again.
Installing New Sod
Sometimes a former lawn is in really bad shape. This usually means that either the former grass area is basically completely dead or completely overtaken by weed growth. We find this usually to be the case after many years of neglect.
That’s a lot of wishes. Maybe one should wish for a new lawn.
Again, the exact steps to redo – install a new lawn over a former lawn area – will depends on the specific site’s conditions and needs, however, here is a basic outline of what Creative Concepts Landscape will do to redo your lawn.
- Remove all weeds and dead grass. Depending on the amount of weeds, and how deeply they’ve rooted, this process might take a few cycles. We want to make sure all the roots and weed seeds are gone from the lawn area.
- Check the irrigation system to make sure it is in proper working order. If we find errors in the system, we will repair them.
- Amend the soil with compost and grade the soil level. The soil should be in optimal nutrient condition for the incoming grass sod. Also, it’s important to have a proper soil grade so there are no drainage issues with the new lawn. We do not want water to pool in any areas, drowning the grass roots.
- Install grass sod. The final step (beside all the maintenance that will be needed to upkeep the lawn). Creative Concepts Landscape will lay down fresh, green sod (living, growing grass on a narrow layer of soil) over the area that you want the new lawn to be. This process is similar whether we are redoing a former lawn or installing a new one.
Redoing a lawn, as outlined above, is often the best choice when you simply must have a verdant lawn. It’s usually more expensive than refurbishing a lawn, but the fact is, this process is a closer guarantee to having that dream lawn.
Here at Creative Concepts Landscape, we want you to have the right landscape for your needs and wishes. That can mean many different things for different people. We want to hear your thoughts and then come up with a design and installation that works for you.
Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District – interested in lawn removal? You might be eligible for a turf removal rebate!
By Daniel Williams
Client Liaison for Creative Concepts Landscape Management