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Climate Action

Make the Leap to a Lawn Free Yard
By Donna Davies
Posted: 2023-11-24T21:06:00Z

Make the Leap to a Lawn Free Yard

and say goodbye to your lawn mower forever!


During one of the droughts here in the 90s, I took out all the grass in our front yard and replaced it with drought tolerant California natives and spread wood chip mulch all around them. I planted lots of ceanothus, a toyon, and a butterfly bush among other smaller perennials and watered them carefully those first couple of years while they literally put down roots. The mulch composted slowly and gently which fed the roots so we added a deep new layer every few years. 


In this way, I became a soil farmer! (Move over Michael Pollan.) I left leaves where they fell which added to the mulch, so we never needed a leaf blower. The leaves added nutrients to the soil and so did the compost from the two bins in our backyard. They cooked our discarded food scraps and bush trimmings to enhance the nutrition of our garden. The soil became a haven for earthworms and huge mushrooms grew all over the place. The wood chips retained moisture well, all the while they shaded the soil so tender surface roots wouldn’t get burned.

Ceanothus has very dark leaves and bountiful clusters of blue flowers.

Native plants seem to support a larger diversity of wildlife. Eventually, three plants in the front yard developed red berries annually, ones that the birds just love eating. They frolic in the birdbath and feast on something in the butterfly bush throughout the year. Bees adore the rosemary bushes and can’t get enough of the ceanothus blooms. I installed two bluebird houses on the front porch to entice them to move to our house after I discovered them at Bubb School and Cuesta Park. Even though I’ve advertised ‘special move in rates,’ the bluebirds haven’t built nests in the houses, but they do splash in the bath all the time now. 

Salvia leucantha, also called Mexican sagebrush, has soft, purple, velvety flowers.


 The setting sun always shines through our golden lilies.

The Matilija Poppy was so large and prolific this year, strangers stopped to have their photo taken in front of it.


Once we no longer needed a patch of grass in the backyard for our growing son’s playtime, we removed the turf and discovered an amazing thing; All of our fruit trees were so pleased to not compete with nearby grass for water that the harvest for each of them doubled! We laid down layers of cardboard to discourage the grass and weeds from getting reestablished and added mulch on top. As I periodically brought my bounty of persimmons, guavas, kiwis, avocados, oranges, and lemons to work at HP, my colleagues thought I lived on a ranch. Yet, in fact, our yard is quite small. We said goodbye to our gas guzzling lawn mower forever.  

Here are the persimmons we didn’t share with critters.

And when our super duper chipper-shredder finally broke, I talked my husband out of replacing this toy of his, reminding him that our neighbors and I had suffered long enough from the noise, fumes, and airborne particulates. Over time, the mulch kept the weeds from growing so we got rid of the weed whacker, too. Whew! It turns out that not just people love quiet, but the birds, bees, and butterflies do, too.

Over time, we developed a manageable system of watering the trees and bushes using drip irrigation and soaker hoses. Now that we are lawn free, our fruit harvest, compost production, and garden beauty are at an all-time high while we use less water, almost no artificial fertilizers, and zero fossil fuel. Our family benefits and our local biome and climate benefit. That’s what I call ‘a win win!’