7 Smart Ideas for a Low-Water Yard

Losing the lawnLosing the lawn
It looks vibrant, with flowering and fruiting plants, shade trees, and grasses that shimmer like spun gold in sunlight. But this garden, fronting a custom prefab home near downtown Santa Barbara, actually thrives on very little water. "It needed to be super-green to match the house," explains landscape designer Margie Grace, "with a naturalistic feel and the strong sense of place. It needed light and movement."

Myoporum parvifoliumMyoporum parvifolium
Lawn alternative
Rich green Myoporum parvifolium carpets the area closest to the front door. Native to Australia, it grows 3 to 6 inches tall and spreads to 9 feet, but doesn't stand up to foot traffic.
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Slabs and pebblesSlabs and pebbles
Permeable paving
Stone slabs with Mexican beach pebbles between them create a wide, sinuous path to the front door.

Rosemary and lavender Rosemary and lavender
Unthirsty shrubs
Prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Irene') spills over the low sandstone wall. Nearby, 'Hidcote' and 'Munstead' English lavender pump out wands of fragrant blooms in late spring.
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Needs more water than the othersNeeds more water than the others
Lemon trees (and a small lime tree, nearby) need more water than the other plants; they're on their own irrigation schedule.

Pockets left unplantedPockets left unplanted
Open spaces
Pockets of the 25- by 80-foot front yard are unplanted, reducing the total area needing water. Grace dressed them with California Gold gravel, then topped them with sandstone boulders.
Water conservation tips

Mexican feather grassMexican feather grass
Blond Mexican feather grass dances in breezes. Near wild land where it's a weedy nuisance, try similar Slender Veldt Grass (sold as Pennisetum spathio­datum)--"the closest I've found to it," says Grace.

Sycamore treesSycamore trees
Shade trees
Sycamore trees shade the house during the summer months. Native to Califor­nia where they grow near streams, "they're high-water use but low demand," says Grace. "During drought, they sleep."
More drought-tolerant plants

Before you plant, find out what grows well in your climate zone. And if you don't know your climate zone, look it up here.