Yard makeover can conserve water and help the environment - East Valley Tribune: Living Green

Yard makeover can conserve water and help the environment

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Posted: Monday, August 8, 2011 8:47 pm | Updated: 9:45 am, Mon Aug 13, 2012.

Jay and Elisa Klock knew it was time to lose the lawn.

The Folsom, Calif., couple had considered a dramatic makeover of their yard for several years. As water costs went up, the Klocks decided the time was right to ditch the turf.

They chose a landscape that was more in keeping with their lifestyle. As a bonus, their new yard saved water.

"One thing that prompted us to do it is that Sacramento County had been rationing water for two years," Jay Klock said. "We became more aware and want to save water. Also, our front lawn was on a severe slope; when we watered, it all ran off."

"It was so hard to keep the lawn nice-looking," Elisa Klock said. "But that's not a problem now."

In their front yard, the lawn was replaced with a Mediterranean landscape filled with color. Something is always in bloom. Instead of steep steps, a curved path guides visitors to their front door.

The Klocks' sloped backyard had suffered from drainage problems. A tiny patio offered little room to entertain, and the lawn always struggled.

"When it rained, it looked like a marsh," Elisa Klock said.

Now, they have an outdoor living room, kitchen and den, carved out of the formerly bland backyard. Raised beds edged in quartzite hold roses and colorful perennials such as day lilies, lavender and wallflower. Two fountains add soothing sound.

"I always wanted a larger yard," Elisa Klock said. "It turned out we always had the space but didn't know it."

Converting from a turf-focused landscape to water-wise plantings is a trend seen throughout drought-prone areas.

In Sacramento, such efforts often come under the umbrella of "river-friendly landscaping." While saving water, residents also can help local rivers and native wildlife.

Outdoor landscaping accounts for most home water use in summer. Turf grass - or, more specifically, the typical cultivation of lawns -- tops the list of non-river-friendly landscaping.

Not only are most turf grasses water hogs, but gardeners usually use powerful chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers to keep that lawn green and lush. Those chemicals can run off into streams and rivers, causing harm to fish and wildlife.

The difference in water use can be dramatic.

Less turf also means less work: No mowing and weekly maintenance.

When it came to their lawn, Beth and Bruce Sacco of Sacramento reached a similar conclusion to the Klocks for different reasons. They had a tiny concrete-pad patio and an unhappy half-dead lawn that languished in too much shade. The front yard was more of the same.

With a corner lot, they were able to almost triple their backyard space. They pushed the fence out to the driveway and removed a broad strip of unused grass. The move added 1,500 square feet of outdoor living space to their home.

"I've always wanted to incorporate the front yard into the back and just get rid of all that lawn," Beth Sacco said. "We struggled with sparse lawn for years; in some sections, it's mossy. It was just a waste.

"I love not having a lawn," she added. "It's a lot less work."

In the year since the transformation, they have used 25 percent less water, too, Bruce Sacco said.

Their backyard now has an inviting patio next to a recirculating waterfall. Flowers fill basalt raised beds and cover mounds in a profusion of color.

"I love Annie's Annuals," Beth Sacco said. "The mounds let me plant more."

Although they lost their lawn, the couple's two dogs -- a border collie and a Lab mix -- have a space of their own with a new dog run under a large magnolia. A lava-rock gravel path was created along the fence line, too, with the dogs in mind.

"I've noticed so much more wildlife in the garden," Beth Sacco added. "It's my sanctuary back here. The water is so soothing. I love having breakfast on the patio and just relaxing."

Landscape designer Susan Silva of Orangevale, Calif., and Alpine Terrace Landscaping of Granite Bay, Calif., created both makeovers.

Much of her business now is water-wise conversions, Silva said.

"Most people are not moving; they're staying put," Silva explained. "The kids are grown up; they don't need a lawn for soccer practice. They could use that space in a different way -- and save water, too."

The results don't feel desertlike. With water features, flower-packed perennials and smart use of shade, the landscapes look lush.

"I think they feel very natural with the mounds and native plants," Silva said.

Nature gravitates to these lawnless habitats.

"I've noted the wildlife coming into the yard, too," Jay Klock said. "We've seen so many more hummingbirds and bumblebees."

Klock took the next step in his yard's conversion by adding an automatic fertilizer system. Plugged into the drip irrigation system, it delivers a tiny dose of liquid food every time he waters.

"That way, the fertilizer is going straight to the plants' roots instead of down the gutter," he said. "By putting the fertilizer where it belongs, the plants are so happy.

"That's another problem with lawns; people use so much fertilizer on it and it goes right down the drain -- and that goes to the rivers and streams."

The proof is in the Klocks' landscape, which quickly matured after it was planted last summer.

"We're watering much less, too," he added. "Now, it's going specifically to the plants, not down the drain."

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