Nibble Away at Turf and Water Usage

Here’s what my front yard looked like last year after my second round of turf removal and installation of new plants.

Many homeowners, especially non-gardeners, take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to landscaping.  That approach is fine, as long as those homeowners realize that as plants mature over the years, some adjustments may be necessary.

Then there are some of us gardeners in semi-arid climates who dislike high water bills so much that we nibble away at our turf year after year. Kentucky bluegrass is, after all, one of the thirstiest plants you can grow. Two years ago, for example, I reduced the turf area in my front yard by about 33 percent.  Last year, I trimmed the remaining turf by about 25 percent.  And this year, I’ve decided to decease the existing turf by another 20 percent or so.

As you can see, there was turf galore in the front yard when I bought the home 2 1/2 years ago. The yard wasn’t water-wise, to put it mildly.

“Why not remove all the turf at once?” you might sensibly ask.  Well, removing turf is time-consuming and labor-intensive.  So, I like to spread out the effort.  Also, I like to propagate plants for filling in the newly expanded beds.  If I’m propagating from cuttings, it may take several months or more to grow a new plant.

I like a small expanse of green in my front yard, but ideally, I would like to eliminate grass altogether.  That’s why I plunked a small rupturewort (Herniaria glabra) plant in my perennial bed last spring.  I’m waiting to see how it performs as a potential turf replacement.  So far, I haven’t been wowed.  Perhaps rupturewort is one of those plants that sleeps in the first year, creeps in the second year and leaps in the third year.  I’m hoping to see some leaping this summer.

This year’s turf-removal effort involves increasing the beds at the front edge of the yard by another two feet. This expansion will enable me to grow my top-performing, 5-foot-wide red fire Meidiland ground cover roses in the space. The smaller purple rain roses that I planted last year were a major disappointment.

If that doesn’t work, I might consider soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides), which I’ve grown successfully for years.  It’s evergreen, and it’s a solid, drought-tolerant performer.  I need to decide, though, whether I can live with a bright pink lawn for the two to three weeks that it’s in flower.  Also, when It’s all fluffed up, it can reach six inches tall, which is high for a lawn.

Don’t talk to me about thyme.  I’m simply not a fan.  It can brown out in the center and turn leggy.

The same goes for Turkish veronica (Veronica liwanensis).  I’ve seen it brown out in my west-facing Denver yard.  Also, it doesn’t spread as quickly as I would like.

Ajuga?  I’ve never liked the looks of it.  Its growth habit reminds me of broad-leafed weeds.

Woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata) has all the characteristics I’m looking for.  It’s attractive, low-growing, fast-spreading and evergreen.  Unfortunately, it would burn up in my south-facing Fort Collins lawn without shade.  So, I have to be content with growing it under my autumn brilliance serviceberry.

So, the search for the right ground cover continues as I nibble away at my turf.

For those of you who are customers of Fort Collins Water, please be aware that the City of Fort Collins currently is sponsoring a Xeriscape Incentive Program (XIP), which offers generous rebates to homeowners who remove turf and install water-wise plants.

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Filed under Garden Maintenance, Landscape Design, Plant Geekiness

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