My lawn’s dead, now what?

After years of drought we’re all sick of looking at dead lawns, right? And as the rain returned and drought worries have eased, many of us are ready for some curb appeal.  But before you rip out that dead lawn and plop down some new sod, let’s take a moment to look at the wonderful opportunity before you to take this blank slate and make it into a sustainable, beautiful, California friendly garden of the future! With that in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the only time I step on my lawn is to mow it?
  • Is my lawn narrow, or on a slope, or under the dense canopy of a tree?
  • Do I have more lawn than I actually use (i.e., are there parts that are purely decorative and not used for recreation, pets or entertaining)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might a good time to consider removing all or a portion of your lawn. The goal is to only have lawn in the landscape where it is actually performing a function beyond aesthetics. For example, you might have a back lawn that your kids or pets play on regularly and a front lawn that is rarely, if ever, used. In this case, consider removing the lawn in the front yard. Or you might have difficult-to-irrigate lawn areas, such as narrow parking strips or slopes, that are wasting more than their fair share of water. Consider replacing the lawn in those areas with more appropriate materials, such as low-water-using plants on a drip irrigation system or permeable hardscape like gravel, pavers or flagstone set on sand. Our Landscape Rebate Programs will help you foot the bill, offering a rebate of $1 per square foot for removing lawns and pools and replacing them with a more climate appropriate landscape (pre-inspection and application approval required before starting any work). You can remove all or a portion of your lawn through this program; it’s up to you! If you’re having a hard time visualizing a yard without lawn, we have a beautiful gallery to help give you some great ideas.

For those of you who just can’t part with all your grass, there are responsible steps you can take when re-planting your lawn that will make it more water friendly. After you’ve decided to remove unnecessary or problematic lawn areas, the first thing to think about before replacing your remaining lawn is installing an efficient irrigation system. Much of the water waste associated with lawns is the result of poorly designed or malfunctioning irrigation systems. When you are evaluating your irrigation system and making upgrades, keep the following in mind:

  • Head-to-head coverage. Sprinkler systems should be designed so that each sprinkler, or ‘head’, is throwing water far enough so that it is hitting the next head in line. This eliminates dead spots in the lawns and prevents the tendency for people to overwater in an attempt to compensate. If your sprinklers are not spaced correctly, you will need to move them or add more as needed.
  • High efficiency sprinkler nozzles and bodies. We swap out our cell phones every time a newer model comes on the market, yet many of us are still using sprinkler equipment that has been in the ground for decades. Sprinkler technology has improved greatly in recent years, reducing water waste from misting, overspray, runoff and so on. Installing high efficiency nozzles and sprinkler bodies with pressure regulation or check valves can help keep water on the lawn where it’s supposed to be and not in the gutter. Plus, there are rebates available!
  • Weather-based irrigation scheduling. Even with a newly designed irrigation system, we can still waste water if we’re not scheduling run times correctly. A “smart” controller will make automatic adjustments to your watering schedule, supplying plants with only as much water as they actually need on a given day. We also offer rebates for weather based irrigation controllers.
  • Healthy soils, healthy lawn. Whether you are seeding your new lawn or laying sod, be sure to incorporate a soil amender, such as redwood compost, into the top 4-6” of the soil. Compost has a great water holding capacity and can reduce the amount of supplemental water needed in the long term. If you’re renovating your lawn, it may benefit from dethatching help improve water absorption and aeration to reduce compaction. Avoid laying sod or seeding new lawns in the heat of the summer when constant irrigation is needed for the lawn to establish.

If you need help evaluating your existing irrigation system and could use some great pointers from an experienced professional, considering signing up for a free Water Wise Outdoor Survey. During this survey offered to single family homes and small multi-family sites (landscape area under ½ acre) in Santa Clara County, a trained irrigation specialist will complete a comprehensive evaluation of your irrigation system.

This is a great time to evaluate your irrigation system and make changes this summer, when water use increases drastically. On average, about half of the water used on residential sites goes to the landscape, so having an irrigation system in top shape can help reduce residential water use dramatically. To schedule a free inspection, call our water conservation hotline at (408) 630-2554. San Jose Water Company customers should request a Water Audit by calling (408) 279-7900. For more information, visit

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