I Killed My Lawn

I hate to be the one to say it, but I think Summer is on it’s way out. Officially there’s still a month left, but I’d say, she’s packing her bags.  The oak trees are turning, the Naked Ladies are fading, and the sun has lost it’s intensity. And, worst of all, school started.  Boo hoo, I just hate ‘Good-bye’.

I love the three digit temps, folks. Makes me feel ALIVE! I dress accordingly, and stay near water, and I’m happier than an otter. Yesterday I had to go out and whack a bunch of dead stuff around my yards – I like lots of lemon balm, but now’s the time of year it all starts turning dead and brown. So I go around with my sheers and whack it. You know why I like lemon balm – the smell is just intoxicating. Some people say it relieves a headache, I think that’s true.  It’s a pretty dirty job, so I wear old swim trunks and a crappy t-shirt, and when I can’t take it anymore, I run through a handy sprinkler.

There’s lots of flowers to dead-head and shrubberies to trim, and my grape vines are turning yellow, they will need to be cut back soon. It’s all so sad, so different than Spring, when all these new flowers are appearing here and there. So I have to console myself by planning my winter garden, and stuff I’m doing to get ready for next Spring.

The big project I started this past Spring is removal of about half my front lawn. I just quit watering it, bang, was it ever dead. That part of our yard is intensely sunny, and in past we’ve watched it get pretty dead with water running all over it. Year after year we lose more “grass” and get more sticker weeds, like that barrel clover that has those annoying little burrs.  This year we decided to stop trying and just let it go, stickers and all. Man, it didn’t need to be told twice.

I killed my lawn.

Now, it’s not just dead, it’s disintegrating. I got a patch of hard, brown dirt covered with with a quarter inch of powder and this annoying straw-like substance that flutters around the front door waiting for an opportunity to get all over my entry floor. Whenever the dogs run across it you get a classic vision of “Dust Storm on the Kalihari”. They like to lie out there in the afternoon heat, belly up, getting that straw grass all over their backs, and then shake it off on the porch when they come in for attention or a bite to eat. It’s just everywhere. I found a piece of it in the bathtub the other day.

But, don’t think I’m fooled – I’ve read up on my grasses, yessiree:


I know the stuff we call “crab grass” is like one of those African bullfrogs – it can stay alive for many years, just waiting for moisture, and then it’s green and growing up the side of your house in a week. A friend of mine had an old garbage can full of it she’d cleaned out of her garden, just sitting, looking dead. After the first Autumn rains, she found a foot of new green grass growing out of the top of that garbage can.

Here you can see, just since the heat dropped a little and the humidity picked up, little green patches among the dead.

And here’s those “barrel clover” burrs – I hate these. I spend way too much time picking them out of socks and carpeting!

So, I realize, as soon as it starts raining again, I will have my crabgrass and sticker yard back. I need to get in there, dig it out, and replace it with other stuff.  I’m going to take a whack at “xeriscaping,” replacing my lawn with “drought tolerant” plants and mulch.  I’ve been putting little “drought gardens” around my properties to replace weed patches for a few years now, but this is the first really big project I’ve taken on. What I fear, is that it will take more water than my lawn did, I’ll have to be careful.

The first thing I’m going to do is plant some little trees. In past I have not had success in this part of my yard – the sun is so intense, they’ve never made it through the summer.  So, instead of just placing them right out in the sunny yard, I have been working my way over from the shade of a young oak tree in the corner of the yard.   I planted a red bud a friend brought me down the hill a few years ago, and there was another tiny seedling in the pot. Now the first tree has created an extension of shade from the oak tree, and the seedling is big enough to go in the ground, just a few feet beyond the shelter of that first tree.  Slow as she goes, Mr. Christian.

Here’s Biscuit with the red bud Whipple gave us a few years ago. She says, “Hey, let’s play ball!”

Here’s the little tree that was growing in the same pot as the first – I will put this tree out in the yard later this year.

Once I get the trees in, I have bulbs and plants to spread around. Some of them have to be put on drip lines, but I’m gambling that they can survive on less water than my lawn did, and I know they take up space where annoying sticker weeds would grow otherwise, so I’m going to give it a try. I have things like comfrey and valerian that will put up with some pretty severe neglect and come back year after year as long as they are planted in a shady spot. They get spectacular in the Spring, gorgeous showy flowers, but toward early summer they wilt in the hot afternoon. But every morning, with very little water, they are perky and green and lush – you wouldn’t know it was the same plant.

Whipple also recently gave me this plant, I don’t know what it is, but it gets these incredible blue flowers on it. Right now I have it sitting in the same garbage bag of dirt he brought it over in, waiting for the temperatures to cool off enough to transplant. When I sit on my patio drinking my java every morning, the hummers come round to sip off those flowers, and sometimes they fight over it.

It’s nice to have a cheap source of mulch, like bark, to cover the ground, saves moisture, helps keeps the weeds down to a dull roar. We get ours by helping some folks clear their mountain property – they give us the chips piles left by the chipper crews.   Some day I’d like to get some of that fake bark that’s made out of old tires, but it’s still a little pricey for me. Plus, my dogs like to chew on stuff like that, I’m afraid they might eat it.

With Cal Water threatening a “30 – 40 percent increase,” I want to see if  “xeriscaping” really works – I’ll keep you posted!