Friday, June 19, 2015

Turf Terminators Beware

Thousands of people in California are considering doing away with their lawns.  But what will replace all those lawns?  Give this serious thought before installing something you'll regret.  I recommend native plants, of course.  Here are ten caveats to prevent frustration when replacing turf.

1. Beware of restrictions that will invalidate your rebate for removing lawn.  Typically you must document your existing lawn and get a landscape plan approved BEFORE you kill the turf.  Then you have a short time span to re-landscape and document the result. Study the website carefully before starting.
The association lawn bordering my and Tomaz's front gardens will remain another year.  Neither of us has the energy to replace it this year, and it is watered with reclaimed water.  Tomaz's riparian (streamside) natives (right) love getting its excess water.
2. Beware of grass reinvasion.  While fescue turf is easy to physically remove, cold-dormant St. Augustine grass and Bermuda grass are impossible to remove completely by digging.  All lawns are hard to really kill in place.  Picture weeding your low-water landscape of grass for the next ten years.  Or, be SURE you kill it completely the first time.  Here is advice from Ron Vanderhoff at Roger's Gardens.  Expect some weeding will be required in any case.
Beverly in Turtle Rock has a lovely native-ish lawn of prairie Buffalo Grass and Red Fescue (a bunch grass), watered once a week.  It was hard to establish, and stays a golden green.  She mows it occasionally.  The fescue also springs up all over the garden– she regrets that choice. Buffalo Grass is very soft and doesn't itch.
3. Beware of "native turf" and "drought-friendly lawn."   There is no such thing in California.  Native bunch grasses and midwestern prairie grasses don't look and act like a typical lawn unless they get a whole lot of water, fertilizer, and coddling (installing plugs, waiting, weeding, changing watering regimens, weeding volunteers from the rest of your garden...)  Way more work and worry, and not much less water, than regular why bother?  Do your research before installing non-native "lawn substitutes" like Dymondia and Zoysia.  They don't look or act like lawn.  While eventually low(ish) water, they take time, care, water, and weeding to establish.  Consider breaking away from the whole lawn concept by using robust ground covers and shrubs, paths and clearings of porous hardscape, and planting trees– the real climate changers.
Dymondia needs edging.  It does well with weekly water, and dies back in frost.  It takes a little work to establish weed-free.
4. Beware of Turf Terminators and other quick-change artists.  You get what you pay for. A scan of Yelp will alert you to their common shortcomings.

You think you need a lawn for your kids.  But maybe they would rather have a setup like this one seen on the San Diego CNPS Garden Tour.  This is a side yard with decomposed granite play space, sand, mulch, tree stumps, and OLD FASHIONED TOYS!
5. Beware of inexpert landscapers who claim knowledge of low-water and native plants.  Ask to see gardens (in your same climate) they have installed three or more years ago, and find out how the owners are watering and maintaining those gardens.  Sadly, I see a lot of weedy, half dead, or motley attempts at low-water gardens.
This spectacular garden from the San Diego CNPS Garden Tour is over 20 years old, and has been maintained by the garden designer the whole time.
6. Beware of inexpert gardeners who do not know how to care for low-water gardens.  It's a big paradigm shift!  Robert at Tree of Life Nursery reports that his mom's gardener always rips out the natives come midsummer. (Because they're dormant, he thinks they're dying.)  My neighbors'  gardeners keep resetting the sprinklers to water three times a week.

7. Beware of inappropriate sprinkler setups. Your lawn sprinklers are probably not going to properly water anything that isn't flat.   And make sure all the plants in the same sprinkler zone have the same water needs.  Take sun and shade into account.  Losing half your lawn and using the same three-times-a-week watering regime on the new plants as the remaining half won't save you a drop of water, but it may kill your new drought-tolerant plants.
This was lawn just over two years ago.  It is hand watered about every other week.  Dwarf Coyote Bush 'Pigeon Point' provides cheery green pools all year long, but does not thrive when watered once a week.
8. Beware of drip watering.  While it is the lowest-water option, drip watering is an unnatural way for drought-tolerant plants to get their water, that promotes root rot.  And drip systems are vulnerable to failure from clogging and from critter damage.   Find me a ten-year-old drip system.  I dare you.

9. Beware of shortages.  Native plant stocks and quality landscapers will be spread very thin for the next year or so.  Don't be disappointed if you can't get yours.
Want a real low maintenance lawn? This lush lawn in the Beer Garden at Stone Brewing Company in Escondido is synthetic.  It replaced a mostly dead lawn on high-traffic compacted clay. It works for me; in shade a more pleasant choice than gravel for high-traffic areas. 
10. Beware of mindless gardening.  Any lawn replacement is going to take at least modest time, money, and attention.  If you don't have those things to spare, you might want to just cut back on watering your lawn.  It won't die.  (But the Homeowner's Association may come after you.)

Whew!  I'm really not trying to talk you out of losing your lawn.   I want to support you in doing it right the first time.  Stay tuned to get tips for successful lawn replacement, and inspiration to help you invest in a garden that will bring you joy.

To subscribe to this blog, click here.
To use text or photos from this blog, click here.
To share this post (do share!) click on the appropriate tiny icon below (email, facebook, etc.)


  1. Please warn your neighbors and the elderly about this truth.

    Now that their online popularity is declining Turf Terminators is changing their marketing tactics (to telemarketing and door-to-door) aggressively pursuing the uninformed and the elderly to sign up for their services.

    Turf Terminators along with other companies offering "FREE Landscaping" have one thing in common: they are not truly landscapers.

    Ryan Nivakoff, owner of Turf Terminators, with the backing of New York investors bought their way into the Lawn Rebate scene last year when they acquired Pan American Landscapes. One year later, they have not done much to improve their services, most past customers are left disgruntled with a poorly constructed and ugly project when weeds readily grows a few weeks following completion.

    Other FREE Landscapers will not even disclose who they are or their background. They will not mention their professional accreditations because they have none pertaining to landscape construction.

    Please dont let these hustlers take advantage of the public anymore. For more info simply search the news for Turf Terminators.

  2. Again, bad back people like this method. Hippies will roll their eyes in despair.
    best electric lawn mower