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Researching Slope Ground Cover & Lawn Alternatives in Southern California

I hate lawns.

I don’t like watering them.  Yes, we have sprinklers but I just think it is such a waste of water to try to force a lawn to grow and stay green where it is over 90 degrees for at least three months out of the year.

I don’t like mowing them and either does my husband.  So when we did have a lawn, it always looked awful since it wasn’t mowed weekly.

So a couple years ago, we ripped out our lawn in the backyard, put down black plastic, wood chips and finished it off with a used Barbie playhouse we bought off of eBay.  This has served us well for a couple years, but it would be so nice to look out my kitchen window and see something green growing on the lawn… is it possible to have an “ecologically responsible” lawn?

I’m also just tired of wood chips trailing into the house and my daughter being covered in dirt after playing outside.  This is exacerbated by our rocky, dry, dusty slope.  So, after several years of weeding and finally getting the weeds under control, and several years of planting plants that only ultimately die or grow so slowly, I decided to really research and find a good alternative or our slope and our “non-lawn.”

Ideal “Non-Lawn” Lawn

  • Drought resistant/ needs little water
  • Short – less than 6″
  • Minimal mowing
  • Handle foot traffic from kids, dog, and chickens

Ideal Slope “Ground Cover”

  • Drought resistant/ needs little water
  • Medium height – less than 18″
  • No mowing or maintenance
  • Perennial plants or plants that naturalize/reseed annually
  • Handle foot traffic from kids, dog, and chickens
  • Stabilize soil = minimize erosion
  • Stabilize soil = kids not covered in dirt and dust after playing outside

Lawn Option 1: Peaceful Valley’s Low Maintenance Lawn

Winter-hardy, and has good seedling vigor. It is also drought tolerant once established, so it requires less water than other lawns. It is slow growing, therefore requiring less mowing and less fertilizing. You’ll have extra time to contemplate its fine texture and dark green color from your hammock. This seed is endophyte-enhanced to maximize pest resistance (endophyte-enhanced seed cannot be used for pasture as it is toxic to livestock or horses). Contains 70% Guardian 21 Tall Fescue and 30% Calypso II Perennial Ryegrass. Seed at 7—8 lb/1000 sq ft.

Per Seed Research of Oregon:

Guardian-21 Turf-Type Tall Fescue with excellent turf quality and
broad adaptation is an innovative new “semi-dwarf” tall fescue variety.
True to its heritage, Guardian-21 carries the proven Guardian name
– and tall fescue turf – to a new level with exceptional turf characteristics
and superior quality ratings in recent National Turfgrass Evaluation
Program (NTEP) trials. It exhibits a dark green color, medium density,
and medium fi ne leaf texture. Once established, it forms a very dense,
tough, durable turf. Guardian-21 also has excellent heat and drought
tolerance and is a great performer under summer stress conditions.

and…

Calypso II Turf-Type Perennial Ryegrass is ideal for low
maintenance situations and high-quality blends and mixtures.
Known for its unique combination of high turf quality and firstrate
disease resistance, Calypso II ranked first for Red Thread
resistance in recent NTEP trials by outperforming a competitive
“field” of 134 varieties.

Lawn Option 2: Peaceful Valley’s Roadway Mix

Ditchbank, Erosion Control, Beneficial Habitat Mix Excellent, long-lasting evergreen turf and clover mix was developed for use on farm roadways, ditchbanks and other areas where soil and water erosion, dust, traction, beneficial insect habitat and durability are important. Plant spring through fall in any area that can be irrigated during germination and dry months. This mix forms a dense, low-growing (8″—12″) sod which can tolerate frequent foot and equipment traffic once established, even tolerating wet soil traffic. Prevents compaction and erosion problems and requires only occasional (1—3 times per year) mowing. The clovers attract and feed many beneficial insects and the grasses form a dense, tough turf. Broadcast seed and cover shallowly (¼”) at 4—6 lb/1,000 sq ft. Contains: 30% Dwarf Turf-Type Fescue, 30% Tough Turf-Type Fescue, 17% New Zealand White Clover, 18% Strawberry Salina Clover, and 5% Kentucky Bluegrass.

And the winner for our “non-lawn” lawn

We ultimately ordered and planted the Roadway Mix (Lb) (caring for lawns) which is growing in nicely considering how hot it’s been here the last couple months (90s and 100s).

On our very steep, rocky slope we planted . . .

. . . Crownvetch Seed – Raw (Lb) (which requires Crownvetch Inoculant), Oregon Annual Ryegrass (Lb) (which is a “nurse plant” to the crownvetch), Omega-3 Chicken Forage Blend (Irrigated) (for the chickens to munch on), California Mostly Annuals Mix (1/4 Lb), Reginal Southwest Wildflower Mix (1/4 Lb) and North American Butterfly Garden Wildflower Mix (1/4 Lb).  In the areas that get partial/full shade, it’s filled in very nicely, but it’s very patchy, or didn’t sprout at all, in the areas that get full sun.  In a couple months, I’ll order more crownvetch and ryegrass and plant again.  I’m thinking once it cools down, it will be easier to keep the soil moist.

One thing that is very cool about Peaceful Valley is that depending on the total cost of your order, you can select some free seed!  So I picked:

PVFS Carrot Scarlet Nantes
PVFS Gourd, Small Mixed
PVFS Melon Hearts of Gold
PVFS Onion Walla Walla
PVFS Pepper Cal Wonder
PVFS Pumpkin Small Sugar

I’ll wait until the fall when it’s cooler to plant these vegies.

I also stocked up on plant-based bug spray.  Victor® Poison-Free Flying Insect Spray (17.5 Oz) &
Victor® Poison-Free Wasp & Hornet Spray (17.5 Oz).  I’ve already sprayed a black widow in my garage…

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4 comments to Researching Slope Ground Cover & Lawn Alternatives in Southern California

  • Mary

    Hello there, I am researching lawn covers and came across your post. I am looking at dymondia–it’s nice and short and dense but I’m not crazy about the color–it’s too light a color of green. Are you still happy with the “Roadway Mix” you planted? How often do you mow it? And by any chance do you live in San Diego?
    Thanks much,
    ~Mary

    • Jen Kamel

      Hi Mary!

      You know, when I wrote up that article, my baby was 9 months old and into everything. Now he’s 2.5 years old and into everything. I have pounds and pounds of roadway mix seed in my garage and have yet to actually plant it. Horrible, I know.

      Groworganic.com says that you only have to mow the roadway mix 1-3 times/year.

      It seems that they didn’t offer this seed mix when I ordered the roadway mix, but the Native Lawn Mix looks like it might be a better option. They say it’s drought resistant which is a quality not listed with the roadway mix.

      Will you let me know what you ultimately do and how it turns out? I’d love to hear!

      I’m in the sweltering heat of the Inland Empire!! Enjoy those ocean breezes for me, ok?

      My toddler is calling for me…

      Jen

  • Less than 6′? That’s quite a lawn!

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