Category Archives: Lose the Lawn

Gravel Patio in the Front Yard


We finally got everything ready to add gravel to the little patio in the front yard. I went to the rock yard to get some samples. Originally we wanted to put DG or decomposed granite but I have heard that they scratch the floor and I don’t really want to need with that.

Our criteria is that it needs to match the rock I the faux dry creek bed that came from our yard, be smooth as to not scratch our floors and not be crazy expensive.


We estimated that for our space we had about135 sq feet to cover, which ends up being about a half yard of gravel. The four samples that you see above range from $125/yard up to $700/yard. We have chosen the 3/8″ salt rock that we could buy in bulk (lower right corner) as opposed to bags which can be on the higher end.


Here ow what it looked like with landscape fabric on before.

Here is what it looks like all filled in!

Palo Verde – Desert Museum

It is almost hard to tell in the image above, but we have a tree in the front yard! I chose a desert tree that I won’t have to water once it is established. It is a Palo Verde, they grow naturally in Arizona and I think parts of Texas. It has delicate fern like leaves and pretty and plentiful yellow flowers. When I visited Palm Springs I saws lot of them and since our house has a bit of Palm Springs modern vibe I thought it would work nicely.

The desert museum variety is nice because it blossom most of the year and does not have thorns like other varieties. It was difficult to locate the tree in a San Diego nursery. I predict that 10 years down the line this won’t be so.


Here are two examples of mature Palo Verde trees. I took these last fall and there are no flowers, but you get an idea of how nicely they fill out.



Here is my friend Nancy as we wait for our table at cheeky’s for brunch. This is actually the patio bar for the Alcazar hotel.

Off comes the plastic

We took the black plastic sheeting off out lawn that has graced it for these past three months. Will I miss the black tarp rustling in the breeze? I will not miss it at at all. But it was kind of fun to have it collect water and jump in puddles without getting muddy. All good things must pass. Even though starting the yard began with killing out lawn, it feels like we have now started the process and that is exciting. 20130518-153538.jpg

My husband went out and raked the grass/weeds and rototilled it up. It already looks better! Although in true Beam form the rotor-till did break at the end. A pin came out of the front wheel and got lost in the yard. We are lucky that my father-in-law was a shop teacher for years. He has come by small engines that stop working and then he fixes them up. So while it is annoying that we lost the pin, it was nice that we didn’t have to buy or rent the equipment.


10 Steps to a new front yard

While I am not someone who lives and dies by lists, it seems foolish not to have a plan in place when starting a project of this size. So here we go written down for posterity (or until I forget to pay for the hosting).  Here are the steps that we have in place to transform our front yard from a landscape of dead plans and dirt to a respectable yard filled with curb appeal.  My inlaws just brought down their rototill for us to use so we are getting close to ready to go!

Steps to a new front yard

  1. make a plan of plants etc
  2. rototill yard
  3. set up irrigation
  4. take out fence
  5. grade yard
  6. do forms and lay concrete for walk way
    put up new fence(?)
    make patio out of pavers or dg
  7. fix raised planter
  8. add mulch and or rocks
  9. plant trees
    plant plants
  10. stain porch
    jackhammer out section of concrete(?)

Kill your lawn or death by asphyxiation

Congratulation! You’ve decided to kill your lawn. For those in San Diego county there is a turf replacement program that actually pays you to remove your lawn. There are many different ways to do this ranging in time and cost involved. Here is a breakdown of the different ways and what we went with.

Solarizing the lawn (what we are using)

This is the easy way to go on your back, but it takes at least a month. We have been living with a front yard with plastic sheeting for two months since we started in the winter. We keep promising our friends and neighbors that it will look better eventually.

  1. Mow your lawn first.
  2. Water your lawn (for us it was winter and so we did it after a rain storm).
  3. Buy black plastic sheeting and lay it out (overlaping by at least a foot where needed). We placed rocks and wood down to keep it from blowing. The sheeting was about $10 each. We are using 3, but probably could have used 4.
  4. Let the sun bake the seeds (our lawn was mostly weeds) and grass killing the root system. This will take a minimum of six weeks, but possibly longer if it isn’t sunny or warm out. Just keep checking under periodically
Kill your lawn with black plastic sheeting
We decided to kill our lawn with black plastic sheeting

Shovel it out

When we removed the parking strip from our first house we picked this method and even though the section was small, it took three people and was exhausting. It did get done removed in a day though so it might be the best option with those short on time. Unfortunately the topsoil is tossed out with the lawn and roots so you will want to amend before you plant.

  1. water lawn (not a requirement, but having it moist but not saturated helps the shovel penetrate easier).
  2. Work in sections removing the lawn with a spade shovel making sure to get all of the roots. Another option is to rent a machine much like a lawn mower that removes the lawn in sheets.
  3. Dispose of in a compost pile with roots to the sky or in yard cans.

Please note that using a rototill will not kill the lawn, and if you plant after you rototill it might make it more difficult to remove in the furture when the lawn is then mixed with new plants.

Compost your lawn with mulch

After we already started killing our lawn with the plastic sheeting I started reading Larry Hodgson’s book, Making the Most of Shade: How to Plan, Plant, and Grow a Fabulous Garden that Lightens up the Shadows. In this book he stated mulching as the preferred method of killing your lawn. The benefits being that it looks decent during the transformation and the lawn ends up becoming compost to enrich your soil as an added benefit.

  1. Save up a bunch of newspaper or cardboard and lay 4-6 layers overlapping covering the entire surface of your lawn.
  2. On top of the paper add four inches of much. This can be found at home improvement stores at around $5/bag, but a much more economical option is to get it by the truckload if you have access to a truck from a nursery. I know in San Diego County, you can get free mulch at the local dump. I have heard though that sometimes there are nails in it so check that our first if you have small kids or pets. What you save in cost could end up being an expensive trip to the emergency vet. I know this from experience. Once, our dog buster stepped on a galvanized nail and it went through his paw. Ouch.
  3. Keep the much moist, but not wet. Watering with a hose 1-2 times a week.
  4. In a few months you will be able to plant directly in the much with little or no extra prep. Did I mention that I wish we went this route?

Better living through chemistry – Kill it with poison

We used round up on some outlying areas, but I have to admit that I am uncomfortable with the stuff and using it in large quantities. Plus, I think that it would take quite a bit of the stuff to kill an entire lawn. If you do decide on this do one round and then wait a week and go back again to make sure that all of the lawn has been killed.

I have heard of people who use vinegar on their lawn to kill it. This may be worth trying on a small section of lawn and then wait a few days.

Why we are killing our lawn

We lived in our last house for seven years and in that time we made many changes, but the one that we never did that I wish that we had was to remove the front lawn. That house also had an expansive backyard with a lawn, which we had planned on eventually making smaller, but that our dog roamed on and our kid played on (okay not really much as he was just over two when we moved out). It made sense that we would keep it though. The front lawn though was just a chore to to mowed. We actually started the process by removing the parking strip and replacing it with a drip and plants. It added a lot of curb appeal to the yard and cut our water bill by a bit each month.

Fast forward seven months and we are living in a new house and while we did many things inside to fix it up before we moved in, one of our first projects to tackle is removing the lawn in front. To be fair, we probably would have redone it anyway even it we were keeping it as there is no irrigation and we live in San Diego. We had a hard enough time keeping our last lawn looking decent with irrigation. I know that we would fail to keep this lawn looking anything close to presentable.

Front of our house with Lawn after we just moved in
This is the front of our house as it looked when we moved in at the beginning of the New Year 2013.

Many people (read neighbors) seem skeptical about this decision and how it will end up looking. I predict that in Southern California where water is a scarce resource, removing a front lawn will become a modern landscape choice. I think that it will go well with our mid-century modern home and design aesthetic. Considering the expense and time of maintaining a lawn I think that it makes a lot of sense for our lifestyle too. And if we do want to throw a baseball around or roll down a grassy hill, we live a short walk away from a wonderful community park (also why we will not be putting in a swing set and slide).

Aztec Park, San Diego, La Mesa
Aztec Park is a five minute walk away with an expansive lawn that someone else maintains and pays to water.

Check back and see our progress and we slowly transform our yard into a space that we love and love being in!