Study Guide

Lawn Replacement Study Guide 2018-01-05T22:35:17+00:00

Good for you!

You have made a smart decision to begin your lawn removal process! Grass (or turf) uses double the water of most other plants we grow in the Santa Clarita Valley. Your decision to remove your lawn (also known as turf or grass) will save you water, time, and will help us preserve our water supply for our children and grandchildren. Thank you for your decision to help!

You can start the assessment and resume it at a later time if necessary. To resume the assessment, simply return to your dashboard and select the “Continue Assessment” link in the left column.

Deciding where in the yard to remove the lawn and how much lawn to remove can be one of the hardest parts of this project.

Figure out which of your grass is practical (good for kids and grandkids, pets and play) and which is aesthetic (nice to look at, but serves no real purpose).

Most people find that the grass they want to remove is in the front, side or parkway.  To participate in this program, you need to find 250 square feet minimum and a maximum of 2500 square feet of lawn found in one area or a combination of your front, side or parkway.

You’ll also need to comply with City or County code, which means your completed project needs at least 50% live plant material in your front yard (SC City code 17.51.030, or LA County code 4.106.5).

The easiest way to convert an area of the landscape from lawn is to remove the lawn in an entire zone and replant that whole zone with water efficient plants. If you have a zone with plants of different water needs, some plants always get too much water and some get too little.

The table below is a very basic breakdown of the types of water needs for different plant types.

Plant Type Water Need
Native and Desert Plants Low-water needs
Shrubs and Trees Medium-water needs
Warm Season Grasses (e.g., St. Augustine) Medium to High-water needs
Cool Season Grasses (e.g., Kentucky Bluegrass) High-water needs

Please check the Water Use Classifications of Landscape Species for detailed descriptions of water needs

Let’s summarize: the goal with lawn removal is to remove grass from an entire zone and then convert the whole zone to water-efficient plants that all require similar amounts of water. When all the plants in a zone have similar water requirements, it is called a hydrozone.

It is acceptable to mix groundcovers, shrubs, and trees in the same zone if they have the same basic water requirements.

Sample of Acceptable Permeable Surfaces

Mulch, decomposed granite and rocks are all acceptable permeable surfaces shown in the photo.

Think about these sorts of questions as you plan:

  • What colors, textures, plant heights, flowers are important to you?
  • Do you have room for plants that will provide shade (i.e., do you have room for a tree)?
  • Are you looking for a landscape theme? The last resource section contains plants and plans appropriate for the SCV to help inspire your plant choices.
  • How will your plant choices look when they are established and mature? If you don’t anticipate your plant sizes at maturity you can overplant initially.
  • Where will the plants be placed on your property?
  • What are the water requirements of the plants you are looking at? Are they similar throughout the area being planted?

Tip: Put tall plants near the back of the planting and short plants in the front.

Process Checklist

  1. Prepare information needed for application.
    1. Take photos of existing property before you begin your project.
    2. Draw a bird’s eye map (landscape plan) of property including grass replacement area with irrigation zones.
    3. Prepare a plant and/or permeable material list.
    4. If you are located in an HOA you will need to check with your HOA for additional requirements.
  2. Submit application, photos, landscape plans, plant list, and Terms and Conditions.  Don’t start your project yet! You will be notified for an onsite inspection before the application is approved.
  3. After your pre-inspection, you will be notified if your application is approved to start your project.
  4. You have 120 days after your application approval to complete your project.
    1. Take three photos of completed project and upload for final approval.
    2. CLWA will notify you for a post inspection based on the photos submitted and how they match with the plans approved.
    3. You will be notified if your incentive has been approved within two weeks of when you submitted your final photos.
  5. After your post-inspection, payments are typically processed within 90 calendar days of the final approval date. Note: Property Owner receiving the Lawn Replacement Program incentive will be issued a 1099 at the end of the year. This is a taxable incentive program.

You should have identified an area of grass that you want to take out. The next step is to take a good look at the existing sprinklers in that zone. Most likely the area has spray irrigation (shown above) and you want to install new drip irrigation. We cannot fund your project if you have spray or rotating nozzles in your completed project area. We can fund your project if you install drip, mirco spray or bubblers.

With any sprinkler type, it is important that it is installed and maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Pay particular attention to recommended operating pressure, sprinkler spacing, and nozzle adjustment.

Bubblers are designed to apply a large volume of water in a relatively small area. The flow is measured in gallons per minute, and many are designed to have an adjustable flow. Depending on the style of bubbler, they can produce a flood of water or stream water in a pattern (i.e., in a half circle) – but it is applied over an area that is usually less than five feet in diameter. This makes them perfect for watering large trees and shrubs but, it also necessitates the use of berms or basins around each plant to hold the water and eliminate excess runoff.

The bubbler excels at applying water deeply. You fill the basin with water and let it sink in slowly. Bubblers tend to be low maintenance, but the flow does need to be monitored and the run time needs to be coordinated so the basins do not overflow during operation. Maintaining the basin around each plant is critical to proper operation. If the basin is breached, the result is often water runoff from the landscape, and the plants do not receive adequate water.

Rotating sprinkler technology distributes water using individual streams or “fingers” of water instead of a spray. The streams of water are less likely to turn to mist and blow away, and the streams also provide even coverage so the whole area receives the same amount of water (this helps eliminate soggy spots and dry spots). This sprinkler type should be used as a replacement for traditional spray sprinklers on larger areas of tightly planted vegetation.  This irrigation is a good option if you are keeping grass and would like to make the irrigation more efficient, but will not qualify for the Lawn Replacement Program.

In many cases the existing spray sprinklers can be converted to rotating sprinklers just by changing the nozzle on the top of the head. The spray sprinkler body can remain in the ground while being converted. It is important to note that not all spray sprinklers can be converted so check the rotating nozzle to make sure it is compatible with the existing spray heads. Rotating nozzles also work best at lower pressures and should be used with pressure regulating bodies or master pressure regulating devices.

Most people in the Lawn Replacement Program find that drip irrigation meets their needs perfectly. Drip is most commonly used for individual plants with mulch between them. The most important factor in considering drip is to understand that it applies water very slowly (usually 1 to 2 gallons per hour while all other sprinkler types, including bubblers, apply water in gallons per minute). Your water agency is most likely offering an additional drip incentive, so you may find an extra $.25 or $.50 a square foot in rebate there!

Drip irrigation needs to be in its own zone. It cannot be mixed on the same valve with other types of sprinklers. Drip is ideal for shrubs and trees, and because it applies water so slowly it is exceptionally efficient even on slopes or heavy clay soil.

The challenge with drip systems, like all irrigation systems, is maintenance. Drip systems may be subject to damage from high water pressure and they clog easily. Drip systems need a dedicated pressure regulator to reduce the pressure into the proper range, and they need a dedicated filter to remove anything from the water that could clog the system. Both of these items need to be monitored regularly to ensure proper operation.

Converting to drip irrigation requires the removal of all the spray heads and replacing them with short pieces of threaded pipe called nipples. On top of each nipple a “T” fitting is installed so water can flow through the underground pipes up through the nipple and “T” and out into drip tubing that distributes water to each individual plant. Converting to drip irrigation is an involved process, but the reward is an irrigation system that can be close to 100% efficient.

Convert to drip – you will be glad you did!

A smart controller is a timer for your irrigation system that uses weather sensors and customized information to properly irrigate your landscape. You program each zone, indicated on the controller, with information on the sprinkler type, soil, slope, and plant material. In combination with a weather sensor mounted on your property, the controller will calculate how long to water and automatically adjust watering schedules to meet plant water needs throughout the year without overwatering.

A smart controller will calculate how long to water for you. Take the guess work out of your calculation and get one right on this website.

The most basic rule of watering is to water deeply and water infrequently.

It is best to water the entire root zone deeply when you irrigate – then wait as long as possible before watering again (This is the opposite of watering every day for a very short time, which many of us do. Hint, hint).

The general idea is to provide water to the plant’s entire root zone and allow air time to enter into the soil around the roots before water is applied again. Watering frequently can drive the air out of the soil, which results in anaerobic soil, and often leads to root disease and short roots.

Saving water isn’t just good for your wallet and the environment. Reducing the amount of water used on your lawn can also save lives!

In the Santa Clarita Valley, including the rest of Los Angeles County, West Nile Virus is a major public health concern to many homeowners and families. The virus is transmitted to people and animals (birds and horses) by infected mosquitoes. The virus affects everyone, including people who are young and old. Common symptoms include fever, body aches vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases, which occur in 1 out of 150 affected people, may result in coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis. Unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccine for West Nile Virus.

The risk of experiencing mosquitoes and West Nile Virus increase when there is excess runoff from irrigation. The wasted water creates puddles and can clog up your street gutters and storm drains. These places become perfect breeding sources for mosquitoes. By reducing the amount of water used on your property, you can help protect the lives of you, your family and your neighbors. If you experience any mosquito problems in your neighborhood, please report them to the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District at 818-364-9589 or online at

Soil is a complex mix of minerals and organic material that provides structural support, water, air and mineral elements to plants. It also provides habitat for many organisms. There are different types of soil, and typically this is the part of the landscape that the homeowner has the least control over. Successful landscaping requires properly managing your soil!

Clay seems to be the predominant soil type in the SCV. It is characterized by being compact, tends to stay wet (the surface cracks as it dries, but the soil is still very wet 4” to 6” deep), water pools on the surface quickly and runs off very easily when the sprinklers run or it rains, and plants can suffer from root problems if over watered. The best practice for irrigating clay soil is to “cycle and soak,” which means to water for a short period of time, and then allow the water to soak in before you irrigate again. This involves multiple start times.

It doesn’t have to look like clay to be clay soil. And, yes, you probably have clay soil.

In the SCV, typically we look to improve drainage and aeration within the landscaping. An organic soil amendment can improve drainage and aeration while also providing nutrients and beneficial organism habitat. Most often, soil amendments are incorporated into the soil at planting. They can also be incorporated outside of the plant’s root zone during routine cultivation.

Although many gardeners frequently think manure is the ideal amendment, in most cases, your neighbors will thank you (and so will your landscaping) if you avoid it! It has a lot of salt and can contain weed seeds. Lots and lots of weed seeds.

A mulch has the same basic characteristics as a soil amendment, but instead of being incorporated into the soil, it is placed on top in a layer 2” to 4” thick. Although non-organic materials like gravel, stone, or decomposed granite can be used as mulch, they retain a lot of heat in the summer months, and don’t provide any nutrients to the plants. We see a lot of projects with rocks proposed – please think of the heat. That is truly a hard place for plants to survive.

Organic mulch (the chunkier the better!) holds in soil moisture, helps to keep the soil cooler in the summer months (reducing water loss from evaporation) and helps to keep the soil warmer in the winter months. It is critical to keep the mulch at least 6” away from the base of the plants (the larger the plant, the farther away – up to 18” on mature trees and shrubs). Piling mulch against the base of plants will, over time, lead to disease issues and usually death. Other benefits of mulch include reduced soil compaction, reduced weed growth and reduced water runoff. It is important to re-apply mulch as needed; it needs to be an on-going cultural practice.

Mulch needs to be replenished as it breaks down over time. If applied correctly it should only need to be reapplied 1 or 2 times per year.

Before planting, there are a few basic preparation steps that can improve growing conditions

  1. Remove any debris and grade the area, adjusting drainage as necessary by minimizing steep slopes.
  2. Dig the planting hole at least 2 times wider than the new plant’s root ball, and slightly shallower than the root ball.
  3. Install the new plant about one inch above the surrounding soil level.
  4. Once the plant has been installed, backfill the hole with a mixture of 75% soil and 25% organic amendment.
  5. Make sure the backfill soil is not piled around the trunk of the plant. Install a berm of soil around the outside of the planting hole so the plants can be deep watered without runoff. Apply a layer of mulch to the area outside the berm.

New plants need to sit an inch above the surrounding soil. That was “above” and not “below.” Yes, we’re serious about this. Trust us – we know experts!

Physical Removal

Grass can be dug out by hand or removed mechanically. Typically mechanical removal can be accomplished using a sod cutter or a rototiller, both of which can be rented.

A sod cutter is a small walk-behind machine with a gasoline engine and a blade mounted underneath that slices horizontally. This machine cuts horizontally through the grass roots and allows the grass to be removed in manageable pieces. Typically there is about ½” of soil removed with the Lawn. This method works best if the grass is dead when removed. It is very important that any obstacles in the grass (like sprinkler heads) be marked and not run over when operating this machine. That sounds expensive for everyone.

A rototiller is a small walk-behind machine with a gasoline engine and rotating vertical blades. This machine literally chops the grass and roots into pieces. The debris must then be raked from the soil. As with the sod cutter, it is important to mark any obstacles in the grass area so they are not hit during operation.

You may want to hire someone if you choose to physically remove your grass. It can be backbreaking work. No joke.

Compost in Place

The principle behind composting in place is cutting off the lawn’s food supply (sunlight) so that the plant starves and then allows the composting process (directions below) to break down the lawn plant so physical removal is not necessary. This process is most effective during warm weather. It can take 2 to 3 months to successfully kill the grass.

To compost in place, mow the grass as short as possible, wet the area, then apply a thick layer of newspaper (at least 10 sheets thick), or better yet, a layer of cardboard. Make sure there are no holes and the edges are overlapped. Then apply 6” to 8” of organic mulch over the top of the newspaper/cardboard. Moisten (but don’t flood) once every couple of weeks during the process.

You need to be patient if you compost in place. This is not an overnight sort of thing. This process is not for every personality type. Just sayin’.

Herbicide Method

An herbicide is a chemical that will kill the grass.

Herbicide will often be applied to kill the grass before the physical removal methods are used. If you are considering using an herbicide, look for a product that is non-selective and systemic. Typically the active ingredient will be Glyphosate. You can hire a professional to apply the chemical or you can do it yourself. Never allow the product to runoff the property. Premixed products are usually easier to work with.

It is very important that you follow the instructions and read the label thoroughly.

Yes, you’re right, this is a class about Lawn removal. We really do want you to take out your grass. But we don’t expect that you’ve taken it all out right now. And if you have the need in your landscape for areas that will take some wear, such as play areas for children or pets, grass is the best plant for those situations.

A tip for you! Start by raising the mowing height during the summer months (although it wouldn’t hurt to keep it taller all year). Raising the mowing height to 3 or even 3.5 inches allows the taller grass blades to shade the soil and root zone better resulting in less water loss from evaporation. The taller grass blade will also stimulate the plant to develop deeper roots so the plant does not need to be watered as often. Keep the blades of the lawn mower sharp so they cut the grass blades cleanly instead of tearing them. A clean cut blade heals faster and reduces water loss. Also torn or ragged grass blades turn brown at the tip and give the grass a brown hazy look that many people mistake for the grass needing more water. It’s just a bad, bad haircut.

Additionally, changing watering practices will stimulate deeper root development. Typically, grass only needs to be watered one time per week in the winter (December through March). Rain will help provide moisture. Grass should be watered two times per week in the spring and fall (April, May, October and November), and three times per week in the summer (June – September). It should only be watered four times per week if there is an extended heat wave.

The key to watering deeper is to allow the soil to dry out some before watering again. This stimulates the deeper root development. Watering every day for short periods leads to shallow roots and lazy grass, making the plant more likely to stress when it gets hot. Do you want lazy grass? We didn’t think so.

Have you ever seen a spectacular lawn? Most truly spectacular lawns are not the result of heavy watering. Spectacular grass results from regular fertilization.

Grass benefits from regular fertilization with both nitrogen and phosphorus. Slow release fertilizers, or light applications of regular fertilizer, work best. Grass responds quickly to fertilizer and heavy applications can cause rapid, uneven growth, which means mowing more often and producing more green waste. Typically it is best to fertilize in the spring and fall; avoid applying fertilizer during the heat of summer because it can damage the grass plants. Apply the fertilizer the evening before the sprinklers are scheduled to run and the normal water cycle will set the fertilizer (instead of running an extra cycle right after you fertilize).