An L.A. lawn: Should it stay or should it go?

August 19, 2015 | By | Comments (10)

Our guest blogger’s lush front lawn—should she yank it out? Photograph by Annette Gutierrez

You remember the good old days of the lawn, right? Running around barefoot with your friends and pretending the dogs were sharks. Here in Los Angeles, I’m still living those days because this is my lawn, and I’m feeling horribly guilty for having it.

It’s not a very big lawn. My gardening obsession has pushed the planting beds farther and farther into its green edges. But with the declaration that all Californians have to cut back on water usage at least 25%, I grew concerned. My other plants are already drought-tolerant, and I only water the lawn three times a week. Would it look as lush if I cut back to watering it just twice a week? Could I handle brown grass? Maybe I should apply for a rebate and just rip it out (my husband’s vote). But if I don’t have a front lawn, what would I have?


Before: Helped along by three dogs, a dying lawn drags down the relaxed feel of the backyard. Photograph by Annette Gutierrez

In our backyard, we let our small patch of grass go to the dogs a couple of years ago—and it started to look so bad that we replaced it with artificial grass.


After: Artificial turf gives the backyard a lush feeling again—and the dogs can’t kill it. Photograph by Annette Gutierrez

Looks pretty darn good, right? But here’s my issue with artificial grass: it’s expensive, you have to keep cleaning it or it starts to smell not-so-nice (especially when you have three dogs), and I really wonder what’s going to happen to all that artificial grass once it’s past its prime. Is that going to be what’s filling up our landfills?

Clearly, I chose to ignore the question and just did it because I couldn’t bear not having at least a little green in my backyard.

But the front yard feels different, and I’m not sure what to do about it. If you weren’t going to have a lush lawn, what would you have? A dead lawn painted green until it rains again? Or would you fake a lawn and go plastic? This is L.A. after all.

Guest blogger Annette Gutierrez is the co-owner of Potted garden and outdoor-living shop in L.A.’s Atwater Village.




  1. In Drought-Ridden California, The Classic Lawn Loses Ground – Humboldt Redwood ™ NATURALLY STRONG, NATURALLY BEAUTIFULHumboldt Redwood ™ NATURALLY STRONG, NATURALLY BEAUTIFUL

    […] despite selling others on succulents as large as a pumpkin, Ms. Gutierrez wrote in Sunset magazine about her own ambivalence when getting rid of what little lawn she had […]

    October 28, 2015 at 11:23 am
  2. In Drought-Ridden California, the Classic Lawn Loses Ground – California Info

    […] despite selling others on succulents as large as a pumpkin, Ms. Gutierrez wrote in Sunset magazine about her own ambivalence when getting rid of what little lawn she had […]

    October 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm
  3. #From Lush California Lawns to ‘Gorilla Hair’ – the press

    […] despite selling others on succulents as large as a pumpkin, Ms. Gutierrez wrote in Sunset magazine about her own ambivalence when getting rid of what little lawn she had […]

    October 26, 2015 at 2:49 pm
  4. Kate

    I just read about this project in the New York Times. It is dismaying to me that the owner of a garden decor store – who no doubt gives lots of people advice about how to reduce their turf – replaced her own lawn with fake grass. Our county has a turf replacement program and there are just two things they prohibit as turf replacement – concrete and artificial lawn. The reasons are that plastic lawn is an environmental dead zone, providing no habitat for the insects and other critters that contribute to healthy habitat, and when its useful life is over, this non-biodegradable plastic goes into the landfill where it lives forever. Please, Ms. Gutierrez, educate yourself about appropriate replacements for lawn and inform your customers about how to avoid the mistake you made!

    October 26, 2015 at 2:41 pm
  5. RT

    Regardless of your decision on whether to keep the lawn, watering three times a week is excessive.

    August 29, 2015 at 5:11 am
  6. dorandana

    Hum. I wouldn’t worry about the lawn so much as the amount of water the pool uses as it automatically tops itself off as water evaporates. Perhaps, in the face of more severe restrictions you might consider keeping the lawn and using the water from the pool for your garden until the pool is drained. The water you save may be the very same water that farmers need to grow food, or the water you may want to drink in the coming months.

    August 21, 2015 at 7:50 am
  7. James Gielow

    I can’t say enough how much I dislike fake plants. It seems to offend my very soul somehow. Like some dystopian future hell where all we have are memories of what life once looked like. I hadn’t even thought about landfill issues before. Now there’s another level of soul sickness. I do feel your struggle though, I’m in San Diego and have been battling on what to do with my lawn. Here’s what happened with mine…if you’re interested of course.


    August 20, 2015 at 3:50 pm
  8. Carolyn Choi

    It makes good sense to eliminate the lawn , especially in drought-stricken California. There are so many wonderful drought-tolerant succulents, ornamental grasses, and othe rperennials and shrubs to plant instead. As a garden designer I would recommend a rock garden style mulched with some interesting pebbles. It appears the frontyard is enclosed so perhaps a small fish pond or a fountain with the sound of water and a nice seating area would add appeal.

    August 20, 2015 at 3:27 pm
  9. Judy

    For heaven’s sake, cut down to watering once or twice a week. At least it’s small.

    August 20, 2015 at 6:00 am
  10. Cliff

    I have the same issue. My dogs destroyed the grass in my backyard, so I replaced it with fake grass. It was not cheap, and needs to be watered once a week or so to get rid of the urine smell. I still have grass in the front yard. I only water it once a week, while my city allows twice a week watering. I may replace it with something else, but most everything living needs some water. Not going to do fake grass – too expensive. Not going to do granite – too hot! Perhaps some plants and mulch. Or perhaps just leave the grass.

    August 19, 2015 at 4:58 pm

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