Turf Conversion & Smart Water Management in Times of Drought

Tuf Conversion for Smart Water Mangement Onyx1 Onyx2 Onyx3

We’ve all seen it—the brown, scraggly patches that were once lush, green grass. With the drought now almost four years into its fury, that sight is becoming all too common and if current projections are correct, there isn’t much relief in sight for much of the western United States.

So, it’s time to bid drought-battered turf good-bye and ideally, replace it with drought-tolerant plantings (xeriscaping and/or hardscaping) with water management in mind. Below we’ve rounded up seven alternatives, listed in order of worst to best in terms of water conservation.

Take a look and see if there’s an alternative that fits your needs. Also, before you begin your turf rehab, consider your entire landscape. Choose an alternative that meshes with your environment and matches your budget. Keep in mind the savings that will result from water-wise planting and hardscape, and factor that into your decision-making process.

Here, from worst to best, are seven turf conversion alternatives to consider:


1. More of the Same – Re-Sodding

Undoubtedly, this is the quickest fix to that brown patch but it’s also the most costly in terms of dollars and the environment. In fact, with continued drought conditions, this option may also be the costliest in terms of labor and water, as you may well have to re-sod again before too long. On a more positive note, sod and seed suppliers are offering more and more low-water-use varieties, so if you must re-sod, use one of the xeriscape-friendly turf options.

2. Slightly Better but Water Intensive – Re-Seeding

Re-seeding is definitely less expensive than re-sodding but again, it’s just a band-aid solution when it comes to long-term sustainability. Recently re-seeded turf requires constant moisture, which, depending on the season and temperature, doesn’t help when it comes to smart water management. And like the option above, with predicted continued drought, if the re-seeded turf suffers more due to ongoing drought, you may end up right back where you started.

One note: if you choose to go the route of either of the two options above, choose this opportunity to update your irrigation system. Check your sprinkler coverage and improve as needed with upgrades such as matched precipitation-rate nozzles and/or high-efficiency nozzles.

Both of the above options are not ideal for properties in areas where water restrictions are in effect. For those areas the options 3 – 7 are better suited.

3. Most Affordable, Least Aesthetic – Mulching

The cheapest way to cover up drought-ravaged turf is to mulch—or sheet mulch—the impacted areas. In terms of water management, this is the most desirable of the first three alternatives we’ve presented, but just like the others above, it’s probably just a short-term solution since the aesthetics of the mulched areas will most likely detract rather than add to your landscape visuals.

4. The All New Approach – Planting Xeriscape-Friendly Shrubs

Another option is to remove the turf completely and replace it with clusters of low-water-use shrubs like Abelia, Phormium, Coleonema, Nandina’s and Oleanders. Of course, when choosing drought-tolerant plants, consider how they’ll blend in with existing landscaping.

You might also consider removing overhead spray or rotor sprinklers and replacing them with drip irrigation at the same time. Depending on the area you’re renovating and the existing configuration for your landscape and irrigation system, this might be challenging. Going with all new plantings to replace dead or dying turf makes sense if it works aesthetically or if it jibes with your long-term plans for the entire landscape. If not, this patch job could just end up looking like an ill-planned patch.

5. More of the Same – Extending Existing Shrubs

If it works with your landscaping, you could simply extend surrounding or adjacent shrub beds, filling in the drought-challenged turf with similar plantings. Again, if possible, you’ll want to replace any old or high-water-use irrigation with a drip system designed for good water management.

In terms of the options we’ve presented, this may just be the best value as it could just look like part of your original design. On the downside, if your original plantings are not low water use, it won’t help you long term in the way of sustainable xeriscaping.

6. Mix it Up –Blending Xeriscape-Friendly Shrubs with Existing Shrubbery

A smart transitional approach involves extending surrounding or adjacent shrub beds into the drought-challenged areas and throwing some low-water-use shrubs into the mix. At the same time, replace old irrigation with drip for better water management throughout existing and new shrubbery. This is by far the most appealing alternative presented thus far as it updates tired, worn out shrubbery that’s grown woody and scores points for smart water management.

7. Make it Architectural – Adding Hardscaping to the Mix

Finally, perhaps one of the smartest moves is to think long-term and incorporate decomposed granite, cobblestone or some kind of decorative paver or stone as well as drought-tolerant plantings into the areas you’re rehabbing. Obviously you’ll want to consider the surroundings, traffic patterns and your overall landscape before doing this but if it is an option, this is by far the most water-efficient and aesthetic choice. It’s also the costliest but money spent on this project could be savings gained in terms of water use and increased property value.

A Few Final Words

When undertaking turf conversion, be sure to check in with your local water authority to see if your project qualifies for any of the cash-for-grass rebate programs. Typically these programs require that you replace existing turf with qualified low-water-use plants and xeriscaping. Every water authority differs in terms of their requirements and rebates so check in with yours before undertaking any extensive turf conversion work.

Also, don’t wait. As drought conditions continue, the more you do to conserve water and think ahead, the greater the likelihood that your landscape and budget won’t suffer in the months and possibly even years to come. The drought outlook is not a pretty picture, but the more we practice smart water management, the better off all of us—and the environment—will be.

Posts you may also like

ValleyCrest Water Blogger


Refresh Image


  1. Sunday, 7:12 Jason Miller

    People are discovering artificial turf is another great way to save on water usage 😉

  2. Thursday, 5:29 Peter S

    What are your thoughts on Artificial Lawn or turf.. It has been a great water saving method in Australia. Its actaully so big we started our own business Envirolawns dealing with it.

  3. Thursday, 4:04 Linda

    Good Afternoon;

    Your website is good and ideas for drought tolerant yards are a wonderful idea. My husband and I have owned our property in Trilogy for almost 3 years now, but moved in just 3 months ago. We would love to do new drought tolerant xeriscaping and put in a request for someone to contact us 2 months ago. No one ever contacted us.

    Last week I removed the request for the new landscaping in the front yard as we paid someone to trim our front bushes as they were very overgrown. (However, we realized we did not have them trimmed enough.) We would need to have help paying for the new landscaping to be done and find a rebate that would work for us in this area. Since there was no grass growing in our front yard previously, we understand didn’t qualify for a rebate, but now that you have hydro seeded, we believe that once the grass is growing, we will hopefully qualify for the rebate and can move forward with the xeriscaping.

    At this time, we are trying desperately to just have someone trim our front bushes to industry standards. Is this the correct site to request this? As of Friday after work, I emailed a formal letter of complaint for the landscapers as the bushes are uneven and I can’t seem to get them trimmed properly through talking with the trimmers or requests to the landscape department and them sending in work orders..

    I understand this is a very busy time for your company, but can someone please help me with these issues. Or at the least let me know who it is that I can speak with?

    Thank you very much for your time and consideration!

  4. Thursday, 4:13 Linda

    Good afternoon;

    The ideas shown here for the xeriscaping are nice and my husband and I have seen some of the homes in Trilogy with the xeriscaping landscape that we feel is much more in line with the climate for So. Cal. While we had a request in for 2 months for someone to contact us in regard to having our front yard done, no one contacted us regarding this.

    I have learned there may still be rebates available for xeriscaping to be done, however a lawn is necessary in order to qualify. Since we did not have a lawn, and we do need the rebate in order to have this done, hopefully we will be able to accomplish this at a later date. Also, we will need the landscape company to work within the time line parameters of the rebate in order for us to have the work accomplished.

    At this time, we need help with getting the bushes in front of our home trimmed as they are uneven and all efforts to have someone on the landscape crew trim them have been for naught. I have been assured 3 times they would betaken care of and nothing has been done.

    I have put in requests with the Landscape department here at Trilogy and they have put in work orders for me, but still nothing has happened.

    I understand your company is very busy at this time.
    If you would please let me know if this is the correct department, or if there is somewhere else I can contact, it would be much appreciated.

    Thank you.

© 2016 ValleyCrest Landscape Companies