Should I Remove My Grass and Replace It With Drought-Tolerant Plants?



Due to the severe drought in the entire Western US, many cities are offering rebates to homeowners who remove grass. You might be asking yourself if you should do this.


My first response is why has the State of California not built desalinization plants long ago? Why is this an issue at all? Most of California is a desert with little rain and it is amazing that no severe issue has occurred before this. They need to be proactive and start building sufficient desalinization plants now.


But it is not likely that the politicians will do anything to rectify this situation. They will just keep wasting our money, against our wishes, to pay for boon doggles like the Bullet Train.


But back to grass removal….


There are some important factors to keep in mind if you are removing grass.


  • The state has mandated reduction of potable water usage by 25%.

  • The cities are offering these rebates to incentivize you to remove grass, in hopes this will decrease the amount of water you use.

  • And the water districts will fine you if you don’t cut back by 25%.

  • The new plants and trees you put in, even if they are drought tolerant, require sufficient water until their root systems are well established. You must water them, or they will die. Especially in the beginning. And it may be possible that the amount of water you use on your new plants/trees is the same or more than what you would have used on your grass and existing plants/trees—at least in the beginning. This means your water usage might go UP, not down! And this means water penalties.

  • In my experience as a designer, utility rebates are a scam. You think the rebate will be available to you, but often the money has ‘run out’ by the time you do the work and apply. I don’t think anyone should count on getting their ‘rebate’ when deciding if they will do their project or not.

  • Many landscape contractors have rushed in to fill this flurry of need for grass removal. Be careful. Many of them are NOT experienced landscape contractors. And I’ve heard that they promise to remove your sod and add a few plants in exchange for you signing over your rights to the rebate. Most of these rebates are not huge. This means the money they are getting is not huge. And this means that what they provide you is probably not good. Keep in mind many of them are not designers, not experienced with plants and irrigation at all. And they are certainly not designers. They slap in a few plants (literally) and you may have no choice about what plants, how many, where etc. Ask them to detail what plants, what size, and where they will go. Ask if they will modify your existing sprinkler system to accommodate your new planting plan or not and do they have experience with that or not? It is always good to ask for their license number, contact the CSLB.gov to verify that license exists, is in their name, and they have no history of problems (or have resolved any problems to the clients satisfaction). Also ask them for references and call those references to verify the work, how well it was done, how satisfied they were, and would they use them again or not.


If you still decide to go ahead with your grass removal, and if you want a beautifully integrated design that is appropriate for your home, yard, and needs--not just a few plants thrown in--hire a landscape designer like me. It really is true that you get what you pay for. And while it might be enticing at the thought of not having to spend money now to get new plants and remove grass, you might not like (let alone love) your new landscaping and you’ll just end up doing it again. I always suggest to my clients to do it right the first time. Hire a designer who can create something you love.