About two years ago, Lodi residents Doug and Salwa Bojack removed their lawn and reimagined their yard space. Instead of an expanse of short-trimmed grass, paths wind through California poppies, sages and other native plants. A growing valley oak offers shade.
“When we look at lawns, we see things that cost us time and money,” Doug said. “It takes a lot of time to mow and edge and spray and aerate.”
The new plantings require a lot less effort and water, he said.
They’ve joined a growing movement of homeowners who are replacing their lawns with native plants. There are a host of reasons for the growing trend beyond just saving mowing time.
Native plants use less water, require less maintenance and fewer pesticides, and attract bees, butterflies and birds.
“Now that we’ve put native plants in our yard, we’ve noticed more butterflies and more bees, more ladybugs — so much life that wasn’t there before,” Salwa said.
During the recent migration of painted lady butterflies, quite a few stopped in their yard, she said.
“You learn to appreciate the diversity of life that you see,” Doug said.
Joe and Kathy Grant replaced their lawn more than a decade ago. They divided up the space into “hydro-zones” — a vegetable garden, areas for native plants, and even a small, fenced “secret garden.”
Both of the Grants enjoy gardening, and Joe once worked at the UC Davis Arboretum before a long career in the tree crop industry. They wanted to use those talents.
“It made a lot more sense to create a more beautiful space than just grass,” Kathy said.
Like the Bojacks, the Grants enjoy seeing the local wildlife. Grass has little habitat value, Kathy said, and doesn’t support much life in the soil or provide shade. But their collection of native plants and trees, fruit trees and other drought-tolerant plantings attract plenty of wild visitors.
“Hummingbirds every night and morning,” Kathy said. “The big ol’ carpenter bees.”
They’re fond of her favorite plant, the matilija poppies that produce giant white flowers with a yellow center.
An added benefit?
“It takes very little water,” she said.
Once natives are well-established, they don’t need a lot of extra moisture, as long as the winter isn’t too dry. Most can thrive on just the moisture in the soil following the winter. Those that do need a little extra often only really need it in the spring when they’re growing.
The Grants have seen those water savings pay out on their water bill.
“We just had our neighborhood metered and I was able to see the last 12 months’ record,” Kathy said.
They pay less most months than the flat rate.
The Bojacks saw their usage charge drop, too, Doug said.
A native plant garden won’t be able to tolerate hot, dry weather right away, he noted.
“You want to water it for the first summer or two,” Salwa said.
Still, native plants evolved in the local climate, and are better able to tolerate the extremes the Lodi area is used to.
“Since we went completely native, we capped off the entire sprinkler system,” Salwa said.
The state of California also offers rebates to homeowners who replace their turf lawn — even if it’s dead — with more water-efficient landscaping such as California natives, Doug added.
Fond of entertaining, the Bojacks have found that their guests make more use of their yard now.
When their backyard was grass, people were reluctant to walk on it. Now, they stroll along paths that wind through beautiful plantings and around a fountain.
There are a lot of resources out there for those who want to make over their yards with native plants.
“California Native Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide” by Helen Popper and “Plants and Landscapes for Summer-dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region” edited by Nora Harlow are good books for those interested in making the change, Doug Bojack said.
Just taking on the project of planning and planting can teach a lot, Salwa Bojack said.
“Before we endeavored on this project, I didn’t know much about native plants,” she said.
Mulch is important for native gardening, Doug added. He buys wood chips from a local arborist.
For those who are more hands-on, getting in touch with the San Joaquin Master Gardeners can be helpful, Kathy Grant said.
It’s also a good idea to visit the Robert Cabral Agricultural Center in Stockton to see the mature plantings there, she said. It will give a better idea of how large some of the plants can get.
Beyond that, she suggested looking for other homes that have already made the switch.
“Walk the streets and look at what’s around,” she said.