At a recent talk sponsored by GreenTown Los Altos, horticulturist Deva Luna offered do-it-yourself tips for transforming what she called a "blank space, formerly lawn" into a sustainable landscape, as well as removing a lawn and planting.
Luna, principal designer at EarthCare Landscaping, outlined six steps for designing a sustainable landscape.
1. Lay out paths. On a lawn, you can walk anywhere, but if you are adding a variety of plants that you can’t walk on, you need to think about natural circulation patterns and allow for maintenance paths. Do you need a path from the driveway to your front door, or a path to wheel your recycling bin to the street? Use permeable options, such as pavers laid in sand, an informal mulched path or even permeable concrete.
2. Divide and conquer. The paths define smaller spaces with more interesting shapes, which you can think of as garden rooms.
3. Place larger items such as trees and shrubs for screening or shade. Do you want to block the view of a neighbor’s garage or create a shadier corner?
4. Place accents to create garden views. You can use sculptures or birdbaths as focal points, arrange plants around boulders or add benches. Look at the landscape through windows in your house and from the sidewalk.
5. Add colorful perennials. Plant them along walkways, near the entry and next to the sidewalk.
6. Fill in with low-spreading ground covers. Try Prostrate Ceanothus or sage.
The benefits of mulching
To remove the actual lawn, sheet mulching is the most efficient way to go. EarthCare has completed approximately 70 yards using this method, Luna said. There’s no need to "scalp" the lawn or dig up anything except for the edges next to sidewalks, paved paths or other hardscape. Next to those edges, dig down approximately 4 inches and taper back to approximately 15-18 inches.
Use the removed soil to make berms or mounds. Place the berms where you want to grow plants that need good drainage. The berms will ensure that rainwater and irrigation water drain away from the crown of the plant.
Next, smother the grass with two overlapping layers of builder’s paper (or cardboard or newspaper). You can get rolls of builder’s paper from landscape supply companies such as Lyngso Garden Materials in Redwood City.
Then get a truckload of free woodchips from any tree-trimming service. I spread up to 4 inches deep under the drip lines of established trees and shrubs, and 6 inches or more in unplanted areas. At the edges of hardscape, make sure that the mulch is level with the hardscape so that it does not fall onto sidewalks or paths.
Pull the mulch at least a foot away from existing trees and a few inches away from shrubs.
You can begin planting the same day the mulch is spread, according to Luna.
To plant, make a pocket in the mulch a little bigger than the root ball of your plant. Scuff the root balls a little to open them up, and fill the rest of the hole with compost. Luna’s secret ingredient for plant success is mycorrhizae.