Turn Lawn Into Forest

It always happens about this time of year. In the midst of what seems to be an endless heat wave, people start noticing how often they have to water – that is, almost daily – in order to keep their grass green. And, realizing the enormous allotment of water, and thus the fantastic expense, involved in maintaining a green lawn, people begin to wonder about alternative approaches to filling up the yard space around them.
Just as I was having such typical July thoughts, my neighbor returned from a trip to her parents’ house in the Sierras. Before coming home to Los Angeles, she had removed several tree seedlings, each less than a foot tall, from her mom and dad’s back yard. Now she was digging holes on the perimeter of her front lawn, a few houses down from my own, and planting a baby sequoia, a diminutive live oak and three incipient incense cedars.
My neighbor’s decision to plant five trees in her front yard – which is less than 1,000 square feet in size – might seem like madness to some, but, given our merciless summer heat, her planned mini-forest makes perfect sense to me.
A front yard full of evergreen trees keeps the house cool in the summer and protects it from cold in the winter. Two or three years from now, these California native trees will require little, if any, irrigation. As they mature, shade-loving native perennials such as coral bells (Heuchera), Catalina perfume (Ribes viburnifolium) and meadow rue (Thalictrum polycarpum) can be grown around them and, where sun still manages to peak through, native wildflower seeds disbursed. Best of all, perhaps, the lawn will gradually be buried under a fragrant mulch of redwood, cedar and oak leaves, and then cease to be a lawn at all.
You do not have to plant a forest to relieve yourself of the burden of a lawn. If your front yard is not too large, you could consider ground cover roses as an alternative. Certain ground cover roses such as the Flower Carpet series bloom nine or 10 months out of the year and require less than half of the water demanded by a lawn.
Flower Carpet roses are available in white, red, pink, apple blossom and coral. A single plant will cover 10 to 15 square feet. Height at maturity is less than 3 feet. Each plant comes with a package of fertilizer attached – and for good reason. In order to keep Flower Carpet roses blooming, they need a constant supply of mineral nutrition.
A single Flower Carpet rose will produce more than 2,000 flowers per season without showing any disease or insect problems. The plant will even grow in partial shade, although flowering will decrease as sun exposure diminishes. You do not have to worry about snipping off faded flowers throughout the growing season, but you can make pruning an annual affair in late winter or early spring.
I have found Flower Carpet roses most useful in areas where constant color is desired throughout the year. In beds previously confined to annual flowers – which must be changed three or four times a year – Flower Carpet roses make an outstanding contribution. They blend well with your favorite annuals, including petunia, vinca, snapdragon, pansy, begonia, dahlia, and zinnia.
Since they take up a nice chunk of space, you no longer have to empty your pocketbook several times a year to keep an area bright with color, knowing that your roses will bloom from mid-spring until the onset of winter.
If you do not want to give up all of your lawn, decrease its size by carving out wide beds around it. Plant miniature or ground cover roses, daylilies, irises, or any other blooming perennials in these beds, framing and highlighting your emerald green grass with the flower colors of your choice.
TIP OF THE WEEK: The California incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) is an excellent tree for partial or full-sun exposure. In its forest habitat, it is accustomed to growing up in shade but welcomes full sun once it increases in height. The incense cedar is endowed with a perfect conical shape, has unusual, flattened, lush green scales for leaves, and a wonderful fragrance.

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