Anyone who wants to accomplish a water-wise yard renovation on a small budget should take a lesson from Happy Aston. When her family purchased a home in the College Area in 2015, Aston knew she'd need to make the front yard makeover a priority. The yard was filled with dying grass, weeds, yellow nutsedge and an ornamental pear tree.
Friends and the family's real estate agent told her there were rebates available for removing turf and planting a low-water-use landscape.
"I am an avid gardener and wanted to replace the ugly, dead (water-thirsty) grass with water-wise plants that were edible, provided some shade options for the house, and had a mix of color and texture," Aston said via email.
And she did it all for around $2,500. What's her secret? Social media.
"We have about $4,000 worth of plants and paid about $300 for them, thanks to a little planning and a lot of generous neighbors," Aston said. "I got 90 percent of my plants -- and pots to root them in -- for free through social media and online San Diego gardening groups. We are paying that forward now."
Making a plan: Aston says she didn't want a "desert-y" look, because that isn't her style, plus she has young children, "so sharp, pokey plants aren't a good choice for us." She created the new design herself, after attending a Sustainable Landscapes Program workshop on turf removal and water collection, sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority. She also drew inspiration from attractive yards in her neighborhood and at The Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College.
The details: She looked for free succulent clippings on social media sites such as Nextdoor, Buy Nothing and the San Diego Gardener Group on Facebook, then created a Pinterest board to organize the infomation about the plants she wanted to use. Aston told friends about the project and they offered clippings and connected her with other people who also had succulents to share.
"In all, I spent about six months casually gathering our plants and leaving them in pots in our side yard," she said.
Aston said she got stones for the landscape for free through the Nextdoor app, and estimates the savings on those at $1,500. She discovered she could also get mulch for free through ChipDrop.org, a service that connects homeowners who want mulch with arborists who are trying to keep green waste out of landfills.
The original ornamental pear tree is part of the new landscape design, along with scores of new water-wise plants. Included are a Kadota fig tree and an Eversweet pomegranate tree, several varieties of kalanchoe (common names Napoleon's hat, panda plant, flapjack), aeonium (pinwheel plant, kiwi aeonium, whistlepipe variegated, 'Zwartkop') euphorbia (Tiny Tim, silver spurge) and aloe (aloe barbadensis, blue elf, aloe brevifolia), Leonotis leonurus (lion's tail), Agave attenuata and kangaroo paw.
Costs: She estimates the cost of the makeover at slightly more than $2,500. That included $800 in labor to remove the turf, dig swales, place rocks, install drip irrigation and spread soil and mulch. The balance was spent on materials such as soil, mulch, drip irrigation emitters and tubing, as well as some plants. Through the Sustainable Landscapes Incentive Program of the San Diego County Water Authority, she received a rebate of nearly $1,700.
Water saved: Aston hasn't seen a big change in her water bill, because she wasn't watering the front lawn before the renovation. Now, she runs drip irrigation a few times a week in summer and not at all in winter.
Lessons learned: "Social media can be very useful for learning about (and getting) water-wise plants," said Aston. She suggests joining these groups: San Diego Gardener on Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/SDGardener), Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/happyaston/garden), your local Buy Nothing group (buynothingproject.org), and Nextdoor (nextdoor.com).
"Our new yard is proof that xeriscaping can be beautiful, environmentally responsible AND delicious -- and can be done very inexpensively," said Aston.
She is "paying it forward" now by sharing her own plant clippings with friends, neighbors and even parents at her children's school, as well as people she meets on the various gardening social media sites.
To learn more
Learn about landscape rebates available through the Sustainable Landscapes Incentive Program online at slpincentives.watersmartsd.org. An overview of the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program is at landscapemakeover.watersmartsd.org.
WaterSmart Makeover is an occasional series in partnership with the San Diego County Water Authority.
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