First published in the Sept. 24 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Blue-eyed grass is a vibrant herb that blooms in tufts of violet with golden stamens in the spring and summer. It is fire resistant and can survive with little to no summer watering.
So can canyon gray sagebrush, which curbs erosion, and the exuberant California redbud, which attracts hummingbirds.
They’re all drought-tolerant plant species native to California, and homeowners are increasingly choosing them in place of green turf lawns in an eco-friendly effort to stave off water usage and conserve wildlife habitats.
“The largest use of urban outdoor water is outdoor non-essential turf. Why do we need it? Neighbors and friends in Burbank have demonstrated that they can transform their yards beautifully with native species,” Marsha Ramos told the Leader.
Ramos is a former Burbank Mayor and current Metropolitan Water District board member. Just moments before at a press event, she addressed the public’s concerns over California’s worsening drought, offering solutions and thanking those who are making water-conscious changes in their daily lives.
“For those of you who have taken the bold steps to do your part in building our resilience — I couldn’t be more grateful, and I know more and more of you will come along together,” she said.
Switching to native species can reduce residential outdoor water usage by as much as 50-70%, according to the MWD.
Jessica Lewis, a 15-year Burbank resident, mechanical engineer and California native gardening devotee, said water savings were on the mind when her family started the process of transitioning their lawn to native plants in 2014.
“California’s drought cycles are only likely to become longer and more frequent and we must prioritize our need for potable water over that of green lawns,” Lewis told the Leader.
She applied for an MWD turf removal rebate program back in 2014. Since then, she and her family have transitioned their front yard to almost all native plants barring their established trees. Their backyard is currently underway, and they are considering a graywater system that could capture used household water, replacing much of the water they use for landscaping.
California water utilities like MWD have invested historic amounts of funding in turf rebates to motivate customers to rid lawns of grass in favor of more water-efficient landscaping.
So far, it’s working. A study by the California Data Collaborative found that those who participated in turf removal programs saved nearly 25 gallons per square foot of lawn space in a year’s time. For a 1,000-square foot lawn, that is about the same volume as two swimming pools.
According to the MWD, applications for turf removal rebates have increased by more than 400% in recent months amid worsening drought conditions this year.
Lewis advised those pondering the switch to native plants: “It can be overwhelming to transition your whole yard at once unless you plan on hiring it out. Every little bit helps, so start off converting a small space first.”
Local native plant nurseries such as Theodore Payne in Sun Valley offer classes and workshops for novice gardeners and are hotspots for finding native plants to introduce into a budding drought-tolerant garden.
For beginners, Lewis suggested narrow leaf milkweed. It attracts and feeds monarch caterpillars. Monarch butterflies are a species recently designated as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“With ever-encroaching urbanization of our natural areas, our local animal and insect species are losing habitats. Planting local plants allows us to share the space with wildlife, continue their survival and benefits to our ecosystem,” Lewis said.