Converting your lawn to a drought-tolerant landscape is a great way to reduce water usage and still maintain your home's curb appeal. You can achieve an 50-80% reduction in landscape water use, and currently qualify for a $2 per sq. ft. rebate from the Santa Clara Valley Water District <link to>.


The best part, you don't have to rent a sod cutter to remove your lawn and haul it away. We have an economic and eco-friendly alternative using cardboard, compost, and woodchips. It’s immediately attractive, and because you’re not actually removing the lawn, the decomposed organic material will provide additional nutrients for your new landscape.


You may have heard, but OCF is partnering with the City of San Jose and the Municipal Water Company to provide a conversion service <link to> for residents. Contact the City for more info about the pilot program.


In the mean time, here are 12 easy steps to Do It Yourself and take advantage of the lawn-conversion rebate:


1. Contact the water district <link to> and schedule a pre-inspection. They will come out, measure your lawn, and give you an eligible square footage value for your rebate.


2. Submit a landscape plan and plant list to the water district. This is where many folks choose to hire a landscape designer, but you can also come to the Our City Forest Community Nursery <link to nursery page>, and they can help you create a simple plan. The water district has a list of qualifying plants <link to>, many of which can also be obtained at the OCF Nursery (Address: 1000 Spring St., San Jose).


After you submit your plan, the water district will take a few weeks to approve it.  Once you get approval, you can buy the plants.


Now for the fun part!


3. Dig a shallow trench along the lawn perimeter wherever it meets the sidewalk, driveway or landscape edging. The trench only needs to be 4" deep and 6" wide. Pile the backfill from the trench onto the lawn and use it to create raised mounds.


4. Gather large pieces of cardboard from furniture stores and neighbors. Begin by layering the cardboard over the lawn so it slightly overlaps. Where you trenched, tuck in the cardboard to keep the grass from growing out on the edges, and bury with compost.


5. Spread a 2" layer of compost over the cardboard. You may need 5 cu yards or more (for an average sized lawn). You can get compost delivered right to your door from a landscape supply company. Our partners at Zanker <link to> always help us out with this and step 6.


6. Call a tree care company and get them to deliver a truckload of woodchips. They are happy to do so and typically do it for free (they otherwise have to pay the landfill to dump it). You will need enough woodchips for a 3-4" layer. That can be a lot of woodchips.


[Side bar]

To calculate how much woodchips and compost you need, take the square footage of your lawn and multiply it by the height you want (in feet) then divide by 27.


Length x Width x Height (in feet) / 27 = Cu yards

For example, if your yard is 30 x 20 and you want 4" of wood chips, then the formula is 30 x 20 x .33 /27 =  7.3 Cubic Yards of wood chips. Truckloads of woodchips are usually about 10 cu yards.


7. Wet everything down.


8. Lay out your plants according to your plan. To plant, poke a hole in the cardboard with a shovel or trowel. The best way to do this is to poke an "X" and fold down the cardboard in the hole.  You want to plant slightly above the compost layer (top of the rootball should be 1/2" above compost layer) and create a small basin of woodchips/mulch around the plant. The plant should not be buried in the woodchips or mulch. Keep it 4" away from the plant.


9. You can install drip irrigation as well right over the mulch, then bury the lines a little bit, or just handwater. Often times you can convert your old sprinkler heads to drip. If you have high pressure (over 60psi), then you will need to install a pressure regulator.


10. Water it in. Everything will settle over time. Usually the new landscape should be watered 2 times a week in the first year. The following year, it is considered established and will only need water once a month. Some natives won’t need any supplemental water after establishment. The thick layer of woodchips retains soil moisture.


11. Schedule a post-inspection with the Water District for rebate approval. They will confirm 50% of the plants are from the agreed plant list (Step 2), and 50% of the previous lawn area is now covered with plants from the approved list. Installing, impermeable hardscape like concrete walkways will reduce your eligible rebate amount.


12. Sit back, relax, and wait for your rebate check to arrive. It may take 4-6 weeks. You may get a few stray sprigs of grass poking up, and this a good time to remove them.


Take the check to the bank and brag to your neighbors. You just did your part in saving water and inspired others to do the same.  Good job!!!


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