Ground cover that needs no water?

rosemintJune 6, 2014

Does anyone know of a ground cover that needs
absolutely no water? I want it to replace a lawn
in a flat area, zone 9.


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Babka NorCal 9b



    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 1:26PM
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A deck made of wood
bare dirt

Anything is going to require SOME water to get started, even a low-water use groundcover.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 1:33PM
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Well then, is there anything that doesn't require any water after it's established?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 6:45PM
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Cement,even then it needs to be washed off every now and then,or swept.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 8:25PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23


Okay, I guess you are not getting very helpful answers. But unless you live in the Mojave--and even then, plants will get some water, if we get any rain.

There are some native plants that can survive on little or no water, but you'll have to plant in the autumn, just as winter rains begin, so they can establish long enough to survive summers. Planting even low-water plants that can live on winter rainfall alone can't be done now, as the summer heat begins. And they won't be flat, neat plants like a lawn. They'll be shrubby and might look bad during the dry season.

Do you just not want to water? Or is there a reason you can't water? Are there any trees in the area providing shade? More information can get you more helpful answers...are you in the mountains, near the coast, in the desert? That matters, for choice of plants.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 8:35PM
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socalgal_gw Zone USDA 10b Sunset 24

I never water my trailing lantana. I'm not sure if you'd consider it low growing enough to be a groundcover.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 9:57PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

In truth, it isn't clear from your original post what you have in mind. Are you thinking more of a creeping groundcover, or low shrubs? And yes, plants will need supplemental water to get established--1-2 years, depending upon the plant. And it depends, too, upon where you live and the annual rainfall. Zone 9 is not nearly enough information; even a sunset zone would be much more useful. What is your objective? What other plants are going to be surrounding your lawn substitute? Are you prepared for it to look awful during the summer months, then green up with (hopefully) arriving winter rains?

One option might be lippia. We planted some at our nursery. Years after we moved on to other things, it was still growing there with no water beyond rainfall. But that could be a completely different climate from where you live. And lippia is not sold as often now, because it is very aggressive and there is a concern about it escaping the confines of gardens. It also may go completely dormant for months without water during the dry months.

Or you could go with completely native plants that are local to your area.

More information, and photos, would help us to provide more useful information.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 12:27AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

I planted Baccharis, coyote brush twenty years ago as a ground cover to prevent erosion. I watered the first two summers to get it established and nothing since. It is about 3 feet tall at the most and evergreen. It is so dense growing the quail nest under it. Al

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 10:37AM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

Baccharis is a good choice, but be aware that the B. pilularis can often grow to 6'. Baccharis 'Pigeon Point' is a better choice for a much lower, neater plant. I hope the OP will return and let us know they type of groundcover plant that is desired for the area.

Here is a link that might be useful: B. Pigeon Point

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 2:37PM
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Put in a dry garden that's needs no water once established. You can find plant lists by doing a dry garden search on the web. Check nursery lists for dry garden plants. I have grasses, echiums, and fleabane in my garden in front which gets little to no water and is hard well draining clay when we do get rain. There's archangel lamium in there too but I water that a little. Algerian ivy can be completely dry though I would not recommend that. I need a flame thrower to keep it at bay from coming in from the woods and devouring the neighbors children. You can accent with stone like a dry river bed, I put paths of wood chips in for contrast. My neighbor has a dry garden too. Hers has dead grass in it but we live in the woods, there's a nice canopy of trees.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 3:26PM
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Thanks everyone for your suggestions!

I'm in a San Fernando valley suburb, and I need a new sprinkler system for my front yard. Before spending the money on that, I was wondering if there might be an alternative way to go.

In the attached pic, you can see the area is nothing special! And unfortunately, the big tree has been removed because it was old and dying.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 8:56PM
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Why not put in a bunch of flowering natives. They will attract bees, butterflies etc and can be very pretty. You don't ahve to go the cacti native route. They will only need water first year or 2. Check with LADWP on rebates for alternative landscaping.
Is that a Mexican fan palm near your door close to the house?
I'd have that taken out as it will hit your gutters soon or any overhand you might have. They are invasive and birds drop their seeds and you'll have them popping up everywhere.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 10:07PM
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Thanks, gobluedjm. I'll check those out. The fan palm is already gone -- it's an old pic.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 6:44AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

I would just put in a new irrigation circuit. It doesn't have to be hugely expensive. You can skip the controller which is a major expense and just turn the circuit on manually. It is nice to have an irrigation circuit to just give an area a bit of water when it needs it. Plus if you sell buyers will like that they don't have to put one in.

I always try to install MP Rotators if possible. They are high efficiency, low precipitation rate rotors. You get efficiencies that start to get close to drip but without having to run tube all over creation. There used to be a rebate for them from DWP for commercial retrofits I wonder if they have a residential one now?

Your best bet for a no water front yard will be drought tolerant shrubs as they can send root systems down deep to access more water. But they will need supplemental irrigation for the first few years. Succulents tend to have shallow root systems and need more water than people think. No need to go strictly native as there are good, tough, drought tolerant, noninvasive plants from all over the world that could work.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 12:15PM
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BarbJP CA 15-16/9B

Per Gyr_Falcon's suggestion; Please, please, please!! DO NOT plant Lippia!!

Someone planted it here for lawn substitute years ago, and it's an awful plant. VERY invasive!

It's not a good lawn substitute as it tends to grow rather patchy, even if you water it like a lawn, (which kinda defeated the purpose of using less water) and it will sneak out of the lawn area and grow in all the beds instead. Every little piece will root, and they love to root in all the cracks in the concrete. They have little pink flowers that bees love, so you can't sit on it easily.
It goes semi-dormant in winter too.

Lippia, Just...Don't, Please.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 3:31PM
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Dymondia! Once established, you'll never have to water it. Seriously. And, you'll never have to mow it. It's silvery green and gets occasional yellow flowers. You can walk on it and the kids can play on it, unlike a lot of ground covers. Some people use it between stepping stones, but you have to be diligent to keep it trimmed if you do. I'll take a picture of the dymondia I have tomorrow when the sun's up, but in the meantime, here's a picture of it from the internet used as a lawn replacement.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 1:29AM
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Here's another picture off the internet. You can see how flat it is and that it works well with other low-water plants. It does like to creep, though. You can also see that it's not as grass-green as the traditional lawn in the distance, but it's a great alternative to a thirsty lawn. Your water bill will thank you.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 1:46AM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

BarbJP, I cautioned it was very aggressive, said there was a danger of it escaping AND that it would not always look great. Realistically, there are very, very few options for a low, grass-height, groundcover without ANY irrigation. That is why I requested more information--to recommend better options if there was some leeway in the parameters of the original query.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 3:41AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Dymondia might not need supplemental water near the coast, but it will need some water in the valley. Something along the lines of 25% ET0.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 11:23AM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Yes Dymondia needs water inland.

With the size of your front yard and the style of your home, you could do a minimalist succulent garden with some boulders that would look really cool. It would show off your house and require little water and not much maintenance beyond a bit of light clean up twice a year. Aloes have wonderful flowers and attract mobs of hummingbirds, for example.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 3:20PM
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You need a new tree.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 3:21PM
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Here's a picture of some of the dymondia in my front yard. It's in a southern exposure with a lot of reflected heat from concrete on two sides. We're 2 miles from the beach Zone 10, or Sunset 24). I never water it, but I do have to trim it occasionally to keep it from taking over the rock in the picture. It survives strictly on rainwater. I would replace the entire lawn with it, but we would have to put in a mow strip between our lawn and the neighbors' lawn because they are joined, and the neighbors have a St. Augustine grass that runs and is FAR more aggressive than the dymondia...and we just don't have that kind of money.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 6:17PM
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BarbJP CA 15-16/9B

Gyr_Falcon, you're right, you did give all those warnings. And yeah, there are not a lot of options for what the OP was asking for. More info about their situation would help folks help. No offence intended.

I just have been fighting this beast for years, so really wanted to save someone else the hassle. It does do without water and live, it just looks pretty bad when it's like that. It looks better with water.

On Dymondia, it does need some water when grown in hot interior areas, but otherwise it's a good choice.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 6:53PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Barb, you hit on one of the big problems with plants that can survive without summer water. They generally look terrible doing it.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 10:30PM
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BarbJP CA 15-16/9B

Yep, there can be a big difference between "drought tolerant" and "low water use".

I feel Drought Tolerant is a plant that will live through no-water times, but they usually go into a semi-dormant state to do so, summer dormant it's called, and often sheds leaves, or the foliage browns and crisps, but stays on.

The dry foliage can actually shade the stems while the plant is trying to survive drought, and from the plants point of view it's a good thing. In our gardens though, it's ugly.

A Low-Water Use plant that still looks good during drought are like plants such as Rosemary, or Junipers,
still evergreen but just not actively growing in the dry season.

Some native and non-native Drought Tolerant plants will stay evergreen, but some go summer dormant and lose leaves or go brown. Research is the key.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 11:17PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

I apologize for writing in such a cranky tone BarbJP--after 2am I lose a bit of focus sometimes. I think what hit the button was that I wasn't recommending lippia so much as trying to say that if the OP's growing requirements were that restrictive, the plant choice was going to probably need to be something that would not be ideal in the garden setting for other reasons.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 3:03PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

I think a good way to go is to plant low water shrubs and groundcover, and repair the watering system so you can manually turn it on as needed.

When we bought our house -- 14 years ago now (Sacramento, zone 14/9) -- I thought it was a waste of money to repair our front watering system, and I thought lawn was a waste of resources. Looking back, I wish I had at least spent the money on a watering system. As it is, I have a hose. I connect it to a soaker hose when I want to water the hillside area. And then, if I want to water the other parts, I just turn the hose on very slow and leave it. Trouble is, the hose is stretched across the walkway when I'm using it. I'm not a big fan of this hazard.

I have a part of the yard that receives very very low water. The plants are a crepe myrtle (probably 20+ years old, well-established) "dwarf" oleander with peach color blossoms, a rose of sharon, lamb's ears, german iris, spanish lavender, a cistus groundcover (I think it's "Cistus skanbergii") and rosemary. I water it once a month or less in summer. I wouldn't say it looks that great during the hottest, driest months, but it's survived for years.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 4:12PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

We're 2 miles from the beach Zone 10, or Sunset 24

Where Dymondia looks great, as it does in your yard. In the SFV, which is usually 30 degrees warmer in summer than it is 2 miles from the beach, it needs a lot more water.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 4:20PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Since there are some people that are using the hose to water, I will pass on a tip on how to make things a little easier. There are always times when you need to spot water something. There are the big clakkity rotors at the garden centers that are on a spike and connect to a hose. They are very cheap. You take one of those and remove the rotor. Throw that wasteful thing away. Now you have a spike with a 1/2" female pipe thread in the top. Take a 12" nipple (the grey schedule 80 pipe in the irrigation section with threads on both ends) and screw it into the spike. Then put a shrub riser adaptor on the top. Now you can use any of the spray heads for popup sprinklers. If you need to water a small bed, screw on a little 4' spray head. If you need to water a larger area screw on a 12 footer. Hillsides? Use an MP Rotator. If you use adjustable heads, you can focus the spray pretty accurately.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:34AM
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pforrester(10 CA USA)

I am in 10B /23. Myoporum parvifolium. Very low water but you can't walk on it much.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 2:26PM
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True, hoovb, we are close to the beach, but the dymondia is in a southern exposure with reflected heat on two sides from concrete. It's one of the few things that I don't have to baby considering these harsh, demanding conditions.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 6:29PM
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I think a mix of plants and rocks or bark would be prettier than a big flat area of one plant. You have a good sized area so you can have some variety. I also would plant another tree.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 12:41AM
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coastalcamper(CA--Sunset 14)

Try Lampranthus. It used to be called Mesembryanthemum. This South African native loves hot dry climates and tolerates crappy soil and neglect. The flowers have intense, almost neon color. There are some with red, magenta, purple, pink, yellow or orange flowers. Plant Lampranthus in the fall, right before our winter rains. [Crossing fingers for winter rain this year].

Here is a link that might be useful: Lampranthus--Read the Description

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 2:35AM
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I live in the SF Valley as well. Have you checked out Theodore Payne? They have a nursery that specialize in SoCal native plants, and their staff is very knowledgeable. They can give you some good suggestions on which natives are right for your area.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 12:02AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Theodore Payne is also outrageously expensive.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 11:16AM
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slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

just curious nil13 - outrageously expensive compared to what? i found their prices pretty decent compared to other small nurseries - and even sometimes lots cheaper.

they are also a non-profit that is there to help educate folks so it's true they aren't the most competitive nursery. i found really really cheap plants in the valley at those vast nurseries - but nothing educational or environmentally sensitive about that place. ;)

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 2:00PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Well $10 for a #1 Festuca californica is very expensive. It should be about $7 retail. Now that may be competitive with small retail nurseries in LA (especially the westside). I think most all of them are outrageously expensive and have crap stock. At least Theodore Payne has decent plants. I typically just walk into retail nurseries in the city, look around, and walk out in disgust.

If my choice is Theodore Payne or nothing I'll do it because they do have decent plants.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 1:18AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

If you want high quality plants at good prices, make friends with a garden designer/landscape architect and have them toss a couple plants on their orders and get that F. californica for $3.50.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 1:36AM
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slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

Their plants are high quality and they are also helpful - and have a different philosophy from other nurseries - they're not going to recommend invasive plants or water wasters. And they're a foundation, not a commercial nursery - it's part of a larger project to preserve and protect our amazing native flora. So, if you pay a dollar or two more than a super giant commercial nursery (which comes with pesticide/herbicide/chemical fertilizers on all their plants etc etc) , you are also supporting the whole project, which I am glad to do. I just didn't want people to get scared off by your comment - there are lots of good reasons to visit Theodore Payne. (I'm clearly a fan ha) They also have sales twice a year. Oh, and a discount for members.

But yes, I need a landscape architect friend! Don't we all? Maybe someday I'll make one and get those wholesale prices....;)

Here is a link that might be useful: Theodore Payne

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 4:05PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

They do have a lot of interesting seed. I have bought quite a bit from them.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 10:58PM
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You would want a native. Some great points made here by people. I myself have had that same "No,watering..and it looks it" conversation about Aloes and succulents. They might need low water..but they are not Med climate plants in the way we have a Med climate. They need SOME summer water to look well.
The Baccharus is your best bet,Al is right. I've seen it looking dark green inland where its hot in norcal all summer. Mix a few red barked Manzanita's a few blue flowered Ceonothus..and you have a lush looking native watering after a year or so.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 12:49PM
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