In a drought--to sod or not to sod?

16 Replies

Looking for suggestions from others rehabbing properties in Southern California and dealing with landscaping choices in light of the ongoing drought:

I have an upcoming flip in San Diego in a neighborhood with a lot of families and young children.  The front yard used to be grass but is completely dead with bare dirt and tall weeds.  Do I lay sod and put in a new lawn or is it better to go with drought tolerant landscaping?

On the one hand, lawns add curb appeal and are great for kids and pets.  On the other, water is expensive and replacing the lawn seems irresponsible.  Drought tolerant 'desertscapes' are not particularly appealing, particularly to families, and artificial turf seems expensive--although I see a lot of yards going to that in higher end neighborhoods than where my flip is.



i think drought resistant landscaping is the way to go, you can even get a rebate for installing it:

i'd disagree that they are not appealing, check houzz or pinterest for some nice looking examples.  the sod will likely die anyway under the new water restrictions:


I am in Southern california as well, and we have gotten many phone calls from tenants who which to stop watering the lawn altogether.  So from my perspective, changing out the front yards is a no brainer.  Most tenants with kids dont play in the front yard, like they do the  back, so a few plants (agaves or other drought tolerant plants, ) with a few large rocks and then bark or smaller rocks in a nice form is excellent.  WE can also reduced the amount of grass in yards.  Some had huge lots and we left one area with grass, and replaced a larger section with nice river rock.

In a higher end neighborhood, I agree it is a little tougher...

Thanks, Colin.  Unfortunately, the fine print says "Only includes areas currently covered by living turf grass; the grass must be living when the rebate reservation application is approved."


I'm in Arkansas, Don't claim to know anything about California or their water restrictions.

I am in the Turfgrass business. Been in it for 30 plus years. Lets just say I know grass.

Artfical Turf:  One thing about artificial turf no one will ever tell you.  Take a thermometer out there in the middle of the day. the temperature will be between 130 and 150 degrees around here.   We deal with it on the athletic fields.  It has to be treated with biocides.  It is a carpet that is I have been told is considered a has mat problem when you remove it here.

Second:  Drought tolerant landscaping, Lacks somewhat in curb appeal, but Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I'm not Particularly fond of cactus, yucca, and those type of plants, but I don't live there.   That might not change my perspective if I lived here. They are somewhat of an oddity here.

Third.   Natural grass. an acre of natural grass is like  running a 2 ton air conditioner. Next time your out on a lawn take time to notice. Options for warm season grasses are

Bermudagrass,  drought tolerant, goes off color in drought.  

Buffalo Grass.

 Zoysia grass lawns.  again drought tolerant , goes off color in drought.

St Augustine,  Seashore paspalum. 

Things to consider are first if you can water enough to keep sod alive?

Second there are turf colorants that make a drought stricken lawn look green.

(green toes, green lawnger, etc) These are pigments and paints.

We tried to establish Buffalo grass here, looks like we have to much annual rainfall for it.

I Personally  have a 2 acre lawn, on top of the Hill we call a mountain. (1000 ft above sea level) 

I have drip irrigation that feeds he flower beds. I have watered them about 3 or 4 times this year.

My lawn is Common Bermuda grass, I have not watered it for the 5 years I have lived there. only what ever natural rainfall I have gotten.  Right now it is going a little off color. Oh well so be it. (Like I said Bermuda is drought tolerant.)

 My Mower is 5 years old and is  a 60 inch deck and it has 114 hours on it.

I have a 1/8 acre garden that use's drip irrigation. I run that two days a week during the growing season.

My future plan is to reroute gray water and gutter runoff to use in flowerbeds and expand to the trees.  I might even put a little irrigation in the front of the circle drive.

I'm practicing water conservation on a daily basis. But I have a 95% full lawn.  

great info rod!  drip irrigation here is limited to 2 days a week but there is no 5 minute limit as there is with standard irrigation.  how long would you need to run drip irrigation for the drought tolerant grasses to live?

@Matthew Paul

Can you expand on what you know? I'm looking to install it in a parkway to test it for eventual roll out in some other areas. Any particular brands that work better or don't work? What fertigation equipment do you use?

Great thread.  I recently put in a new lawn and due to drought restrictions, the lawn went to hell in a few months.  I think drought tolerant is the way to go and can be made to look quite beautiful.  

With all irrigation lines it takes a little research in the beginning .  water pressure, volume. etc.  Netafilm is (in my opinion) one of the better drip lines. There are pressure compensating versions that will keep your pressures constant.  there are different models that  have longer and shorter intervals between drips. some are 8 inch some are 18 inch.

Different Gallon per minute or gallon per hour options are are available. I use 1/2 gallon per hour in my garden.

In the flower beds I use drip line with emitters for each plant . I'm still using a 1/2 gallon per hour emitter. I run it about 4 hours when I run it.  each plant gets about 2 gallon I have about 60 plants. so I use bout 120 gallon  when I water my flower beds.  I have done that about 4 times this year.  (that's about 3 average bathtubs full of water), If I divert my grey water from the bathtub /shower,  assuming I use lets say an average of 25 gallon bathing daily. thats 750 gallon a month,  add my wife,  now its 1500 gallon a month.    

(wife would use a little more she has hair. LOL)

a inch of rain on an acre is 27,154 gallon of water . (informational website)

I could effectively water a 1/2 inch on an acre , if I had a 1/4 acre that would be like a 2 inch irrigation monthly.  that's just the bathtub, add the washing machine, and the rain gutters. You can imagine  the quantity's going down your drains now.   

With all that said  each state has regulations, you have to comply with. Some don't allow rainwater collection. and grey water usage.  Ours encourages us to conserve water usage.

As far as fertigation. I am using in the drip system, a Mazzei injector.  Here's a informational link. Took me a few tries to figure which model to use. works on volume. The drip tape I use in the garden takes about 1000 feet to make the 1/2 inch model work.   I inject once a week (fertilizer Fridays) on the garden areas.


( A few years ago we had a major fire, burnt our office and warehouse facility down. We rebuilt . due to new legislation we had to put our own septic treatment facility in. The tail waters from the plant is ran through drip irrigation on our complex underground.  (And yes it is government tested and has to comply with all regulations on a frequent basis. )    

By the way its geothermal on heat /cool and hot water also. cellulose insulation. lighting etc.. 

I am in no way soliciting any sales here. I am just offering information.  

Jason you said you lost your sod, but  you never said what kind of grass it was? grasses like buffalo grass require as little as 15 to 30 inches per year.  You can do a little research with the local University's  for what's best suited for your area.  

But like I said "to each his own" I'm not forcing my ideas on anyone.  I'm just giving alternatives to a question asked on the bigger pockets forums.

We have had a few people who moved here tried to do the arid climate landscapes. They don't do to well here.  Get lots of weeds though.  kind of hard to mow gravel and keep windows and siding.  LOL 

I don't own anything in California,  Arkansas is where Californians come to retire. LOL 

I know a few. :)

@Rod Thank you for this list! I'm a professional hydrologist, so for me, you are preaching to the choir.

I just had to rip out sod from my own SFR and I'm in San Diego proper. Very frustrating.

I was researching the Water wise websites, and while none make it super clear on recommendations, Buffalograss is a great investment. We have a specific type around here called UCVerde Buffalograss (


Another option in fescue. There are several varieties, so be sure to ask a landscaper what is best for your area.

Originally posted by @Mark B. :

@Matthew Paul

Can you expand on what you know? I'm looking to install it in a parkway to test it for eventual roll out in some other areas. Any particular brands that work better or don't work? What fertigation equipment do you use?

you would have to look it up , netafim is a good brand .  Fertigation , isnt worth the trouble .  Figuring the gallons per minute and the areas and run times , it never does what people expect

I am in the desert of SoCA and water usage is strictly enforced. Nonetheless, our NOO/rentals are not in CA - and we don't have these water rationing issues there.

Our primary residence (and I would probably also do this if and when we purchased investment properties here) is primarily grass with some native trees, shrubs and plants (near the property).

To allow us to have grass without heavy fines for water we use 1) apply summer guard and 2) winterize our laws. 3) we are mandated to water only Wed and Sat (early am or late evening).  We only DEEP water on Wed early am (before 5am).  Even with this very limited watering schedule, our front and back lawn is green year round!  No seriously...year round.

Select the correct grass, trees, shrubs and plants for your area ...winterize and summerguard your lawn and you can have that pretty green curb appeal and not bust the bank with high water bills.


So, in the end, we raked the dirt to make it look as nice as possible and in the listing offered $1,000 towards landscaping.  The home sold without a second thought.  Thanks everyone!