Environment & Science

8 options for replacing your lawn, along with their pros and cons

Weina Dinata

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If you were hoping to cash in on the Metropolitan Water District's turf replacement incentive, you might have waited too long. The incredible popularity of the program has forced the wholesaler to suspend applications after shelling out more than $300 million to help homeowners replace their lawns with less thirsty yard options. 

Homeowners are now having to weigh the benefits of a more drought-tolerant yard against a cost that's more than they had anticipated. 

Still, saving water may only be one consideration to take into account when deciding why and how to replace your yard, said Carol Bornstein, director of the nature gardens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the co-author of “Reimagining the California Lawn” and “California Native Plants for the Garden."

“The primary concern these days, of course, is water because of the drought," she said." But water is not the only resource that goes into maintaining lawns. There’s the constant mowing and the generation of green waste and what to do with the green waste and the use of fossil fuels.”  

5 factors to consider for each potential yard

With the help of professional landscapers, conservationists and experts on the environment, we've put together a series of popular landscape options. For each landscape possibility, we've considered how they fare in several categories*: 

Keep in mind this guide is intended only to be a general reference; each landscape type will perform differently based on how it's installed and maintained. Also, most yards are likely to incorporate more than one of the options below. Finally, we chose not to include aesthetics as a category, as it's subjective.


Turf grass

This what most think of when they think of the typical lawn — the water-intensive default conservationists are hoping to steer Californians away from choosing. Even so, there is wide variety within grasses. Cool-season grasses grow actively during the cooler time of year and require watering during hot summer months. Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda grass, use less water. 

Turf grass


California native plant garden



Drought-tolerant garden (California-friendly)

Drought-tolerant species of plants can come from any arid environment, with many coming from Australia or South Africa. 

Drought-tolerant garden


Organic mulch



Artificial turf

Artificial turf



Gravel yard


Concrete (pavement)


Decomposed granite

Decomposed granite in playground


Additional information for the guide was provided by Mia Lehrer (Mia Lehrer + Associates), Brian Brown (Natural History Museum), Linda Eremita (TreePeople), and Russell Ackerman (City of Santa Monica).  Additional photo credits: Tim Seay and Matt Phillips via Flickr Creative Commons.