Skip to main content

Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Landscaping Without Grass in the San Joaquin Valley

Aug 27, 2019 11:00AM ● By Kayla Anderson

Water Wise

Story by Kayla Anderson

IT'S NO SECRET that the San Joaquin Valley gets hot and dry, and trying to maintain a lush and beautiful grassy lawn (or golf course) while conserving water can be challenging.  

Fortunately, it is possible to have a bright, colorful and vibrant-looking yard that adds character to your house without having to install an intricate sprinkler system to feed your thirsty grass. Water-wise succulents such as agave, aloe, jade, sedums and Dudleyas thrive in the San Joaquin Valley under a drip irrigation system, and they can be complemented with hardscape features such as pea gravel, courtyard pavers and timeless weather-resistant stones or granite boulders. 

However, planting grass is not out of the question – it just depends on what kind of grass it is. Fresno Cactus and Succulent Society Member Carole Grosch says some low-water usage ornamental grasses such as little bluestem, fountain grass, blue oatgrass, purple fountaingrass and non-invasive pampas grass can add texture and movement to a yard. 

Drought-tolerant perennials such as lavender, Russian sage, salvia, yarrow and kangaroo paw can bring fragrance and uniqueness to a landscape without using a whole lot of water, she says. Plus, certain types of mulch can keep roots cool and retain moisture in the ground longer. 

Around since 1943, the Belmont Nursery in Fresno is frequented by Central California’s landscape professionals. Throughout the last several decades, the 10-acre garden center has followed the trends of residential and commercial landscaping while figuring out what thrives in the area. 

Owning and managing the nursery since 2001, Jon Reelhorn has carried low-water usage plants for quite some time that add color and beauty to a person’s home. In the last few years, he has helped with dozens of lawn replacements, changing out yards with low-water usage plants.

“We’ve kept the same concepts of selling plants back then as we do now, but repurposed for the current times,” Reelhorn says. For instance, Indian hawthorn and rosemary used to be popular for their pretty flowers and culinary purposes, but then there was a push to plant more trees. Reelhorn and his fellow landscaping experts went to Oregon to source more conifers, but the drought hit, so they went to Arizona to see what flourishes in low-water, desert-like environments. 

“Some of our favorites are Tecomas (the Bells of Fire and Lydia versions). We have a whole series we focus on that are good quality plants,” he adds. Reelhorn also appreciates the data derived from the UC Landscape Plant Irrigation Trials that helps local landscapers and residents build successful yards. In the study, UC Davis horticulturists put plants in a landscape and water them accordingly for one year to get established, then cut back on their irrigation frequency to see how much it takes for the plants to continue to survive. 

“UC Davis is really good at then sharing that information with the local nurseries and homeowners,” Reelhorn says. He adds that living in a hot, dry environment doesn’t mean that you can only plant cacti, and that there is such a thing as planting a desert-lush yard. 

Fresno’s Takao Nursery grows and sells UC Verde Buffalo Grass, a type of turf that uses 75 percent less water than its traditional counterparts. Takao Nursery also designed and sells a retractable greenhouse roof that better disperses natural light and ventilation within a growing area. 

For more information about how to plant a low-water usage yard, consider attending a Fresno Cactus and Succulent Society meeting held the second Thursday of every month from 7-9pm at the Redeemer Lutheran Church on 1084 W. Bullard Avenue in Fresno, or visit •