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  • Autumn Cruz /

    Fred Hoffman walks down a pathway in his lawn-free backyard. He and his wife traded grass for fruit trees, a fountain, a putting green and drought-tolerant plants.

  • Courtesy Fred Hoffman

    An aerial photo of Fred and Jeanne Hoffman's home in 2007 shows large expanses of turfgrass. They began replacing the lawn in 2009, cutting their water bill to a fraction of what it had been.

  • Autumn Cruz /

    Blueberries bushes grow in repurposed cattle waterers in the Hoffman's backyard.

  • Autumn Cruz /

    A drip system meters out just enough water to keep the peach trees happy in the Hoffman's backyard.

  • Autumn Cruz /

    A recirculating fountain adds its notes to the sound of birds in Fred and Jeanne Hoffman's backyard. The Hoffmans have been cutting back on their lawn for the past three years.

Many Sacramento gardeners are cutting the grass -- completely

Published: Saturday, Jul. 21, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Friday, Mar. 1, 2013 - 6:51 am

When they first bought their 10-acre home in Herald, Fred and Jeanne Hoffman did what seemed like the most logical solution to cover a lot of space in a hurry: They planted lawn.

Because they had a lot of room, they planted a lot of grass – about 5,500 square feet.

That was 23 years ago. Now, almost all that lawn is gone.

The Hoffmans are part of a growing trend to trade thirsty turf for water-wise alternatives. In making the switch, they gained more use of their outdoor space – and enjoy it more, too.

"We planted lawn because we were supposed to," said Jeanne Hoffman. "At the time we put it in, it was before any water issues. And we had a dog."

Fred Hoffman, the popular Sacramento radio host known as "Farmer Fred," has made a three-year project of lawn removal following a piecemeal takeout of bits of turf here and there.

With large sheets of plastic, Fred Hoffman "solarized" 1,600 square feet outside the kitchen window. That space now has a handsome fountain surrounded by a mix of mulch, gravel, blueberries and fruit trees.

"I wanted to turn a lawn that you can't eat into something you can eat," he said. "My goal was to replace the Bermuda grass with edible landscaping and plants to attract beneficial insects."

An avid golfer, Jeanne Hoffman wanted something else – her own putting green with synthetic turf.

They both got what they wanted, and then some.

Last fall, Fred Hoffman solarized another 1,000 square feet to make room for the putting green and provide a work area next to his greenhouse.

After major heart surgery in March, he appreciated another benefit of his project: a lot less work.

"I don't miss all that mowing," he said. "When it got hot, I had to water that Bermuda grass four hours a week to keep it green. Now, we water one hour a week – on a drip system."

He estimates that the relandscaped area uses 12 percent of the water needed by the former lawn.

"The sprinklers used 2 gallons a minute," he said. "The drip system uses 1 gallon an hour. It's a fraction of the water and very low maintenance."

Besides saving water, work and money, the lawnless landscape has other benefits.

"This area is so enjoyable," Fred Hoffman said. "The sound of the water is very relaxing. We're attracting birds of all kinds, from little hummingbirds to hawks. They've cut down on the grasshopper population, too."

On his Farmer Fred Rant blog, he has written extensively about his lawn-gone makeover. The couple hired landscape designer Colleen Hamilton and contractor Dave Rhodes to draw up plans and install the hardscape.

"My wife and I have a farmer mentality – we plant in straight lines," Fred Hoffman said. "We had no idea how to do curves. They did, and it adds a lot. It really helps to have good advice."

Homeowners throughout the Sacramento area are ripping out lawns and reaping benefits.

"My community went to metered water about a year ago, and that made me start thinking about how much water I was using on the front lawn," said Mary Chipman of Fair Oaks.

She also got inspiration from a friend, Marty Wilson, "who turned a dead lawn into an attractive, lush, low-moisture landscape," Chipman added. "That inspired me to do the same to my emerald-green lawn this summer."

Chipman is in the midst of phase 1 of her makeover. Besides removing the lawn and installing new hardscape, she found that she needed to add a sign.

Said Chipman, "(The sign) explains the project to the neighbors, who have started suggesting I water the lawn."

Wilson started her project in 2009. She wanted to widen the driveway of her Citrus Heights home and add a walkway. Since the brown lawn was going to get torn up anyway, why not make over the whole yard?

She started by solarizing the grass with clear plastic, which stayed in place for eight weeks.

She then used the no-till "lawn lasagna" method to break down the dead grass. She covered the brown lawn with layers of cardboard and wood chips. She was able to get the chips free from tree trimmers Up a Tree, who were working in her neighborhood. Spreading the chips was the hardest part.

"One year later, the worms had eaten all of the cardboard and beneath the topmost layer of wood chips laid a rich dark soil full of wonderful smells and lots of worms," she said.

Meanwhile, Wilson planted a colorful garden of flowers.

"My biggest surprise is how quickly time has flown by," Wilson said. "Because I didn't want to hire landscapers and I am willing to patiently watch plants grow and evolve, it took time. Doing everything myself was surprisingly easy and the rewards are tremendous."

Lisa and Jeff Walsh of Rocklin ditched their lawn and discovered they had a lot more room.

"While Jeff was a little resistant at first to give up his precious lawn, he celebrated giving our lawn mower away," Lisa said. "The backyard now has a raised garden, a pond, a dining platform and a space for our hot tub. There is so much to see in a very small space, and yet it doesn't feel crowded."

After that success, they transformed the front yard, too. They replaced the lawn with a patio, a river rock "stream," Japanese maples and fragrant shrubs. It's now a perfect spot for entertaining and dining al fresco.

Said Lisa, "This is our 'retirement' home and I can see us enjoying many evenings with our family and friends."

Suzanne and Steve Browning of Rocklin turned their "wasted lawn space" into an edible front yard. They replaced the grass with four large raised beds that are now providing a bounty of fresh vegetables.

"How do the neighbors feel?" Suzanne Browning said. "Most everyone has been quite complimentary about our new landscape. As a matter of fact, we get questions all the time about the bed corners we used, and other gardens have cropped up on the block."

Besides all the fresh vegetables, the Brownings got another bonus – $150 from their city's water agency for removing the lawn.

It's not just homeowners who are interested in less lawn. Throughout campus, UC Davis is phasing out strips of traditional turf in favor of easy-care, drought-tolerant native plants and Arboretum All-Stars.

Sun City Roseville, which has 3,110 homes, is in the midst of a makeover, too. More than 18 grassy landscaped spaces run between tracts of houses.

"These areas now require frequent watering and weekly mowing and other services," said Jim Ferrin, Sun City Roseville's director of landscapes. "We are planning on removing all of the lawns in time and replanting with plants that require a minimum of water and maintenance. One has been completed on Lantern Grove. These changes will reduce costs while maintaining our community aesthetics."

Water isn't the only impetus for turf removal. Less lawn means less maintenance, too.

Jody and Greg Macias of east Sacramento have a tiny yard that had "a square postage-stamp of grass and nothing else," she said. "Because we are dog people, and because it was really not an inviting or usable space, our yard gradually became little more than a poorly maintained grassy doggie-potty."

But it still needed water and mowing.

The Macias family hired designer Susan Silva and landscaper Steve Irwin to transform their small yard into a backyard oasis with a flagstone patio surrounded by easy-care lilies and flowering shrubs.

People love it, and the pets do, too. "Since the dogs no longer see it as their bathroom, they now use the yard to romp and play," Jody Macias said. "The flagstone makes doggie clean-up much easier. Also, the yard now feels much bigger. Unexpectedly, eliminating the grass actually ended up giving us much more useable space."

Michael Shapiro of Sacramento moved his disabled parents, Sid and Mae Shapiro, into a halfplex in the Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhood.

"We wanted them to be free of lawn maintenance and related concerns, so we removed the front lawn and, under my wife Rosella's guidance and design, replaced the front lawn with a combination of agapanthus, iris, day lilies, a gardenia, a pineapple guava tree, mulch and river rocks in an eye-catching design," Shapiro said. "With such water-efficient plants, we were able to install a drip irrigation system to water the space automatically."

This also was a budget-minded makeover. The Shapiros were able to get many of the plants free by dividing agapanthus, day lilies and iris.

"Now the front yard is green all year round and has something interesting growing all the time," Shapiro said. "Sid – who is 92 – greatly enjoys sitting in his recliner and looking out his front window at the flowers, greenery and tree in his 'lawn gone' yard."


What: "Tired of Mowing Your Lawn?" guided tour

Where: Nature's Gallery Court, UC Davis Arboretum

When: 10 a.m. today

Admission: Free

Details: Find them online at, or call (530) 752-4880

See how the arboretum has converted lawn into other water-wise landscaping during this guided tour. Explore changing landscapes from turf to low-water, low-maintenance and beautiful alternatives.

Also: Check out for links to no-lawn rebate programs and water-wise tips.


See more photos of lawn-free landscaping by The Bee's Autumn Cruz at

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