Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced updates (we’d say exciting updates) to the city’s Turf Replacement Program.
The updated program aims to entice more homeowners to replace their turf grass lawns with drought tolerant landscaping by bumping rebate prices from $3 up to $5 per square foot of turf removed. Eligible turf replacement projects can receive up to $25,000 in rebates per residential property—that’s huge!
While the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) program that Mayor Garcetti spoke of applies only to properties within L.A. city boundaries, other regional rebate programs offer similar benefits to areas outside city limits. To help Angeleno homeowners take advantage of these opportunities, we’ll dive into the specifics of these programs below.
First, let’s take a moment to explain why we’re seeing so much emphasis on turf removal.
Why Turf Removal?
As drought persists across the West, turf removal programs are hardly unique to Los Angeles. From California to Colorado, cities are implementing programs and policies designed to replace water-intensive lawns with water-efficient landscaping.
Why? Lawns are notoriously thirsty, requiring lots of water to stay green and healthy. The more arid the climate, the more water turf needs—this makes lawns in the hot, dry West particularly water-intensive.
Turf is also ubiquitous—you don’t need us to tell you how commonly lawns appear in residential landscapes.
Turf poses other problems beyond water conservation. Lawns offer virtually no habitat value, and occupy a lot of space that could instead be utilized for ecosystem-supporting landscaping. Fertilizers and pesticides applied to turf leach pollutants into soil and waterways. Lawn care equipment like mowers and blowers contribute a staggering amount of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Replacing turf with a permeable, water-saving landscape design absorbs water back into the ground, reducing the flow of pollutants to local waterways and recharging local water supplies. It also offers a chance to add habitat-rich native plants and cut back on water consumption through the use of drought tolerant plants and water efficient irrigation systems.
Especially in a challenging macroeconomic climate, turf replacement rebates like those offered in Los Angeles provide homeowners with a cost-effective and efficient path to reap the benefits of sustainable landscaping, not to mention to reduce their own water bills.
Turf Replacement Incentives in the LA Area
Now for the nitty-gritty of Los Angeles area lawn removal rebates.
We’ll focus primarily on the the LADWP program, which services the city of Los Angeles itself, though we’ll also touch briefly on other available programs.
Note: for clarity as we go, it’s worth understanding that the LADWP operates within and in collaboration with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which itself offers rebates to some areas not serviced by the LADWP.
LADWP Turf Replacement Program
Who is Eligible?
The Turf Replacement Program offered by the LADWP applies to turf replacement projects on properties within L.A. city limits. Only properties serviced by LADWP are eligible for rebates.
Rebates apply to projects where at least 250 sq. ft. existing turf grass lawn will be removed (or, for properties under 250 sq. ft., where all existing turf is removed). Dead or struggling lawns are fair game to count toward the area minimum, but bare dirt or synthetic turf areas are not.
There are additional, more detailed requirements that also impact eligibility for the rebate. Interested LADWP customers can review the full set of requirements by visiting the SoCal Water$mart website.
How Does it Work?
There are four basic steps you must take in sequence to receive the LADWP rebate:
1. Make a plan.
Before you rip out your lawn, make a plan for how you’ll replace it.
To qualify for the rebate, your turf replacement plan must meet several criteria:
– no overhead sprinklers; all irrigation in the project area must be drip.
– no turf grass
– no artificial turf
– all plants surrounded by a 3” deep ring of organic mulch, like bark mulch or wood chips
– at least one approved water capture technique
– at least 3 plants per 100 sq. ft., counting existing trees as well as new planting.
– no invasive plant species
– mulch, rock, or decomposed granite, or other permeable surfaces must cover all non-planted areas. No bare dirt or impermeable surfaces like solid paving can be included within the project area.
The Fine Print
Note that the above criteria apply to the project area, which can be limited to a portion of your property, provided it meets the 250 sq. ft. minimum.
If a project includes a parkway (or hellstrip, as we call them), it has to be 80% covered in mature plants that are safe (nothing toxic or hazardous), with the remaining area covered by organic mulch—no stone or hardscape materials can be included in the parkway design.
You can achieve the requirement for a water capture technique by adding a water storage unit like a rain barrel or cistern, or by including a planted feature like a rain garden, vegetated swale, or dry river bed. The purpose of these features is to capture water that falls onto the property by either storing it for later use or absorbing it back into the ground, where it restores groundwater supplies. Either approach conserves water and avoids sweeping pollutants like pesticides, fertilizers, and car chemicals into the ocean and local waterways via city drainage systems.
For similar reasons, the rebate program does not allow for impermeable surfaces within the project area. Impermeable surfaces transmit pollutants to water flowing over their surface, hasten the flow of water into off-site drains, and reduce the amount of space in which water can infiltrate back into the ground.
While there is some flexibility around plant selection, LADWP strongly encourages the use of native plants. Any plants included in the plan must be “California Friendly” species, which are adapted to perform well in dry Los Angelean conditions. It is crucial to select species with low water requirements to ensure a meaningful reduction in water use relative to the yard before turf removal.
Selecting suitable plants for a turf replacement plan can be daunting to non-experts, but several resources are available to simplify the process:
- The California Friendly Landscaping website offers curated lists of water-wise plants (Trees, Shrubs, Lawn Alternatives, Privacy Plants, etc) for Los Angeles gardens, as well as databases searchable by common and scientific plant names.
- The California Native Plant Society offers similar lists of exclusively native plants, organized by functional goals and light/soil/water requirements. (Reminder: native plants offer exponentially more habitat value than non-native species, and tend to thrive with minimal fuss.)
- The California Invasive Plant Council’s site lists crucial dos and don’ts, indicating invasive species to avoid while also recommending appropriate species for Southern California gardens, organized by plant type.
- LADWP clients can also receive free landscape plans utilizing native and California Friendly planting. These plans can be submitted for approval by the Turf Replacement Program.
- The Turf Replacement Program site has links to many more resources to help homeowners plan and implement their turf removal projects, including free workshops, videos, and online classes.
Need more information?
Eligible LADWP clients can find more information about the Turf Replacement Program including FAQs about turf replacement plan criteria, have a look at LADWP’s Transform Your Lawn Booklet, or visit the Turf Replacement Program website.
Need help creating a landscape plan?
Even if they’ve selected plant species to use in a turf replacement design, people often need help developing a landscape design that artfully arranges plants while also integrating functional spaces and circulation to meet your goals for your yard.
Yardzen has helped clients both in Los Angeles and elsewhere to develop designs that meet their design goals while also qualifying for turf removal and water saving rebates.
In a moment, we’ll take a look at a few projects that demonstrate the criteria for the LADWP program.
2. Apply for pre-approval.
My turf replacement plan is ready to go. Can I rip out my turf now?
Not yet. Before removing your existing turf, you must first apply for pre-approval, then receive approval to proceed with your project. Only then can you remove your lawn.
To apply for pre-approval, visit the SoCal Water$mart website. In addition to your turf removal plant, you will need to submit five pictures, the first page of your LADWP bill, and measurements of the project area.
3. Get to work.
Once you receive approval to proceed, you have 180 days to complete your turf replacement project.
4. Submit for rebate.
When your turf replacement project is complete, submit photos of it to the SoCal Water$mart website to complete your rebate application. After reviewing your photos, and possibly conducting a site visit, LADWP will rule on compliance with rebate criteria. If your project is deemed compliant, your rebate will be dispersed at this point.
Additional Savings Opportunities
LADWP offers additional rebates that can be applied for separately and in addition to a turf removal rebate:
- up to $50 for a rain barrel (maximum two 50-80 gallons per barrel)
- up to $200 for a weather-based irrigation controller
- $300-$500 for a cistern (200 to 1,000 gallons of water or more)
To apply for these additional LADWP rebates, visit the SoCal Water$mart website.
LADWP’s residential customers can also take advantage of programs to get up to seven free trees from City Plants, and to get free mulch from LA Sanitation and Street Services.
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
Properties outside L.A. city limits may be eligible for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s turf replacement rebate.
The requirements for this program are essentially the same as those for the LADWP program, though the rebate rate of $2 per sq. ft. is slightly lower. Property owners can apply the rebate to a maximum of 5,000 sq. ft. of converted yard per year.
The steps to earn the rebate are also the same as the LADWP program—first plan and apply for pre-approval, then implement and seek final approval.
To see if your property is eligible for this rebate, visit the same SoCal Water$mart website.
LA Country Waterworks Cash for Grass Rebate Program
Los Angeles County Waterworks customers in districts 21 (Kagel Canyon, 37 (Acton), and 40 (Antelope Valley)) can receive a $1 per sq. ft. rebate for replacing turf with drought-tolerant landscaping. This rebate has a minimum area requirement of 500 sq. ft., and a maximum payout of $5,000.
The details of this program are largely the same as the other rebate programs, save for the lower rebate amount. As with the other programs, the rebate is designed to help clients save water, and may be applied to grass in poor condition, but not to bare dirt or artificial turf areas.
Turf replacement designs must include native or drought tolerant planting covering at least 25% of the converted area after 2 years of growth. Non-planted areas must be covered in permeable surfaces, and may not include artificial turf or impermeable paving. Spray irrigation is not allowed, though designs may utilize bubblers, microspray, and other more efficient irrigation systems in addition to drip systems.
Local water agencies throughout Southern California may offer additional water-saving or turf replacement rebates. To see which rebates may apply to your property, visit socalwatersmart’s Estimate My Rebate site.
Costs and Benefits of Turf Removal with Rebates
The cost to carry out turf replacement will vary with each project, depending on factors like the size of the project area, ease of access, and complexity of the replacement design.
The good news? While hardscape features can quickly drive prices up in a landscape project, the planted and permeable features of a turf replacment project tend toward the lower end of the price spectrum. Gravel and organic mulch are about as cheap as it gets when it comes to choosing materials to cover your ground. Opting to install less mature plants can also help to significantly reduce project costs.
Lawn removal can be executed through a few different methods:
- The quickest is to simply dig it out—using a sod cutter will save your back.
- For those with more time, covering a short-mowed, freshly-watered lawn with black plastic and allowing it to bake in the sun for 4-8 weeks (a process known as solarization) will kill a lawn at minimal expense.
- Sheet mulching, a process in which cardboard topped with compost and mulch is layered over the lawn, is prized for the organic matter is contributes back to the soil. The downside? It requires many months to run its course—more time than the six months of work time allotted by the turf replacement rebates can accommodate.
Most turf replacement projects would likely opt to dig existing lawns out, a process which costs either hours of your time or hours of a landscape crew’s time. Either way, the expense won’t be exorbitant for average sized projects.
Once installed, a turf replacement project offers great savings via deferred costs and maintenance. Reduced irrigation needs will translate to lower water bills. A turf-free yard eliminates the need to pay for lawn care, or to spend precious weekend hours mowing, blowing, and weeding lawns. Installing native plants and other species well-adapted to the climate means less time and expense maintaining or replacing plants. Should changes to a design become necessary, it’s cheaper to replace planting or loose materials like gravel and mulch than it is to repair or replace hardscape features like paving.
Factor in the money you can recoup from rebates, and carrying out a turf replacement project is a clear win for cost effectiveness.
Designing a stylish, functional yard to replace your lawn (and qualify for turf rebates)
Now for some inspiration!
Let’s take a look at a few Yardzen projects that demonstrate the sustainable, water-smart landscaping principles required to receive a rebate from Los Angeles’ Turf Replacement Program.
Cool and Inviting
This drought tolerant design replaced struggling front yard turf with a low maintenance, low water landscape.
The versatile patch of DG stands ready for impromptu front yard gatherings under the shade of a mature tree, and offers the dog room to play. Permeable planted gaps surround each paver of the front path, ready to capture and absorb water draining off the walking surfaces.
The backyard elevates a simple gravel patio with comfortable but stylish furnishing, including a handsome table and bench and neutral-toned pillows and blankets. The addition of a potted olive tree (a low water favorite) lends a touch of Mediterranean flair to the scene.
- Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’
- Agave attenuata / Foxtail Agave
- Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’ / Myers Asparagus Fern
- Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’
- Senecio mandrilascae / Blue Chalksticks
- Dymondia margaratae / Silver Carpet
We love the looseness of this uber-inviting front yard design.
Pollinator-friendly perennials and ornamental grasses are strewn casually around, while small-scale trees provide a strong but organic frame around the yard. Boulders and succulents, with their mass and stillness, offer a nice contrast to the otherwise fine-textured, delicate planting. The staggered path of oversized pavers checks the box for modern styling, and, despite being concrete, allows water to drain through the mulch and rock surrounding each paver.
- Aloe maculata / Soap Aloe
- Pennisetum / Fountain Grass
- Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ / Autumn Joy Sedum
- Salvia guaranitica / Anise-Scented Sage
- Carex testacea / New Zealand Hair Sedge
This billowy design subs in an array of ornamental grasses and VIP groundcover Emerald Carpet Manzanita to create two cleanly framed planting areas. The gentle water feature offers a drink to local and migratory wildlife, and is centered in the planting area as a response to the large oak across the path.
To earn the LADWP rebate, stepping stones or pavers interspersed with gaps of permeable material, like those along the front of the left planting area, would need to replace the solid concrete path. In practice, the solid path could be crowned to drain to the planted areas on either side, thereby capturing any rainwater that fell on the path.
- Calamagrostis foliosa / Cape Mendocino Reed Grass
- Nolina microcarpa / Bear Grass
- Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’ / Emerald Carpet Manzanita
- Olea europaea ‘Little Ollie’
- Salvia greggii ‘ White’ / White Autumn Sage
Made in the Shade
This design converts a former backyard lawn into a casual but stylish lounge space that is cooled by the shade of adjacent trees. The cool gray gravel blanketing the space slows water down, allowing it to quickly drain into the soil beneath.
Planting along the edges sticks to a palette of deep greens and silvery blues to amplify the calming atmosphere of the space.
To the left, a gapped paver path provides a firm walking surface without compromising permeability.
- Liriope muscari / Lilyturf
- Polystichum munitum / Western Sword Fern
- Agapanthus africanus ‘Alba’ / White Lily of the Nile
- Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’ / Blue Flax Lily
- Echeveria elegans / Mexican Snowball
Bright and Breezy
This combination of vibrant flowers and swaying ornamental grasses makes for a playful, dynamic design.
A pair of chartreuse Palo Verdes—a stunning, low water, heat-loving accent tree—flank a wide paver path. The pavers sit in desert-hued gravel, a little shout-out to the Palo Verde’s desert origins.
Mulch across the planting areas makes for a permeable, low-cost solution to cover ground between plants. In time, the Huntington Carpet Rosemary, a reliable and fragrant groundcover, will spread to fill some of these gaps.
- Cercidium x ‘Desert Museum’ / Desert Museum Palo Verde
- Bulbine frutescens / Bulbine
- Lavandula x ‘Goodwin Creek Gray’ / Goodwin Creek Gray Lavender
- Echinacea purpurea / Purple Coneflower
- Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Huntington Carpet’ / Huntington Carpet Rosemary
To suit the home’s Spanish Colonial architecture, this landscape design replaces turf with a desert inspired design of low water grasses, sculptural succulents, and scrubby shrubs.
The planting is clustered into densely arranged areas, ringing the front yard open gravel area like stadium seating around a sports field.
To qualify for the LADWP rebate, this design would need to sub in organic mulch for the small strip of gravel that lets curbside car-parkers access the main entry path. The tile entry path is also not compliant with rebate regulations, but depending on how it is installed, it could keep stormwater from leaving the site by draining to the planting or gravel areas flanking its edges.
- Aeonum arboreum / Tree Houseleek
- Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’ / Blue Spruce Stonecrop
- Festuca marei / Atlas Fescue
- Festuca glauca / Blue Fescue
- Westringia ‘Morning Light’ / Coast Rosemary
Floral and Feathery
There’s plenty for pollinators to love in this modern meadow design. Native sage, fuchsia, yarrow, and deer grass all provide habitat to help support local biodiversity, while also doing their part to keep water demands low.
We especially like how the horizontal hardwood fence cuts a crisp line through the otherwise shaggy scene. Clean framing devices like this are great for making naturalistic planting designs look elevated and intentional.
- Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’ / Bush Germander
- Salvia leucantha / Mexican Sage
- Achillea millefolium / Yarrow
- Epilobium canum / California fuchsia
- Muhlenbergia rigens / Deer Grass
- Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’ / Canyon Prince Wild Rye
Anyone whose hiked the Sierras has seen shining aprons of Manzanita spreading across valley floors and sunny clearings. Inspired by that lovely archetype, this design drapes Monterey Carpet Manzanita across the front yard, tucking a few boulders and ornamental grasses in for good measure. The look is naturalistic, but clearly designed, too.
Further into the front yard, planting gets a little softer, with fountain grass and lavender lining the edges of the permeable entry path. A gravel patio serves as a flexible social front yard zone, suitable for playtime with children, a gathering with friends, or impromptu chats with the neighbors.
Across the board, the yard is permeable and lushly planted, making for a low water but highly appealing landscape.
- Arctostaphylos hookeri ‘Monterey Carpet’ / Monterey Carpet ManzanitaBouteloua gracilis / Blue Grama Grass
- Laurus nobilis / Bay Laurel
- Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ / Munstead English Lavender
- Thymus pseudolanuginosus / Wooly Thyme
Get Started With Your Lawn Free LA Landscape Design by Yardzen
Yardzen’s award-winning online landscape design is tailored to clients in all fifty states in the US. Through the American Rewilding Project, we are committed to creating designs with climate-adapted plants and water saving landscaping in drought-prone regions unless homeowners specifically opt out.
Our design process begins with understanding your space, your aesthetic preferences, and a discussion of your budget and vision to minimize surprises when it comes time to build.
Our top-notch designers then develop a personalized vision for your yard, shared through 3D renderings, 2D plan drawings, and plant and material lists. Your design will capture the look, feel, and function you are hoping for, all while keeping costs within range.
Once your design is complete, we’ll help you connect with a local contractor from our Pro Network of vetted professional landscapers to install your new design.
Ready to level up your curb appeal and sustainability with lawn-free landscaping ideas? Create your design profile or explore our design packages today!