Thinking of swapping your lawn for a water-saving garden? This nonprofit has a ‘plant-by-numbers’ service to help

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Courtesy of Jessie Myers
Jessie Myers’ garden in Thornton.

When Jessie Myers of Thornton looked out her window, she saw a kind of personal battlefield. The homeowner was waging a war to keep her grass green — and she was losing.

“We just bought our house a year ago and the lawn is south-facing,” Myers said. “And we just could not keep it alive for the life of us, and honestly just refused to put any more water onto it because it wasn't doing any good.”

So Myers quit the fight. She dug up every blade and planted a new garden — one that loves the sun and needs much less water than a traditional lawn. 

More Coloradans are ditching their lawns

That’s something homeowners along the Front Range are doing at a record pace, according to Resource Central, a conservation nonprofit based in Boulder. More than 10,000 Colorado households transitioned all or part of a grass lawn this year.

Many people want to conserve water as it becomes more precious throughout the West. Some are alarmed by the increases in their water bills. 

Courtesy of Jessie Myers
Jessie and Robbie Myers planted their garden themselves with a “Garden in a Box” kit from Resource Central.

“On top of that, I think people are just frankly sick and tired of mowing the lawn,” said Neal Lurie, president of Resource Central, in an interview with Colorado Matters.

Several years ago, the nonprofit conducted a survey to ask homeowners what was stopping them from replacing their water-guzzling yards. The answer was clear. 

“It's a pain in the butt to remove grass yourself,” Lurie said.

So, the nonprofit started its own lawn removal service.  

“We'll actually go in with the sod cutter, remove the grass, haul it away, compost it, and give people a blank canvas for starting all over,” he said.

And September is a great time to pull out a lawn and plant water-efficient perennials.

“The warm soil really helps stimulate root growth. There's less transplant shock. The plants get a great start and they have a bigger debut in the springtime,” Lurie said.

To fill that blank space, Resource Central offers a ready-made package of waterwise plants and flowers like columbines and penstemons, called a “Garden in a Box.” It comes with a professionally designed plan to follow, a kind of “plant by numbers.”

Rebates and discounts can make the project even easier

Lurie said the cost to remove a lawn averages about $1 per square foot, and that an average yard is about 500 square feet. The Garden-in-a-Box costs extra.

Many communities also offer incentives to encourage the transition — Resource Central has a list of eligible discounts and rebates by region.

(One of the organizations not yet offering rebates for Resource Central’s lawn replacement: Denver Water. But Lurie said they are in discussions about a partnership and hope to have something in place by spring 2024.)

Jessie Myers benefited from those incentives when she made the switch. She says she spent $2,500 on sod removal and plants from Resource Central. After getting a rebate through Thornton, the out-of-pocket total dropped to $1,200.

She’s happy not just about saving water, but also about how her new yard looks.

“I have not turned on my irrigation system this entire summer just because the rains have been heavy enough to sustain everything, and they're all thriving very well,” she said. “It's beautiful and my neighbors love it. And people that drive down the street, they wave from their cars and they're like, ‘It looks great!’”