Changing the California Landscape

An Autumn Roundup of Local Landscape Conversions

Written by Daniel Mazawa

Designer and Estimator, Madrone Landscapes

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a movement towards a new California landscape.  After a century of following trends in both England and east coast gardens, we are developing a Californian identity in our landscapes that speaks to our environment, our climate, and our available resources.

The limited availability of water has forced our hands to look to both our native California plants and those of Mediterranean regions of the world for inspiration in the landscape.  It is a common misconception that drought tolerant landscapes need to look like desert scenes from the southwest.  Our landscapes can be lush, usable, and beautiful, while still being low maintenance and drought tolerant.  Both Paso Robles and Atascadero have been successful in assisting home and business owners to reduce their water use with combined landscape rebates of over $36,000.00.  More funding is available to property owners, within the city limits, who want to reduce their water use.  Funding is limited and on a first come, first serve basis.

The emphasis on converting the California landscape to a more sustainable and drought tolerant status revolves around the removal of unnecessary lawns.  Lawns use a very high amount of water and require high maintenance.  It is important to note that lawns have great utility in the landscape when used for sports or play; however, if they are used simply for aesthetics they may be unnecessary.  As general rule:  “If the only person who uses the lawn is the one who mows it, it is not worth the resources to maintain it.” (Rick Mathews, Business Owner, Madrone Landscapes).  Many plants can be used to give the lush green look we all strive for, but with much less water and maintenance.

In order to help home and business owners use lawn alternatives, both the City of Paso Robles and the Atascadero Mutual Water Company (AMWC) have devised monetary incentives.  Both municipalities have programs to offer up to $500.00 for removing irrigated turf and replace it with a drought tolerant landscape.  For the do-it-yourself homeowner, this may pay for the whole project.  For those who hire landscape professionals, an overdue brand new landscape will be more affordable.

The AMWC is offering additional rebates for using more efficient irrigation products.  Just changing the nozzle on your sprinkler system can greatly increase its efficiency, thereby reducing your water use.  MP Rotator nozzles are the latest sprinkler innovation.  They are compatible with most spray head sprinklers and can be used increase the uniformity of sprinkler coverage and reduce runoff.  “Overspray from irrigation deteriorates our streets and carries pollutants from our cars into our storm drains and creeks.” (Jaime Hendrickson, Conservation Manager, AMWC)  Asphalt deterioration due to huge amounts of wasted irrigation sprinkler runoff is causing one Atascadero neighborhood to look at astronomical fees needed to fix their damaged streets.  Local home and business owners must also take note that runoff on sidewalks during a freeze can create a slick ice hazard for passers by.

The AMWC is also giving rebates for smart irrigation controllers.  Smart irrigation controllers can be in the form of new controllers or a retrofit part for your existing controller.  They measure solar intensity, rainfall, or soil moisture daily to water exactly to you plants needs.  Without this component, it is common for landscapes to be overwatered in the winter, spring, and fall; and underwatered on the hottest days of summer.

There is a long list of drought tolerant plants that can be used as a lawn instead of the more common water-loving turf grasses.  Right now, most of these options cost more than a common sod product, but they can be a great, usable lawn.  Two grasses we use regularly for this are Carex praegracilis (Meadow Sedge) and Carex glauca (Blue Sedge).

More commonly, lawns can be replaced with beautiful botanical display of colors and textures to create a signature California landscape aesthetic.  Choosing the right plants for the location is best left to an expert, but as a homeowner, there are some great resources and events available for inspiration.  The Autumn Garden Tour is a yearly event put on by the Atascadero Mutual Water Company, and more information is available at  This tour is an opportunity to see private gardens that have creative solutions for saving water.

2010 North County Rebate Roundup

Turf Conversion Rebates:

Paso Robles:

Square Feet of Turf Removed:              45,537

Number of Rebated Projects:                      52

Total Dollars Rebated:                         $18,766.84

Average Rebate:                                 $360.90

Rebate Rate:                                      $0.50 per Square Foot*

Maximum Rebate per Customer:           $500.00


Square Feet of Turf Removed:              47,000

Number of Rebated Projects:                     43

Total Dollars Rebated:                         $15,000.00

Average Rebate:                                 $348.84

Rebate Rate:                                      $0.25 per Square Foot*

Maximum Rebate per Customer:           $500.00

*Square footage refers to sprinkler-irrigated turf converted to a drought tolerant landscape.

MP Rotator Sprinkler Nozzle Conversion Rebates:


Number of Converted Nozzles:              600

Number of Rebated Projects:                  25

Total Dollars Rebated:                     $1,800.00

Average Rebate:                                 $72.00

Rebate Rate:                                       $3.00 per Nozzle*

*Number of existing sprinkler nozzles replaced with more efficient MP Rotators.

Smart Controller Rebates:


Number of Rebated Smart Controllers:      600

Number of Rebated Projects:                     12

Total Dollars Rebated:                        $1,200.00

Average Rebate:                                   $100.00

Rebate Rate:                                        $100.00 per Smart Controller*

*Contact Atascadero Mutual Water Company for applicable Smart Controller options.

The preceding data from the City of Paso Robles was collected from February 21, 2010 to September 22, 2010.

The preceding data from the Atascadero Mutual water Company was collected from January 1, 2010 to September 22, 2010.