Fall is my favorite season… Last time we had AC on was back in August and we just fired up the gas furnace a couple of weeks ago. We usually get 4 months per year where HVAC sits switched off. If we need to cool down the house we use box fans. If it gets cold we open all the curtains to passively heat with the sun. Sometimes I fantasize about living in a place like San Diego where the weather is always perfect. Although I bet plenty of people in San Diego still run the AC. We have neighbors that never open their windows too, which never ceases to amaze me when we are out on a perfect day.
Fall around here is a great time to do some yard maintenance. Since it’s finally not 95 degrees every day it actually feels nice to be working outside. June through August the grass takes a beating from the sun. We have a sprinkler system but if you wanted to keep it green through the summer it would cost hundreds of dollars per month, so most people just let the grass go brown. After aerating and seeding the grass comes back to life in September.
To cut down on lawn maintenance I’ve been xeriscaping the yard quite a bit. We have about half the grass now than when we moved in. Less watering, less mowing, less fertilizing but still enough grass to make the house look nice. Our HOA has a rule about the ratio of grass to mulch in the front of the house – I don’t know what it is but they never bothered us.
I also happen to think that partial xeriscaping provides just enough contrast to make a house pop. Everyone has the same grassy lawn with a mandatory tree or two in the front – a design established by a developer 20 years ago. I’m trying to start a trend of less grass and more trees. I’ve transplanted 3 pine tree saplings from our backyard to the mulch island in the front and they took off. We even get to decorate them for Christmas.
I blogged about xeriscaping before. Since then I’ve continued removing grass here and there to get to this 50% grass to mulch ratio that feels just right. This past spring my brother-in-law and I built a 400 sq. foot deck to replace the original 150 sq. foot deck. Besides adding great entertaining space and improving our backyard view this deck removed another 300 sq. feet of grass. Truly a win-win.
I’ve mentioned that my go-to for xeriscaping is mulch. You can get a truck load delivered but it’s not cheap. You can get it free from the dump but you need a way to bring it back home. Luckily, we have an unlimited supply of mulch right in our own backyard – pine trees!
When the house was built they left part of the backyard wooded instead of clear cutting as they like to do nowadays. One reason we bought this house is precisely because of that – the trees provide a nice privacy screen and a cool place for the kids (and adults) to hang out. There is always free wood for the fire pit and there is always free mulch.
All of our neighbors use mulch that looks like wood chips so we’re definitely the odd house on the block. However I happen to really like the way pine mulch needles look. As the 3 pine trees out front grow bigger it also makes sense to have pine needles covering the ground instead of your standard dyed mulch. With time, these 3 pine trees will shed enough needles to automatically mulch the whole xeriscaped island out front.
For now I get the pine needles from the back. There are a few big pines trees and they shed a ton of needles throughout the year. The best part is how easy pine needles are to work with compared to regular mulch. Pine needles are very light so moving them around the yard is a piece of cake!
How does it all look in practice? Let me share a couple of pictures of xeriscaping with pine needles.
Hold the tarp ends together and drag it to the front of the house. Pine needles are so light that I can easily lift the whole thing off the ground… Don’t try that with regular mulch!
I spread the pine needles around with a rake:
And here is the final result… What do you think?
Here is another area in the backyard:
If you ever wondered what it would look like if you partially xeriscaped your yard with pine needle mulch… well, here you have it!
I know it may sound odd to get excited about xeriscaping… Yet for me, ripping up the grass, mulching with free pine needles and planting free pine trees feels like a winning combination. Less watering, less mowing, less fertilizing, free automatic mulch replenishment, eco-friendly natural look… I haven’t seen anyone design their yard in such a way on purpose so I figured I’d post it up for inspiration.