Mulch Now, Plant Later

Did you know California residents use more than 50% of our drinking water to water their yards?

It’s true! In fact, a 1,000 square foot lawn with an average sprinkler system uses about 25,000 gallons of water per year. In the midst of a historic drought, that’s precious water we simply can’t afford to waste!

Luckily, the drought is teaching us to use our resources more wisely—to let our lawns go golden, while still watering our trees — and to plant water wise natives at home.

Would you believe a sustainable landscape with native plants uses nearly 20,000 gallons less than a turf lawn? Pretty impressive, right? Not only does planting natives save money, it also contributes to a climate-resilient future for us all.

Luckily, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is currently offering rebates up to $1.75 per square foot to help you ditch your turf!

Summer isn’t the best time to for planting, though. Instead, we suggest you mulch now and plant later.

17357277266_54117af3f4_kWhy Mulch?

Mulch is our unsung hero, our hidden mighty miracle maker. It’s the ‘living sponge’ in our landscape that saves water during the dry months, and captures rainwater during the rainy season. If we mulched every yard we could conserve a tremendous amount of precious water in LA. – Andy Lipkis

Nature makes no mistakes! Fallen leaves, branches and bark accumulate to form a permeable layer on the ground—mulch. The mulch enriches soil with nutrients as it breaks down, and acts a sponge—helping the soil absorb and hold water while nurturing plants and important microorganisms and creatures living in it.

Mulch also prevents soil from becoming compacted, which prevents runoff. Good news for those of us living in a drought!

How Do I Mulch?

Wondering how to get started? We recommend sheet mulching. Sheet mulching is a great way to kill off your lawn and prepare your soil to plant later on in the year. It’s cheap, easy and a fun family project!

First, you’ll need to determine how much mulch you need. Here’s how:

  1. Measure the width and length (in feet) of the space you’d like to mulch.
  2. Determine the area by multiplying the width by the length.
  3. Multiply the area by .25 to estimate the cubic feet.
  4. Divide the cubic feet by 27, to figure out the cubic yards.


Did you know can often have mulch delivered to your home, for FREE if you live in Los Angeles? Contact your local arborist, but make sure to request chips from a healthy tree!

If you’re looking to buy, visit your local nursery or home improvement store. But please, avoid sawdust or wood shavings, as they do not allow soil to breathe. Mulch chips should range between 1” and 3” in size.

Looking for a DIY project? Make your own mulch! Use a chipper, which you can rent from a home improvement store, to make mulch from “waste” from your pruned trees. It’s a great way to reduce and reuse in your own yard.


Once your mulch is ready to go:

  • Cover your lawn with six layers of cardboard or newspaper.
  • Spread 3-5 inches of mulch over the top layer, leaving a few inches of space from your tree trunk or the base of a plant to prevent rotting.
  • Add a little water—enough to make the cardboard damp.
  • Continue to water occasionally, until the cardboard has decomposed completely.

Then you can kick back and start planning your drought-friendly additions in the fall, once the weather cools down.16940131048_bf8337d111_k

Need some inspiration? Check out our recommendations for 10 drought-friendly plants!

By Erika Abdelatif

Erika Abdelatif is TreePeople’s Social Media and Digital Content Manager. When she isn't creating a climate-resilient LA via the Facebook, she's probably writing in a coffee shop, infesting the internet with memes, or watching an open mic.