Coachella Valley Water District - Rebate Programs
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Study Guide

Thank you for your interest in the Turf Replacement Program. We hope you find this brief tutorial helps to make your important project even more successful. Your new landscape will benefit both you and the environment in many ways in addition to “just” conserving water.

Preserve our limited drinking water

Your new drought-tolerant landscape may reduce your need for outdoor irrigation long term by as much as 80 %

Beautify our neighborhoods

You’ll beautify your neighborhoods by using richly colored and textured elements for your landscapes that meet our program guidelines. non-plant material such as rock, and from the thousands of plants that thrive in your climate, many of which provide food, habitat and other benefits to birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

Reduce yard maintenance

You should be able to reduce or eliminate the need for weekly mowing and use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Other than occasional watering and weeding, your new landscape will require less maintenance; freeing you up to enjoy the beautiful new landscape!

Create higher-value spaces

When you add elements like outdoor areas for play, seating or entertaining, you create spaces that are more functional and useful than hundreds of square feet of additional grass.

The Internet has an abundance of free information about drought-tolerant landscaping, from instructions on how to kill your lawn to guidelines for efficient irrigation methods. Begin your search with the Resource Tab on this website, where we have listed many of our favorite sites.

Three terrific sites are: Los Angeles Coast Water Wise Gardening, Garden Spot and the Santa Clara Valley Landscape Conversion Photo Gallery. In addition to photos of beautiful landscapes,these sites have extensive on-line databases of drought tolerant plants, including photos and information about the plants, such as size, color of blooms, whether they attract wildlife such as butterflies, and more.The Garden Spot also hosts free on-line “California Friendly Landscape and Gardening Classes”.

Another resource is very close to home. Remember the old saying “imitation is the highest form of flattery?” Flatter your neighbors. A sure-fire way to end up with a landscape you’ll love is to simply copy existing landscapes that you admire. Walk around your neighborhood. Identify what it is you like about a particular landscape, the plants, rocks, mulch, seating area, etc. If you’re feeling bold, knock on the front door of these homes and ask about their experience, who their designer and/or contractor was, etc. You’ll find most homeowners take pride in their landscape and love to talk about it.
Stores, nurseries and botanical gardens are other good sources of ideas. Non-plant material, such as pavers, can greatly enhance a landscape (and most are maintenance-free!). Take a trip to your local hardware stores where you’ll find non-plant material that is readily available or can be special ordered, and their associated prices. For plants, you can explore local nurseries to see what’s in season.

Finally, a landscape designer experienced in drought-tolerant landscape can be a terrific choice. Be sure to check out some of his or her completed projects before committing to work with them, to make sure their concept of “beautiful” is the same as yours.

It’s very important to get a rough yet realistic estimate of the cost of your project before you start spending money; we’ve all heard the horror stories about the kitchen remodel that stopped with the work only partially complete because homeowners grossly underestimated the cost of the projects and ran out of money. This does not have to happen to you and your new landscape if you take just a little time to plan it out.

Two of the most important factors related to cost are: (1) whether you plan on using expensive materials (exotic plants and stone, for example) and (2) whether you plan on doing most of the work yourself or hiring others to do it?

We have found that you can expect to pay anywhere from less than $5 per square foot to over $20, depending on your answers to these two questions.

If considering hiring others to do the work, it’s important to get the right person for the job. One of the best ways to do this is to find landscapes that you admire, and ask those homeowners who they worked with (designer and/or installer) and whether they would recommend that person. So if you find a professional you might be interested in hiring, ask that person for references.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about cost.

  1. Cost of design: Our Turf Replacement Program requires a design but NOT one done by a professional. A simple pencil drawing will suffice.

    If you want to hire a landscape designer to create the drawing it will cost about $300. Another option is to purchase residential landscape design software, available on the Internet for under $100. You might find the software takes a little getting use to, but you might also end up enjoying the process. There is an excellent free “How To” design course at This class leads you through the plan drawings step-by-step. We highly recommend you take this short on-line class prior to developing your plans.
  2. Cost of killing and removing you lawn: The most labor-intensive part of the process may be removing your old lawn. Although killing the existing lawn may be time consuming, removing the dead grass can be a lot of work, as it usually requires removing the top two to four inches of soil. You may be able to hire someone to do this for you for about $500-$900 depending on the size of the lawn.
  3. Cost of the irrigation system: It takes a new drought-tolerant garden one or two years to get “established”, that is, for the plants and root systems to significantly mature. Once established, your Turf Replacement Program landscape will require much less water than during its establishment period. Some of the factors you should consider when estimating the cost of irrigating the new landscape include:
    1. Will you be able to use an existing irrigation system that meet program guidelines, with minor improvements, to meet the lower water needs of your new Turf Replacement Program landscape?
    2. Do you want to install a completely new, very efficient irrigation system such as a drip system?
    3. Can you do most of the work yourself or do you need to hire someone?
    4. Do you want a fully automated system or are you willing to invest the time necessary to do a lot of the watering yourself?
  4. Cost of hardscape: Hardscape can be a wonderful addition to most landscape: new walkways, patios for outside entertaining or dining, decorative planters that add interest to your landscape. Hardscape features can add the most pleasure to your garden by increasing your livable space and creating a peaceful place for you to relax. Another benefit to most hardscapes is they require little maintenance: no watering, mowing, fertilizing, etc.
  5. There are two basic cost issues related to adding hardscape. First: the cost of material can range from a couple of dollars per square foot to more than five or six dollars depending on your choice of materials (such as inexpensive brick vs. flagstone).

    The second cost issue is whether you will install the hardscape yourself (zero labor cost) or pay someone to do it (usually several dollars per square foot.). As always, when considering paying someone to do the work for you, check their references – that’s the best indicator of whether you will be happy with their work or not.

    You’ll find a lot of information about hardscapes at your local hardware and specialty stores and on the Internet. This research will help you figure out whether it’s a project you can handle yourself or if you need to hire someone.
  6. Cost of plants: Probably the three most important cost factors related to the cost of plants are:
    1. Common vs. exotic: exotic plants will cost more, common plants less. While it’s fun to add a few uncommon plants, they can get pricy.
    2. Less mature vs. full grown plants: fairly young plants of a particular species will cost you less than larger, more mature individuals that a nursery has had to “nurse” for several years. Other than trees, many plants can achieve close to full size in one to three years. Some experts believe it’s healthier for plants if they are purchased young and allowed to mature in the soil that will become their permanent home, as oppose to maturing in a pot.
    3. Labor. As with other aspects of your landscape, doing it yourself is, well, free. Expect to pay about $3 to $7 per plant for installation.

The landscape design you submit must conform to the Turf Replacement Program Design Requirements or it will be returned and your application denied. But don’t panic; just take a few minutes now to review those requirements.

A professionally drawn design is NOT required: You may submit a simple, hand-drawn design, using simple icons to represent landscape elements, such as circles to show where trees will go. We assume most of the designs submitted will be simple pencil drawings done by homeowners. However, the drawing must show enough detail to illustrate the overall design of the project.

Check out our RESOURCES tab on this website for helpful tips, and helpful hints for creating your own perfect garden.

It’s worth our mentioning again that there is an excellent “How To” course at This class leads you step-by-step through the drawing of your plans.

We highly recommend you take this short on-line class prior to developing your plans. Of course you always have the option of hiring a professional landscape designer.

Did you know that about half of the water used at the average home goes towards landscape irrigation, and that about half of the landscape water is wasted? Most sprinkler systems are inefficient and tend to waste a lot of water.

The most water-efficient irrigation system is you! That’s right; people who water by hand tend to use the least amount of water on their landscapes. The drawback with this method is that people are not always available when the plants need watering, so the latter become unhealthy and the former unhappy.

Fortunately, you can design your landscape to incorporate the most drought-tolerant plants, requiring no more than once per week watering, even during the summer (certain short-rooted plants in hot sunny parts of the landscape).

When the convenience of an in-ground irrigation system is needed, it’s important to know that different types of systems are more water-efficient than others. Below are the major types of water-efficient irrigation systems.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is a precise, slow, direct system of applying water to the soil, which makes 100% of the water available to the plant. Where drip systems release so many gallons of water per hour, traditional spray heads release up to four or more gallons per minute. The environmental and water-saving benefits of drip include decreased run-off, evaporation, and overspray. Drip irrigation is often preferred where you have relatively few plants spread over a large area (for example, a few large bushes with a lot of open space between them) or where you have hard-to-water areas such as narrow planters. When installing drip, you must include a device to lower the water pressure and a special filter to keep the system from clogging up.


Bubblers are a form of precise watering that deliver water deep into the soil – hence, it is especially useful around plants that have deep roots, such as trees. Bubblers are also useful in certain planter boxes where traditional sprinklers will not work. Bubblers are durable, require little maintenance, require minimal filtration, minimize overspray and evaporation, and have an easily adjustable flow rate.

Stream Rotor Pop-ups Rotating Nozzles

Stream rotors replace traditional pop-up spray heads – that is, you simply screw the old top (the nozzle) off the pop-up and screw the stream rotor back in its place. Compared to traditional spray heads, stream rotors are fairly water conserving and only release about 25 percent of the water per minute: reducing evaporation and reducing runoff. Stream rotors work well where you need to water a lot of plants that have fairly short root systems, like many groundcovers and bunchgrasses. The alternative irrigation system is to run an extensive drip system.

For more information on any of these irrigation methods, go to the websites of the big irrigation manufacturers, such as Rain Bird and Toro, and go to:

  • Home Depot
  • Lowes

Choosing the right plants will be one of the toughest decisions you make. There are almost too many potential factors to consider. This is where spending time at nurseries, on the Internet, and observing what grows well in your neighborhood will really pay off.

When selecting plants for your garden, it is important to (1) understand the characteristics (such as the amount of sunlight) of the location to determine what plants are suited for that area and (2) understand the water needs of existing plants in that location – to make sure your additions can be placed on the same watering cycle.

Some important things to consider:

  1. If you have clay soil, certain plants may never do well
  2. Whether the garden is predominantly in sun or shade
  3. How hardy do the plants have to be (do you have a green thumb, or should the plants be nearly indestructible)?
  4. Are you looking to create a garden of a certain theme, such as a hummingbird or butterfly garden, or succulent garden, or capture a southwestern U.S. style or casual coastal?
  5. Do the colors or plants need to complement your home’s design or exterior paint?
  6. Color of foliage and color of blooms and time of year of the blooms
  7. How tall and wide should plants be when mature (usually taller as you get close to tall structures such as the house, smaller as you get closer to smaller “structures” such as sidewalks and walkways)?
  8. How much variety or uniformity of color, size and shape are you looking for?
  9. Are the plants evergreen or deciduous?
  10. Can you benefit from deciduous trees near south-facing walls, which help warm the house in the winter and keep it cool in the summer?
  11. Do the plants attract critters you might not like, such as bees?
  12. Are members of your family allergic to certain plants?
  13. Can plants you’re considering be toxic to kids or pets?
  14. Avoid invasive plants

Choosing the plants that are right for you can be one of the most difficult steps in this process. There are so many potential plants from which to choose, you will feel like a kid in a candy shop.

Hardscapes are structures within your landscape design such as terraces, patios, walls and paths. They are features constructed of hard materials including brick, stone, wood, and concrete. However, it is important to use permeable materials, or place impermeable materials (such as bricks and pavers) with enough space to allow water to infiltrate between them. Allowing water to percolate into the soil reduces or eliminates runoff and helps irrigate the soil.

Hardscape can create architectural interest by changing the shape or elevation of your garden, as is the case with short retaining walls and terraces, or direct the eye, as well as the foot, by forming permeable walkways that meander through your landscape.

Properly removing your existing grass lawn is one of the most important components of installing a California friendly garden. If the existing grass lawn is not completely killed, including the roots that might be deep underground, it will come back and ruin your new landscape. Premature planting of your new garden will mean years of follow-up weed removal, which you do NOT want to do. So make sure the lawn is dead, dead, dead!

There are a few different methods to kill your lawn, including herbicide application and solarization. Before you kill your lawn, you must:

Determine what kind of grass you have

  • Cool season turf: Marathon, Fescue, Bluegrass, or grasses that stay green in the winter
  • Warm season turf: St. Augustine, Bermuda, Zoysia, or any rhizomatous grass that is brown in the winter

Determine your method of removal

Cool Season Grasses. Here are a few options of how to kill cool season grasses.

  • Smother with mulch, no plastic
  • Strip and flip using a sod-cutting machine
  • Herbicide

Warm Season Grasses are harder to kill, especially in the winter when they are dormant, because you have to kill all the roots. Here are a few methods of removal:

  • Solarization (cover with plastic)
  • Herbicide

When in doubt, assume you have at least some warm season grass, so you’ll have no regrets later.

Some methods for killing the grass lawn


  • Cover your entire lawn with black plastic sheets and weigh down with bricks or rocks.
  • The lawn must stay covered for at least 6 weeks to ensure that it has been properly killed.
  • Mow the dead grass to a very short length and remove with a sod cutter or shovel.


According to the UC Guide to Healthy Lawns, the most effective way to kill your grass lawn is through the application of a nonselective herbicide, like glyphosate. Glyophosate is the main ingredient in “Roundup”, which is readily available at most garden supply stores. While herbicides are undeniably effective, they also pose threats to the environment if used improperly. It is up to the consumer to determine the costs and benefits of herbicide use. Here are some key points to consider if you plan on using this technique:

  • Water, grow, spray, kill; repeat. Apply herbicide while your turf is actively growing (non-winter months) to ensure proper absorption. Don’t apply if it is expected to rain within 24 hours; don’t water for 24 hours.
  • Do not disturb the sprayed area for at least 7 days, as it may take up to 7 days for the plant to fully absorb the herbicide.
  • Once the grass has died, mow the lawn at a very low setting—as close to the bare soil as possible—and collect the resulting material.

NOTE: In order to prevent unnecessary pollution and the destruction of non-targeted plant material, it is important that herbicide is not applied in windy conditions or 24 hours before a rain event. Visit Cornell University’s Pesticide Management Education Program for more information on glyphosate. Before applying any herbicide, be sure to read and understand the label. When it comes to herbicide, the label is the law.

The techniques listed above are not meant to be exhaustive. The Learn how to kill your lawn in greater detail with UC Guide to Healthy Lawns and the Tree of Life Nursery listed in the resources section of this website provide excellent guides on how to kill your lawn.

Before you plant your new garden, understand your soil. Healthy soil will help your plants get established and thrive. Soil texture and organic content should all be taken into consideration in preparation of your new landscape.

Drainage is one of the most important characteristics of your garden’s soil. Soil needs to be porous enough to allow air and water to travel in between pore spaces and, ultimately, to the roots of the plants. Sandy soils tend to have good drainage, while clay soils have poor drainage.

Clay soils

Moist clay soil, when pressed into a ball, will hold together well and not crumble when dropped. There is little or no presence of grit or large coarse particles and you can form a long ribbon when pressed between your thumb and index finger.

Clay soils are made up of tiny, microscopic mineral particles packed closely together that leave little pore space for air. These poorly aerated soils absorb water slowly, and irrigation water may puddle or runoff. These soils have poor drainage (downward movement of water). Once wet, clay soils hold a lot of water but in a manner that locks the water away from plants.

Sandy soils

Moist sandy soil will form a cast but barely hold together, and will only form a short ribbon, if any, when pressed between the thumb and index finger; you can feel the coarse grit of the relatively large particles. Sandy soil is well aerated and drains well. Sandy soils absorb water quickly when irrigated. They hold little water and dry quickly. Because sandy soils are well drained, nutrients are lost from the soil more quickly than to clay, thus, requiring more frequent feeding and watering.

Loam soils

Moist loam soil will form a ball easily and will make a ribbon of approximately one inch or more. You may feel some grit from a small amount of sand particles that are present. A handful of loam forms a pliable ball that breaks apart with a gentle touch.

Loam soils are easy to work with. Loam soils are an ideal balance between large and small mineral particles, giving loam soil the title of ideal garden soil. In this type of soil, no single soil particle predominates, hence offering a combination of large and small pore spaces. Loam soil drains well, and doesn’t dry out very quickly. Nutrients will be lost at a moderate rate. Watering frequency will also be moderate compared to sand.

You can change the texture of the soil in your garden, but it will require work. A less costly alternative is to amend your soil. You need to work with what you have, and make what you have work for you.

Ideal soil amendments

The ideal soil amendment for most situations is composted organic matter; it adds nutrients to the soil and increases the soil’s water-holding capacity. It encourages healthy populations of beneficial soil microorganisms. However, composed organic matter, if purchased, costs more than non-composted material (such as wood chips).

Non-composted organic matter is also helpful, breaking up the soil and increasing its water-holding capacity. Soils and microorganisms need organic matter, and organic matter needs microbes for decomposition (composting).

In heavy clay soils, organic matter increases the porosity of the soil, making for better soil aeration. Inorganic amendments, such as gypsum and lime, also help loosen clay soil. In sandy soils, organic matter gets into the pore spaces to act like a sponge to hold water and nutrients. It’s a good idea to rototill the new garden area if this was not already done as part of the grass removal process. This helps work the amendments into the soil, by completely breaking up the soil about six inches deep.

Installing the plants is done after you have installed almost everything else, including the hardscape and irrigation system.

After deciding on a location for your plant, dig the planting hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the plant container. If you have heavy clay soil, you may want to increase the size of the hole. This step is very important if you have clay soil; the impenetrable clay may become like a clay pot, preventing the plant from extending its roots into the soil and trapping water in the “tub” where it will destroy the plant.

Fill the bottom of the hole with native soil that has been amended (composted material). Put in enough soil, and compact it, so the plant crown will be just above ground-level.

Pre-irrigate the planting hole: fill it with water and allow it to drain into the soil, then add root stimulant (bought at any nursery or big-box store).
Remove the plant from the container, and avoid damaging the roots. If you find the plant had become root-bound (the roots circled around the inside of the container), gently uncurl the roots.

Fill in the rest of the hole with a mix of native soil, high-quality amendments (composted material), and a little starter-fertilizer. You want to use about 60% native soil, so this area becomes a transition zone from the potting soil the plant came in and the native soil around it.

For trees and sometimes shrubs, create a “watering basin” around the base of the plant. Form excess backfill into a circular berm, or mound of earth shaped into a ring around the tree, to direct water to the roots. Slowly fill the area with water and allow it to drain, and then repeat this.

For more detailed instructions on plant installation, please see the Tree of Life Nursery Planting Guide in the resources section of this website

Like any new landscape, California friendly plants require careful attention during their initial establishment period. What we want during the “establishment period” is for the root system to become expansive – in other words, we care less about how well the plant looks above ground, but more about how well it’s doing underground. Once its root system becomes well established (hence, “establishment period”), your new plants should thrive.

We recommend you follow a few simple Tree of Life Nursery guidelines to ensure proper establishment:

  • Be careful not to overwater your new plants. If the ground stays soggy for too long, plant-damaging disease can develop. Let the first few inches of soil dry out between waterings, but do not let the root ball dry out during the first 2-3 months of a plant’s establishment period.
  • When deciding about whether infrequent, deep soaking is preferable to short, frequent watering, consider the plant’s root system. Does your plant have relatively short roots such as with bunch grass? Or more expansive root systems as you would expect with most shrubs and trees?
  • You many need to water your new plants 1-3 times a week if you plant in the summer. Once established, you can water deeply once every two to three weeks in the summer, depending on the kind of plant and the size of its root system.
  • Rainwater alone is often enough to satisfy a California friendly plant in the winter. When possible, winter is the best time to plant native plants in order to get the benefit of that extra rainwater. During the spring, you may want to water on occasion to supplement infrequent periods of rain.
  • Avoid watering during the hottest parts of the day, as this encourages evaporation and is not necessarily efficient for the plant. Also, as a general rule it’s a good idea to avoid getting water on the leaves in the late evening.
  • To retain moisture, use composted mulch around the plant, but not up against the stem or trunk. This helps prevent evaporation, encourages the growth of beneficial organisms, and suppresses the growth of weeds.


Most California friendly plants will flourish without the use of artificial fertilizers. If you choose to use fertilizer, be sure to use an “all purpose” type of plant food during cool season plantings (October through May). Generally, you can cut the amount of fertilizer given for general ornamental plants in half when applying fertilizers to California friendly plants. Fertilizers often contain high levels of nitrogen, which can be environmentally harmful in high concentrations. This excess nitrogen is then carried through our storm drains and deposited directly in our coastal waters.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether or not to use fertilizer on your landscape.


You may need to thin and cut back certain types of plants in order to direct growth of the maturing plant. Pruning a plant often stresses the system but encourages new growth and flowering. It is not necessary to prune all plants. Some people like the appearance of a well-maintained, pruned garden, while others like a more natural look. Ask your local nursery if any of your plants require pruning and, if so, what time of year they should be pruned and by how much.

Long-term maintenance

The more effort you put into maintaining your landscape in its early stages, the less you will have to maintain it in the long run. No more mowing, edging, or spending countless hours maintaining a water-thirsty grass lawn. Consider adding a couple of inches of organic mulch (preferably composted mulch) annually, and periodically weed your garden to avoid unwanted plants from getting established. It is also important to occasionally check your irrigation system to ensure that it is running efficiently without any leaks.

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