Create a Beautiful Drought Resistant Front Yard

Six sustainable landscaping alternatives for your front yard.

A 1942 suburban home updated with a drought resistant front yard. (Image courtesy of Dante Silliman)

California is no stranger to drought, and as it moves firmly into the middle of its fourth year in one, it’s time to rethink the landscaping options for your front yard.

A 1942 suburban home updated with a drought resistant front yard. (Image courtesy of Dante Silliman)
A 1942 suburban home updated with a drought resistant front yard. (Image courtesy of Dante Silliman)

With statewide water restrictions in place, many homeowners have let their once green lawns wither away, or removed them completely. While these moves were necessary for water conservation, oftentimes the result is dried up patches of dead grass left in the front yard.

This drastically reduces the curb appeal of the house and makes the neighborhood unappealing for visitors and homeowners alike. Luckily, there are more options than ever to create a beautiful, drought-resistant landscape that’s easy to maintain and doesn’t depend solely on cactus or succulents.

Here are six landscaping alternatives that will make your neighborhood sing – no matter how hot it gets outside: 

(image via
(Image via


A hardy groundcover can take over where the lawn left off, putting down roots to prevent soil erosion and adding a splash of color while requiring little maintenance to keep them healthy.

There are many drought resistant plants to choose from, and these two examples both do well in the Sonoma County climate. The biggest consideration is whether the yard is primarily in the sun or the shade during the day.

Pink Rockrose
In a yard that’s mostly sunny, Rockrose is an excellent choice that requires almost no care. (Image via Wikipedia)
creeping barberry
In a yard that’s mostly shade, creeping barberry will thrive; blooming yellow flowers mid spring and then blue berries in early summer. (Image via


For those who miss having a lawn, there’s still hope. Decorative grasses can be added throughout, and don’t require mowing. Here are three varieties that flourish in Northern California:

(NOTE: This section had suggested Pampas grass, as I’ve had it in my backyard for years without realizing it’s an invasive plant. I’ve replaced my recommendation from Pampas grass to California sweet grass.) California sweet grass has delicate white flowers and will grow in shady conditions with average to low water. Bay Area native. (Image via Flikr/East Bay Wilds)
blue panic
Blue panic grass is a tufted, perennial grass that needs a minimum of care. (Image via Lisa Miner)
Maidengrass is an ornamental grass that blooms in the late summer. (Image via Chalet Nursery)
decorative grasses
Some inspiration… (Image via Amazing Home Decorations)


Many gardeners might be mourning the loss of their annual flowers due to water conservation efforts, but there’s a slew of strong, drought-resistant perennials that are just as vibrant when blooming, and need much less attention to thrive. Here are the top three for California:

(Image via RockYards Landscaping)
Autumn Joy has white buds in the warmer months, turning to rose-pink in the early fall.. (Image via Rave Plants)
The Purple Coneflower adds a splash of color to any drought resistant yard, and has the added bonus of attracting butterflies in the warmer months. (Image via
Bearded Iris comes in a wide array of colors. (Image via World of Irises)

Decorative Stone

Decorative stones, gravel, or aggregate can be used to create walkways, act as a backdrop for plants, and require zero water or maintenance. There’s a variety of rock offered at landscaping supply centers, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot.

river rocks
River rock is smooth, comes in various sizes, and differing shades from light gray to browns, blacks, and blue or green. (Image via Houzz)
decomposed granite
Decomposed granite is finer than gravel, and can be used in place of mulch to surround garden beds and trees. (Image via
Pea gravel can be used on walkways, between pavers, or integrated with other rocks in the yard. (Image via

Native Plants

A surefire way to make certain that the plants chosen for your yard will thrive in the California heat is to head to the nursery to pick out plants that are native to the area. These are the plants that have flourished through California’s cycles of drought and rain:

California Native Plants
California native plants. (Image via
California sagebrush
California sagebrush is sometimes used as a spice in cooking, or as a tea. (Image via EthnoHerbalist)
Manzanita: these evergreen shrubs have delicate looking pink blossoms that flower in late winter to early spring. (Image via
coyote sagebrush
Coyote brush is a hale perennial that blooms in the winter. (Image via Canative Garden)


Hardscaping is the ultimate in low-maintenance and creates a clean, minimalist look. Examples of hardscaping include paved areas, driveways, retaining walls, and stone or brick walkways.

Stone walkway and retaining walls. (Image via Pioneer Landscapes)
Walkway with pavers and pea gravel lead to the entrance of this Tudor-style home. (Image via Houselogic)
The hardscape used in front of this contemporary home blends seamlessly with the architecture. (Image via