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Keeping in mind that I live in a rental, I am tossing around ideas for a cooler, more aesthetically pleasing back yard.  I have a dug in garden started around the perimeter and am looking to fill the middle with??  My three ideas:  1. Concrete paving stone to make a place for a table, fellowship, etc.  (Functional but not cooling)  2.  Wood chips (Cooling but I've heard it encourage roaches?)  3.  Lawn  (Cooling but not so functional as I don't want chairs on a new lawn.)  I scored 16 lovely garden fence panels at a yard sale to add to the mix.  Any ideas or advice is welcome.  I'm not in a huge hurry as anything I do will cost money and I am truly dragging my feet on spending much on a yard I don't own.  Still, I live here; God placed me HERE and I want to be surrounded by His beauty.

Yes.  I am leaving this photo sideways because I refuse to waste any more time trying to turn it.


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Irregardless of what you choose to do, please make sure to clear it with the owner of the property first.  Alterations that cost significant amount of money to reverse (like removing grass or stone), may put you in violation of your rental agreement.  

Personally, I like wood chips.

Wood chips can be a scorpion attractant as well (partially for cover, partially for food). When I bought my house there were a lot of wood chips in the landscaping. When I removed it I found *many* scorpions.

Lawn = work.

Pavers are my vote. The great thing about pavers is they're not sealed. So, if you want things cool pick up light colored pavers, and then 20 minutes before you use the area, hose the pavers down.The moisture on/in the pavers will evaporate cooling the area. Works particularly well when paired with a sunshade/umbrella.

Smart Jody, very smart!  Thanks for posting that.

Thanks guys.  I like the idea of wood chips, also.  I don't have scorpions here (so blessed) and lizards are plentiful but I certainly don't want to encourage them to move in!  I am just concerned about roaches. They truly creep me out.  Pavers  would be easy to just pick up and move if we should need to vacate.  I've pretty much talked myself out of the lawn thing.  Perhaps a small square of pavers surrounded by an edging of wood chips... If only I could be assured they wouldn't hide the dreaded roach... No one here has linked the two??

I thought roaches liked food scraps.  I've not heard of them in wood chips but crickets, yes.  I *think* if you are walking on the chips, the insects will not be inclined to move in.  That's my theory anyway since I just scattered a couple yards of euc chips around my garden bed for pathways.

Roaches, like a number of different insects, will be attracted to the moisture that gets trapped in the wood chips. So if the woodchips stay dry, it shouldn't attract them.

Woodchips get my vote from a permaculture perspective.  See reasoning below.

Lawn.  Pros = pretty and green, has a cooling effect, are plants and as such are capable of removing carbon and other pollution from air/water/soil (though not as effectively as trees).  As a ground cover, it slows evaporation. Does not add to the Urban Heat Island effect.  Cons = The great majority of "lawn" grass that makes it in our climate is Bermuda.  Once you have Bermuda, it is exceptionally difficult to eradicate and you basically have it forever (unless you're willing to use repeated application of poisons).  I've been dealing with Bermuda remnants for 15+ years.  Not the highest use of valuable water resources. Creates a fair amount of work to maintain it.

Pavers.  Pros = easy to move or remove if you should need to.  Can be taken with you when you move.  Can provide a stable surface for outdoor furniture.  Cons = is a hard surface that will heat up and add to the urban heat island effect (UHI) both at a micro scale (your home) and a macro scale (our city).  You'll get temporary cooling by watering it down but that's it.  Plus, now you've used our most precious resource - water - to perform one function only as opposed to stacking functions. However, having said this, I will also say that because these are pavers and not solid cement, for example, some water does flow through the cracks to the soil below and that will tend to stay moist for quite a long time. In a way, it acts as inorganic mulch and prohibits SOME evaporation from the soil.  But you have to ask yourself, am I using my water for the best and highest purpose?  What are my yields?  Also, pavers are a resource that uses a lot of embodied energy to create and transport.  If you choose this option, you can cut down your expenses by buying from Craigslist or at yard sales.

Woodchips.  Pros:  I live on a property with LOTS of woodchips.  I've never noticed a cockroach problem nor a scorpion problem. My biggest problem with woodchips are that I am sensitive to the fungal spores that grow in them if I leave the pile too long before spreading them on my landscape.  Please wear a mask when you deal with woodchips.  The fungal spores are not a problem once you're not in the pile moving them around.  Woodchips are an organic product (they will break down over time) and a waste product (using them keeps a precious resource out of the landfills).  They can be free from arborists.  They help build soils, hinder evaporation and conserve moisture.  Cons:  The aforementioned spores when digging in a pile that's sat for awhile.  Some people don't like the way they look.

If you want to see woodchips on steroids, go out to Singh Farms - NE corner of Thomas Rd and the 101 east.  That place is FULL of woodchips.  It's fun to walk around out there because the ground is springy.  You can purchase truckloads of his more finely ground woodchips if they are more aesthetically pleasing than the ones you can get free.

Woodchips are fantastic as soil builders. If you don't have the scorpion problem, then I concur.

And you're right about the fungal spores. I have similar issues with the fungi in the dirt here. Wearing a dust mask when doing any digging is a good idea.

Re: scorpion problems.  It does seem to be that certain neighborhoods are more prone to scorpions than others.  I think there's a map of where the "scorpion neighborhoods" are online someplace.

De Ann:  I'm curious if you've spoken to the property owner about planting some trees?  If so, what was their response?  Trees would add immensely to the natural beauty of the property.

If you cannot plant trees, you could build some temporary structures out of inexpensive materials (concrete reinforcement wire, aka "remesh") and grow vines up it for shade, height, food, etc.  You could even shelter a seating area within such a  structure.

I cannot plant trees or have any structure that can be seen above the six foot block wall, not even a shed.  The front yard must stay in step with approved vegetation but I have permission to plant anything I want in the back as long as it cant be seen.  SO... having vine covered fencing is a lovely option. ( I have started a honeysuckle on the back wall and it looks like it will make it.)  I am encouraged that wood chips can be FREE.  I like free  :-)  I would LOVE to have trees but I think fruit bushes are more practical for me.

I looked up Chip Drop and am wondering if anyone has used them before?  

Hmmm....that's quite a challenge!  =)

If it was me, I might create a lovely native nectary and soil-building garden.  Raised paths meandering through sunken earthworks planted with hardy natives that thrive on our natural rainfall.  You could even use some of the dirt excavated from the earthworks to build a raised patio with a vining trellis surround. 

This plan could stack several functions:

--by using sunken earthworks you are planting the water needed by the vegetation.  The sunken shape also naturally attracts organic matter.  Combine organic matter and water and you have no-muss passive composting.

--by adding native plants that thrive in our climate you don't have the added expense of additional water after the establishment phase (2-3 yrs).  Even during establishment they use so much less water than a veggie garden.  Consider very low water use natives need approximately 7" of water per year.  This can be covered by our annual rainfall.  A mature citrus will need 43" of water per year.  A 10 x 10 ft veggie garden will need 65" of water per year!  All that extra water over and above our rainfall amount needs to come from somewhere. 

--native plants have deep roots which will allow them to delve into our soils and bring nutrients to the surface while also decompacting it. 

--native plants attract native pollinators - thus you start to fast-track a mature eco-system.

--native plants, combined with earthworks can be very beautiful and inspirational to contemplate.

--your landscape will survive and thrive within it's water budget and cause less work (and more enjoyment!) for you.  You will not have a degenerative impact on our water supply but will be rebuilding the water holding capacity of your soil with will make it increasingly fertile.  You will be combating UHI with your greenery.  People will be amazed at the diversity of life in your garden - it will become a lyrical expression of your enjoyment of our unique ecosystem.

Here is a picture from the Milagro Co-housing project in Tucson.  All their plantings are in sunken, water harvesting earthworks.


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