Crazy about Kurapia
Contrary to the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” there’s a new landscape alternative that looks like a lush lawn but requires little or no watering and very little maintenance.
It’s called Kurapia, and Brad Smith and his crew have begun installing the new drought-tolerant and low-maintenance ground cover in the Santa Barbara area. He is the founder and coordinator of the Youth Drought Project, a Santa Barbara nonprofit that gives high school and college students experience replacing lawns with attractive low-water landscapes.
“I heard about Kurapia from a customer in Santa Barbara and decided to research it,” said Mr. Smith, 63. “In a trial at the University of California at Davis, Kurapia, which was developed by the Japanese, looked just as good with only three waterings per year as it did when watered weekly.”
According to the report, “The first thing to note about Kurapia is its vigor.” It went on to observe that “the quality of the plant was not significantly affected by the irrigation level. Three annual waterings performed slightly better with an overall appearance rating of 4.2 than weekly waterings at a rating of only 4.0.”
Mr. Smith pointed out that since “Davis has a much longer, hotter, drier summer season than coastal California, Kurapia requires even less water in Santa Barbara. Consequently, it offers a way to maintain a green lawn, even during drought, with little or no water. It grows only 2 to 3 inches high so it doesn’t require mowing. Its small white flowers attract bees, but for those who prefer neither, the flowers can occasionally be mowed off.”
Trinity Episcopal Church at State and Micheltorena streets has installed the new landscape alternative, and so have Chuck and Stephanie Slosser who live on El Monte Drive on the Mesa.
“YDP didn’t install at those locations, but we’re working at a residence on upper State Street,” said Mr. Smith.
The Youth Drought Project has developed a nonchemical sheet-mulching technique to eliminate old lawns and plant Kurapia at the same time.
“It is planted in plugs whose roots extend down 5- to 10-feet deep. It takes about a week for the plugs to start spreading out, and it takes about three months for the lawn to be completely filled out. The cost is well under that to replace a lawn with new sod,” said Mr. Smith, who grew up in Orange County, attended UC Irvine and had a woodworking business for 15 years from 1985 to 2010.
After moving to Santa Barbara in 2012, he became interested in water usage when he began helping a friend organize the Sweetwater Collaborative, a nonprofit agency that was founded in 2013 to educate the community on water-wise practices such as rain gardens, graywater systems, rain tanks and native landscapes.
Now his focus is on the Youth Drought Project, which he founded in 2014.
“YDP helps make Santa Barbara yards more drought-tolerant by assisting property owners to use sheet mulching to convert their lawns to more sustainable gardens and install rainwater harvesting systems,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s also a work training program for the high school and college students, teaching them skills to use in the real world and paying them for their time.”
He explained that the sheet mulching process involves covering the grass with cardboard and mulch to kill it.
“At the same time, it creates a rich, moist soil for future planting,” said Mr. Smith. “Once the grass dies and cardboard decomposes, low-water landscaping can be planted, and roof rainwater harvesting and irrigation systems can be installed to keep it alive.
“Best of all for homeowners, much of the work that the YDP does is subsidized by the state. Rebates cover up to $2,000, and even dead or dormant grass can qualify for the rebate. The group is working with a retired landscape contractor and is now available for complete relandscaping services.”
Installation of Kurapia costs $3.50 to $5 per square foot, which includes the material and labor.
“We are available for projects from Carpinteria to Goleta, and we are starting to go into Santa Ynez Valley,” he said.
The discovery of Kurapia is a win-win situation, according to Mr. Smith.
“It’s the perfect solution for people who want lawns but don’t want to spend money on water and maintenance, and it provides work for my crew. It’s like having your cake and eating it, too.”
For more information about Kurapia and/or the Youth Drought Project, call Brad Smith at 705-5844 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.