Low-water Lawns

By Sharon Naylor

February 23, 2016 5 min read

It takes preparation to keep your lawn healthy and looking good during a drought, especially if you want to keep costs and water use under control. In some drought-declared areas, you can incur a fine for watering your lawn on restricted days, making for a budget fiasco when your water bill arrives. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, with about 30 percent devoted to outdoor use. In a dry climate, a household's outdoor water use can reach 60 percent. Nationally, landscape irrigation accounts for nearly one-third of all residential water use.

Keep in mind that drought areas aren't just located in faraway deserts. Any region can experience a period of little rainfall and dry, hot conditions, calling for restrictions and special steps to conserve water used on lawns. So keep these tips in mind to maintain your own lawn:

--Choose drought-tolerant lawn grasses. The About.com guide to lawn care, written by lawn enthusiast Kelly Burke, recommends drought-tolerant grasses in areas with imposed water restrictions for their ability to withstand periods without water. "Certain species of grass are better equipped to handle drought because of their native conditions," says Burke. And some grasses are bred as cultivars with improved ability to withstand drought. Talk to your local garden center's experts for recommendations of drought-tolerant grasses that will perform well in your region. Burke says that some drought-tolerant grasses are better suited for the cool seasons and may need supplemental watering, while others survive on rainfall alone. Some types of drought-resistant lawns to investigate include tall fescue, sheep fescue, wheatgrass and Kentucky bluegrass -- which Burke says can survive on half the normal water requirements if the soil is healthy and fertile. Ask about warm-season lawn choices such as Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass and centipede grass. Each type of grass has its own characteristics, which you'll need to know in order to give the best care.

--Provide healthy soil. Fertile soil accepts water and optimally delivers it to grass and plant roots. Your local garden center may have a soil-testing department, to which you can bring a sample of your soil for pH and other testing. Based on the results you'll receive advice and product suggestions for how to make your soil as healthy and productive as it can be.

--Know how often to water your grass. The EPA says that it's usually not necessary to water your grass every day. Instead, follow instructions for watering frequency based on your chosen grass. Step on a patch of grass barefoot to test your lawn's moisture condition. The EPA says that if the grass springs back, it doesn't need water.

--Water your lawn in the morning. Watering early in the day allows water to seep deep into the ground for the roots to drink. Morning is also when wind spread and temperatures are lowest, which helps to prevent some evaporation. The EPA says that as much as 50 percent of water is wasted due to evaporation, wind or runoff caused by improper irrigation setups.

--Install irrigation products properly. Set timers on drip-irrigation and micro-irrigation systems to perform optimally and according to drought laws in your region. For instance, in some regions, anyone who installs an irrigation system must install a rain sensor device or switch that will automatically turn off timed sprinklers or drip irrigation systems when rainfall occurs. WaterSense-labeled products can help conserve water use.

--Avoid over-fertilizing your lawn. Some types of fertilizer require or soak up more water. Choose products that have water-insoluble, slow-release forms of nitrogen.

--Use the highest blade on your lawn mower. Cutting grass to a shorter height encourages the roots to grow deeper, and can help the soil hold onto moisture longer.

--Plant native, drought-resistant plants, shrubs and trees as part of your lawn landscape. Once these are established on your property, they will survive a dry spell, require less fertilizer and herbicide and stand up to drought.

--Stay off your lawn. The lawn-care experts at Scotts recommend limiting foot traffic on your lawn when the weather is hot and dry to prevent additional stress on your lawn.

--Don't fertilize a dry lawn. If your lawn has gone dormant from an extreme drought, don't fertilize it, or further stress and damage can occur.

Again, your garden center's plant and lawn experts will be excellent resources for you, helping you tailor your lawn type and treatments to perform exceptionally well in your region and weather conditions. Be smart, use water-saving techniques and make optimal use of your land to hold up in dry times.

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