Water-wise

By Tawny Maya McCray

February 18, 2011 4 min read

Water is one of our most precious resources, and one of the places we use it most is our lawns.

"Lawn care makes up anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of water use in a typical American family," says Greg Seaman, editor of Eartheasy.com. "Switching to drought-tolerant lawns that have been developed in the past 10 years can easily save you 50 to 75 percent of the amount of water you would need to grow a lawn."

Seaman says that in order to help conserve water, many people are moving away from the full, side-to-side grass lawn and instead opting to put in drought-resistant landscaping, also known as xeriscaping.

"The single best method that anyone can use to achieve the benefits of xeriscaping is to plant locally available, native species of plants and shrubs," Seaman says. "Those are the plants that have adapted to your regional climate patterns." The downside of xeriscaping is that it can be boring because that's what you're used to seeing.

"So what a lot of clever gardeners do is plant 80 percent of their shrubs in natives, and then they'll pepper in 20 percent in ornamentals, which gives diversity and visual appeal to their gardens without consuming so many resources, especially water," Seaman explains.

According to Seaman, shrub landscapes not only are water-efficient but also save maintenance and increase the value of the property. They're also the cheapest and easiest to grow.

Seaman says that when switching to the drought-resistant lawn seed, you have to baby it for the first season, making sure to water it every day for up to three weeks to get germination. And then, for the first two to three weeks after germination, you have to water your lawn once or twice a week to get the sprout established. The payoff will be a yard that holds up for years to come, but you have to be diligent.

"It's not instant," Seaman says. "People often think that they're going to have this miraculous green carpet in a week. It doesn't work that way. You have to be on it. If you miss a day, you'll lose it and have to start over."

The best way to conserve water in any landscape is to water early in the morning -- assuming it's not windy, as that would result in about half the water's ending up outside of the sprinkler zone. Also, Seaman adds, you can train your lawn to be more drought-resistant by watering it infrequently, perhaps once a week. "But when you do water it, make sure that you water it at least an inch, which you can measure by putting an empty tuna fish can in the sprinkler zone. When it fills up, you've got an inch," he says.

Janet Nazy, executive director of the Partnership for Water Conservation, says that if you do stick with a basic grass lawn, let it go dormant instead of trying to keep it green all summer. "Grass is a water hog," she says.

According to Nazy, pollution and global warming are only adding to our diminishing water supply, and water conservation is for not only us but also the ecosystem. "Plants, animals -- we all share the same water," she says. "We have to think of the rivers, the streams, the aquifers and making sure that those are maintained for wildlife. We're trying to save water for future generations."

Seaman says that if the sales of his company's water conservation products -- including an array of rain barrels and soaker hoses -- are any indication, there appears to be a strong interest in water conservation across the board.

What it really comes down to, Seaman says, is being mindful.

"I believe awareness is 75 percent of the solution," he says. "If you make it a priority, you find ways -- just in your daily life, just using common sense -- to save water. For example, 'Are we sprinkling the sidewalk, or are we sprinkling the lawn?'"

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