Conserving water has become a major concern with residential and commercial sites alike. From indoor application to landscape and irrigation outdoors, water conservation has been a goal for many builders and homeowners — and a lot of natural turfgrass is being wrongfully accused of excessive water usage.
Although synthetic turf is a rising trend, it is quite possible to grow natural grass while still conserving plenty of water. Many irrigation techniques have been made available through modern technology for using less water on plants…even during droughts.
It’s no secret that water management is a growing concern across the country. Population growth followed by the need to update older water treatment and delivery systems is putting a strain on current water usage and future demands.
Too much water is being used, so the price for water usage is increasing, which is also taking a toll on the environment as certain bodies of water are being used to meet that demand.
Additionally, drought and climate change are major factors that play into the future of water availability. When water usage restrictions come into play, homeowners and landscapers alike are forced to follow such rules. As a result, builders are instructed to use landscape methods to reduce water usage, such as using xeriscaping or artificial turf, as alternatives to natural turfgrass, which is an incredibly beneficial organism for the planet.
However, natural turfgrass benefits the environment in many ways, including:
Air cleansing: Natural turfgrass cleanses the air of dust, dirt, CO2 and other impurities.
CO2 reduction: Natural turfgrass captures CO2 from the atmosphere and transforms it into a different form of carbon that’s stored in the soil. The carbon eventually becomes organic matter.
Oxygen production: Natural lawns create the oxygen we and other organisms need to live as a part of photosynthesis.
Rainwater purification: Natural turfgrass purifies rainwater that picks up harmful pollutants in surrounding urban areas.
Stormwater runoff reduction: Microbes in natural turfgrass break down pollutants as rainwater comes and flows through rivers and lakes.
Soil erosion prevention: Natural turfgrass is one of the best ways to prevent soil erosion as its expansive root systems hold onto soil.
Microbial health: Natural turfgrass enhances microbial health which is vital to soil health and sustainability.
Furthermore, natural lawns actually conserve and filtrate water when managed properly. When healthy landscape practices are put into place to water turfgrass based on its needs instead of a regular schedule can save a lot of water. Additional water conservation tips are as follows:
1. Refrain from overwatering
One of the ultimate ways to save a ton of water is to simply stop overwatering lawns. This is a common mistake many homeowners make as it’s incredibly easy to water too frequently or for too long. After all, the amount of time spent watering a lawn depends on many factors that differ for each household. For example, irrigation systems deliver different amounts of water, and various soil profiles have different water-holding capacities.
There’s also the misconception that more water is better. However, too much water can drown or damage a lawn and encourage disease outbreaks. Many overwater their lawns out of habit by following a regular schedule without taking weather into consideration.
The majority of turfgrass only needs about 1-inch of water per week including rainfall. If the weather forecast states it’ll be raining later in the week or if it’s already rained, go ahead and turn those irrigation systems off.
2. Audit the irrigation system
A great way to save water is to audit the irrigation system. This will provide the homeowner with information on how much water each zone of a lawn is receiving from each irrigation head so that adjustments like moving a sprinkler head or shortening the amount of time irrigation systems run can be made. To perform an irrigation audit, use a few measuring cups or beakers and place them in various locations around the lawn to see how much water is being delivered to each area within a set amount of time.
3. Install drought-tolerant turfgrass
Selecting the proper turfgrass for your climate is essential for conserving water. Lawns that are tolerant of heat and drought will be less likely to require more irrigation during these warm, dry periods. Depending on the type of grass, it may be possible to even let the lawn naturally go dormant during extreme dry spells to avoid overwatering. Drought-tolerant lawns are incredibly resilient and will bounce back as soon as cooler temperatures and regular irrigation return.
“Drought tolerant” and “drought resistant” are terms used to describe different characteristics of turfgrass in relation to their ability to withstand periods of limited water availability, such as during drought conditions. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they have slight differences in their meanings.
Drought-tolerant turfgrass refers to grass species or varieties that are able to withstand or tolerate drought conditions without showing significant signs of stress or damage. Drought-tolerant grasses have the ability to survive with reduced water availability by going into a state of dormancy or slowing down their growth during periods of drought, and then recovering when water becomes available again.
Drought-resistant turfgrass, on the other hand, refers to grass species or varieties that are resistant to drought stress. Instead of simply tolerating periods of drought, drought-resistant turfgrasses have genetic traits that allow them to use water more efficiently, such as reduced water loss through transpiration, or more effective water uptake through their root systems. In turn, this keeps them from entering stages of drought stress.
It’s important to note that even drought-tolerant or drought-resistant turfgrasses still require some water to thrive, and proper lawn management practices, including appropriate irrigation, soil preparation, and maintenance are still important for promoting healthy turfgrass growth—even during drought conditions. Here are a few turfgrass varieties that work well in drought conditions:
Latitude 36 Bermudagrass
Tahoma 31 Bermudagrass
CitraBlue St. Augustine
Palmetto St. Augustine
4. Follow proper lawn care practices
The best way to conserve water is to maintain a healthy lawn at all times. Most lawns require only 1-inch of water per week, either from irrigation or from rainfall. Deep, infrequent watering will encourage healthy growth as well as assist in avoiding water wastage. Avoid irrigating when the Sun is at its peak, but instead water in the early morning hours. Always watch for stress and reduce irrigation as needed if overwatering becomes an issue.
5. Irrigate in the early morning
Water the lawn in the early mornings — not evenings — as this reduces the chances of disease outbreaks. Fungus tends to grow in areas that are warm, dark and moist, so when the lawn is watered in the evening, there isn’t a lot of sunlight to keep disease at bay.
6. Have a regular irrigation schedule — but only when the lawn needs it
It’s important to provide turfgrass with the water it needs. It’s good to follow a regular schedule to keep the lawn hydrated without forgetting, but watering the lawn when it doesn’t need additional irrigation is a waste of water and money. Lawns should only need 1-inch of water per week. Perform an irrigation audit to determine how much water the lawn needs.
7. Regularly fertilize and mow the lawn
Fertilizing can also promote healthy growth to reduce over-irrigation. Follow a regular feeding schedule in the spring and fall to prepare the grass for summer stress and encourage fast recovery. In addition to fertilization, continue regularly mowing the lawn at a proper height throughout the growing season. Each type of grass has its own preferred mowing height, but keeping it slightly taller will keep the soil cooler and thus retain moisture.
8. Adjust the irrigation system
Making a habit of regularly checking the irrigation system to ensure proper functioning will save the lawn from being overwatered. Things to check for include leaks, broken irrigation heads, misaligned irrigation heads, proper spacing, placement and operation pressure.
9. Use modern technology
The result of incorrect irrigation techniques often causes concern about water usage in lawns. Fortunately, numerous modern devices are available to monitor a lawn’s moisture intake and set appropriate irrigation schedules. Among the many tools to consider installing are rain-shut-off devices and smart irrigation systems. These devices will detect moisture in the soil and prevent the irrigation system from overwatering.
10. Maintain healthy soil
Restoring soil is essential for promoting a healthy lawn. Begin by performing a soil test to determine the pH and nutrient status. From there, you may need to amend the soil with compost or other amendments. Regular aeration is also important for improving drainage and reducing water runoff.
11. Level the lawn
Leveling the lawn so there aren’t any pockets of standing water or puddles that accumulate in lower-lying areas is easy and reduces the amount of water you need to use when irrigating the lawn. Areas in the yard that might have an incline likely don’t absorb as much water as they should while the lower areas probably receive too much water.
Puddles of standing water not only drown the lawn, but also open up opportunities for disease outbreaks, which is just additional stress on a waterlogged lawn. Standing water also tends to serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Leveling the lawn can be as simple as extra soil to level out pockets of lower-lying areas.
12. Collect rainwater
Using a rain barrel to collect rainwater is an excellent method for conserving water for lawns and putting it to good use. Simply collect the rainwater from house gutters so it can be pumped out when the homeowner is ready to irrigate. Depending on the type of irrigation system, you may even be able to connect the rain barrel to the system.
13. Apply mulch
Mulching in the spring or fall is incredibly effective for conserving water. The simple application of mulch will protect the plants from drying up and prolong the soil’s moisture level. Additionally, the lawn’s soil will soak the irrigation and rainwater more efficiently.
14. Leave grass clippings on the lawn
Similar to mulching, leaving grass clippings on the lawn will encourage moisture retention in the soil. Furthermore, grass clippings act as a compost that provides beneficial nutrients as they decompose into the ground. Be sure to follow a proper mowing schedule to avoid stressing the lawn and smothering it with too many grass clippings.
Water usage should not be an issue in turfgrass if proper irrigation methods are used. By following these simple techniques, you can conserve water while still maintaining a healthy, vibrant lawn.
Valerie Smith is content strategist at Sod Solutions.