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How to Save Water with a Natural Lawn

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 for its environmental benefits, 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. 

Today, we’ll walk you through some simple tips for saving water on lawns and how to get the most out of your water and save money on your water bill.

Why Water Usage Has Become Such a Concern

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 a major factor that plays 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, like using xeriscaping or artificial turf, as alternatives that are growing in popularity and falling away from using natural turfgrass, which is an incredibly beneficial organism for the planet.

So, What’s to Be Done? 

Natural turfgrass has an ongoing list of ways it benefits the environment. Such benefits include:

  • 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. The blame often falls on human error and malpractice when it comes to irrigation procedures for home lawns.

To learn more about how natural turfgrass helps the environment or to read more on how artificial turfgrass harms the planet, check out these articles: The Benefits of Natural Turfgrass and Natural vs. Artificial Lawns

1. Refrain From Overwatering

One of the ultimate ways to save a ton of water is to simply stop overwatering your lawn. 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 your 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 while too much water can drown or damage your lawn and encourage disease outbreaks. Many overwater their lawns out of habit by following a regular schedule without taking any 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 Your Irrigation System

A great way to save water is to audit your irrigation system. This will provide homeowners 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. Learn more here.

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. EMPIRE® Zoysia, for example, is a type of zoysia grass that will turn brown during periods of drought faster than a St. Augustine lawn will, but when EMPIRE turns brown, it’s entering a state of dormancy as a defense mechanism to conserve nutrients. When regular irrigation resumes, EMPIRE will come out of its dormancy state and return to its lush, green color. On the other hand, when St. Augustine turns brown, it’s actually dying.

How to Bring Your Lawn Back From Drought Stress

Drought-tolerant lawns are incredibly resilient and will bounce back as soon as cooler temperatures and regular irrigation return.

Drought Resistance vs. Drought Tolerance

“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: 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: 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:

  1. Bahia
  2. Celebration Bermudagrass
  3. Latitude 36 Bermudagrass
  4. NorthBridge Bermudagrass
  5. TifTuf Bermudagrass
  6. Tahoma 31 Bermudagrass
  7. Common Buffalo
  8. EMPIRE Zoysia
  9. Geo Zoysia
  10. CitraZoy Zoysia
  11. Innovation Zoysia
  12. CitraBlue St. Augustine
  13. Palmetto St. Augustine
  14. Common Centipede
  15. Seashore Paspalum

Learn more about these improved turfgrass varieties and their drought-tolerance traits here.

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 in your yard and reduce irrigation as needed if overwatering becomes an issue.

Spring Tips to Reduce Water Usage

In the spring, it’s important to water more frequently but with less volume as this will establish more roots after cold winter temperatures and before transitioning to the hottest time of the year.

Summer Tips to Reduce Water Usage

On the other hand, water less frequently and increase the volume a little bit to build deeper roots. Deeper roots going into the fall season encourage the turfgrass to have a better cold tolerance and hold more nutrients. Learn more about how to water your lawn in the summer here.

Water Your Lawn In The Summer Child Playing Sprinkler

Fall Tips to Reduce Water Usage

Water the lawn less as temperatures begin to drop. If the grass is watered too much, it could lead to disease during this time. Lawns generally only need about 1-inch of water weekly including rainfall. It’s best to actually water a little less than this during the fall months, though.

Fall is one of the most opportune times of the year for fungus to start appearing. This becomes even more likely if lawns are overwatered or covered with fall leaves on the ground that create areas of shade.

Regardless of disease outbreaks, it’s best to water your lawn to prevent drought stress while the grass is actively growing.

Winter Tips to Reduce Water Usage

Lawns are living organisms that require water, but they don’t need nearly as much during the winter as they do during other times of the year. However, lawns in areas that experience dry winters should be watered enough so that the soil receives nourishment and keeps grass blades from drying out.

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 your lawn needs.

A regular watering schedule also decreases the chances of chinch bug outbreaks. There is evidence to suggest that irregular lawn irrigation schedules may contribute to chinch bug outbreaks, although it is not the sole factor. 

Chinch bugs are small insects that can infest lawns and cause damage by feeding on grass blades and stems, which can result in yellowing, thinning, and wilting of the turfgrass. Chinch bugs thrive in dry, stressed lawns, and their populations can increase rapidly under favorable conditions.

chinch bug on a leaf
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. The Lawnifi® fertilizer program is a great product for delivering essential nutrients in the spring, summer and fall seasons to ensure turfgrass has everything it needs to stay healthy and flourish.

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 you can read about here, 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 as well as add additional charges to the water bill. Things to check for include:

  • Leaks
  • Broken Irrigation Heads
  • Misaligned Irrigation Heads
  • Proper Spacing
  • Placement
  • Operation pressure
9. Use Modern Technology

The result of incorrect irrigation techniques often causes concern about water usage in lawns. Overwatering lawns is a common issue that not only wastes our natural resources but also leads to unhealthy turfgrass. Fortunately, numerous modern devices are available for homeowners to monitor their 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 simple yet effective devices will detect moisture in the soil and prevent your irrigation system from overwatering your lawn. Choosing a smart irrigation system over traditional water practices will save you time, money and an abundance of water.

10. Maintain Healthy Soil

Restoring your 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 opens 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 buying extra soil to level out pockets of lower-lying areas. Read more here.

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 your house gutters and pump the water out when you’re ready to irrigate your yard. Depending on the type of irrigation system you have, you may even be able to connect your rain barrel to the system for easy irrigation.

13. Apply Mulch

Mulching your turfgrass 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 your 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 your 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.

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