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  • Writer's pictureMatt Weber

How to Save Water with a Natural Lawn

(guest post courtesy of Valerie Smith)

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.

Discover a few simple tips for saving water on lawns and how to get the most out of your water and save money on your water bill.

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.

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 dying.

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 can withstand or tolerate drought conditions without showing significant signs of stress or damage. Drought-tolerant grasses can 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 othe 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

4. Follow Proper Lawn Care Practices

The best way to conserve water is to always maintain a healthy lawn. 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.

  • 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 water a little less than this during the fall months, though, because 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.

7. 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

8. 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.

9. 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 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. Regular aeration is also important for improving drainage and reducing water runoff.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. Leave Grass Clippings on the Lawn

Like 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.

Want to learn more about achieving a great lawn? Check out more Sod University tips here and subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Editor's Note: This article was written by Sod Solutions Content Strategist, Valerie Smith. To view this article on Sod Solutions website click here.

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