Most households expend at least half, if not much more, of the water they use on their lawn. And turf lawns in Texas often require watering for much of the year, but never more that at the top of the hot, dry summer.
If your lawn is driving you to use more water than you’d like, here are 10 ways to conserve.
1 — Don’t water your lawn every day. Domestic grasses don’t need that much watering, and frequent, short sprinklings will cause the grass to have shallow roots. Instead, water deeply once or twice a week. Most lawns will respond to these less frequent drenchings by sending down longer roots, which will keep your turf healthier and more drought-tolerant.
To assure your grass is thriving, make sure it springs back when you walk on it. Then you know it’s getting adequate water, according to the EPA’s Water Sense program.
2 – Call a certified irrigation professional when you make changes to your underground system. They can advise you about how to arrange the system to best effect, stop any over-watering and optimize your watering schedule.
3 — Water in the early morning hours, between 4 and 7 a.m., when the sun is still low and the daily summer temperature is coolest. Frisco, like many cities in the area, does not allow watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., because too much water evaporates into the air when lawns are watered during the heat of the day.
4 — Use a WaterSense labeled controller on your irritation system, when you’re installing a new system. The EPA estimates that these systems can save about 24 gallons a day on average over a moderately sized yard. Properly installed, these systems irrigate based on weather conditions, not a rigidly timed system. This method, relying on moisture sensors and weather conditions, helps guard against over-watering.
5 — Water trees and shrubs deeply, on occasion, to make sure that moisture is getting to their root systems. They may need the extra help during the heat of the summer, but not show their distress until much later. One deep watering is better than two lighter waterings, and will save in the long run.
Also, be aware that large trees planted close to a house will have root systems that soak up available moisture. If the tree is close to the house, and weather conditions are dry and hot, this can exacerbate drying around the house’s foundation. So make sure your sprinkler system is wetting the perimeter of your house to keep the ground near the foundation from drying.
6 — Collect water. One sure way to reduce the fresh water you draw for your landscape is to collect water when it rains. Keeping a rain barrel attached to a downspout will do the trick by funneling water runoff from the roof into the rain barrel. This water is ideal for hand watering tasks, and suitable for turf, flowers, shrubs and trees, though it may be dirtier than you’d want for vegetables. Rain barrels come in a variety of sizes and models, from basic black or green plastic barrels, to more custom models in beiges and terra cottas that disappear visually against a brick house.
7 – Mulch well. Now that you’ve got everything watered, help the landscaped areas of your home hold onto that moisture. A good wood mulch, layered at least two inches deep around shrubs and perennials, can help cool the ground and assist your hot shrubs in holding onto the water they’ve been allotted.
8– Reduce the turf by replacing portions with native shrubs and flowers. Lawn grasses are thirsty compared to many native plants, as most Texans have likely surmised as they see drought-tolerant landscaping replacing grass on medians, along highways and on other public lands.
These tough native plants can dramatically reduce water use, and the time you have to spend nurturing your landscape. They also won’t require pesticides, and many come with the added benefit of feeding local bees, butterflies and birds.
Use Texas A&M University’s EarthKind tool to find native plants that are adapted to your area. Type in your zip code and requirements (sun, part-sun; evergreen or deciduous) and this extensive database will pop up an array of colorful options that can help you beautify and lower the water requirements in your yard.
Find trees as well using the EarthKind tool, which ranks plants for drought-resistance from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best suited to survive even the most brutal Texas August. A Texas Pistachio, Live Oak, Southern Magnolia or Mexican Elder may be the perfect choice to replace that less-suited maple killed by last year’s drought.
9 — Consider using a native grass, like Buffalo grass or a Buffalo/Grama grass mix. For lawns that need an overhaul or are starting from scratch, this can be a serious solution. Native grass mixes don’t require nearly as much water as the Bermuda, St. Augustine and Zoysia varieties typically used on residential lawns and they can survive drought conditions by going dormant, but remaining alive.
Native grasses have been hybridized to produce sophisticated varieties that don’t grow very tall and can maintain a green look for the entire warm season, making them suitable to replace a Bermuda lawn, though experts warn that converting a lawn will take time, money and patience.
Natives also can provide a solution for hard to mow areas, like steep drop offs and islands of grass separated from the main lawn, if only because they require only infrequent mowing and may be able to survive after the first year on rainfall alone. Buffalo grass, though, like Bermuda, is not a good choice for a shady area.
You can learn more about native grasses and the possibilities that might work in your yard at the Aggieturf website.
10 — One final water-saving idea: Sweep up grass clippings and lawn debris instead of hosing off sidewalks and driveways, especially in the heat of summer. In this case, your best conservation tool is low-tech, and chances are it’s humbly waiting in a corner of your garage.