5 Tips to Keep Your Lawn Sustainable
A well-maintained, vibrant lawn is one of the most universal social expectations for homeowners in the United States. For the sake of property values and aesthetics, most people want their neighbors to take good care of their lawns—and homeowners’ associations often demand it. Accordingly, lawn grass has become the single most water-intensive crop under cultivation in the US, straining aquifers and reservoirs even in humid areas of the country. Fortunately, there are steps that homeowners can take to reduce their lawn’s water-guzzling, without resorting to toxic fertilizers or letting it go brown.
1. Let your grass grow longer
There’s a reason the lawn always seems moist after a fresh mowing. Each blade of grass stores a significant quantity of water, especially at the base of the blade—and the shorter you cut your grass, the more it will bleed out and evaporate, and the more you’ll have to water. A lawn that has been cut short will also regrow faster, creating a cycle of very frequent mowing (and fertilizing), and extensive water loss. Mow your lawn just long enough to keep it even, or as long as your covenant permits; this will minimize water loss, and save you the backache of constant mowing. Also, spread the clippings over the lawn—it will shade the remaining grass while it heals and reduce evaporation.
2. Plant grass that can survive in your local climate
While it’s universally admired for its color and thickness, Kentucky bluegrass belongs in Kentucky. Most strains need 2 inches of water per week to stay healthy, and unless you live in a very rainy part of the country, most of that will have to come from your municipal water table. Look for drought-resistant alternatives that will stay green and beautiful without water—and grow much slower, so they need less mowing.
3. Expand your garden space
One of the easiest ways to minimize your lawn’s footprint is to simply minimize your lawn. Larger garden plots and more expansive patio designs will give you less to water, fertilize, and mow. In particular, a flat of vegetables appropriate to your climate region will take much less water than a lawn in the same area, and provide your family with a steady supply of fresh produce free of factory-farm contaminants. Your HOA may have restrictions on what you can grow (i.e. you may be forbidden to grow vegetables in your front yard), in which case you can choose a low-maintenance, low-water flower garden instead.
4. Change your watering patterns
Especially in dry regions, you should do most of your lawn care in the cool of the morning, or just before dusk, to reduce evaporation. About half the water you spray on your lawn will be lost to evaporation in direct sunlight, so wait until just before bed (or first thing in the morning) to water your lawn. Also, try to water less frequently, allowing your lawn to soak up and store more. For lawns with deep roots, an hour of watering once a week should be sufficient; shallower systems will probably need fifteen minutes of soaking, three times a week. If your lawn can’t handle that routine without going dormant or withering, you may need to switch to a hardier seed.
5. Switch to a push mower
A gas-powered mower doesn’t use much fuel compared to a car, but it also doesn’t burn very clean, blowing pollutants into the air and making a great deal of noise. Especially if you intend to mow early in the morning or late in the evening, switching to a push mower can reduce your carbon emissions, and save your neighbors some headache. It might seem like more work, but modern push mowers are a great deal more efficient than the models you may have grown up with—and they’re a great deal lighter and more pleasant to operate than a gas-powered behemoth.
Mike Freiberg is a staff writer for HomeDaddys, a resource for stay-at-home dads, work-at-home dads, and everything in between. He’s a handyman, an amateur astronomer, and a tech junkie, who loves being home with his two kids. He lives in Austin.