Q: We just moved into a new house and the lawn isn’t doing very well. We’ve been told by others the best thing to do is to start over. Is this really true? We want to reduce the amount of water we use on whatever form our lawn finally takes.
A: There are really two questions here: One concerns water use and the other focuses on rescuing the existing lawn. The best way to reduce water for a lawn is to plan for practical lawn areas and develop an efficient irrigation program for your lawn.
Lawns require large amounts of water on a fairly regular basis. Outdoor water consumption can be as much as 1,000 to 3,000 gallons for an average lawn during a peak summer day. Lawns require regular and frequent mowing, edging and fertilizing that eat up large blocks of time.
It may not be necessary to start over with your lawn. It’s possible to renovate some of the areas that aren’t doing well by preparing a seedbed and overseeding. Other areas that may not be practical for lawn or are difficult to irrigate and maintain can be replaced with ground covers or other plantings.
If some lawn is desired or needed for a play area or simply for aesthetic reasons, a small square or rectangle near the house will usually do the trick and it will reduce wasted water through efficient irrigation. Avoid narrow strips of lawn that can be difficult to irrigate without watering adjacent sidewalks, fences or plantings.
Save the removed lawn as you replace it with the new plantings. The saved sod can be used to create or repair the existing lawn. To find out a location where to drop off that extra sod call the Spokane Regional Recycling Hotline at 747-0242 or the Washington State Recycling Hotline at (800) RECYCLE. You can also compost the leftover sod to maintain nutrients in your yard.
During the initial planning and design stage, identify appropriate areas for perennials and shrubs, and group according to water needs. Planting around the foundation of your house provides a visual connection between the house and the land. But don’t let these plantings come in contact with the house or you might be providing a highway for carpenter ants or trap moisture in the house siding.
Learn how to irrigate the remaining lawn area in the most efficient way. A good general rule of thumb for lawns is one inch of water per week. This can be as high as 1.7 inches per week in the heat of July or August. A simple way to check your sprinklers is to space 10 or more straight-sided cups or cans at least 4 inches deep on your lawn. Run the sprinkler for 15 minutes, then note the amount of water in the cans. There should be about the same amount of water in each can. If not the sprinklers need to be adjusted to apply an even amount of water on your lawn.
Most plants require supplemental irrigation during establishment. Sprinkler systems can save water in well-planned situations. Automatic systems are available with efficient moisture and rain sensors.
A good sprinkler will deliver a uniform distribution of water over a specified area. It’s worth doing some research to find a sprinkler that will cover an area uniformly. The May 1993 Consumer Reports has an article on testing of sprinklers.
The best way to cut water usage is by reducing the amount of lawn on your property. If this seems like too much to give up, do it gradually.
The addition of color from perennial borders will visually enhance your yard through the year.
Factsheets on “Xeriscaping” and “Drip Irrigation” are available at the WSU/Spokane County Cooperative Extension office, 222 N. Havana, Spokane, WA 99202; 533-2048.
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