Fundamentals of Reducing Irrigation Costs This Summer
In the world of resource-saving blogs, you're bound to run into articles telling you how wasteful, expensive, and environmentally harmful your lawn is. I actually think it's true that lawns are often geographically inappropriate holdovers from a time when a manicured lawn was a suburban status symbol. Nevertheless, I also know the joy of soft grass between your feet and grass-stained knees at a cookout. So, practical and conscientious folks that we are, how can we reconcile these truths?
We've written before about lawn alternatives, from native plant landscaping to greywater recycling systems. These are interesting alternatives for those with the time, budget, or ample supply of teenage children to undergo a landscaping overhaul, but here at WegoWise, we're all about low-touch ways to save energy and resources. Before coming to WegoWise, I spent some time in the organic/low-impact lawn care world, so I thought I'd share some easy tips that you can use this season to reduce your water consumption while still having a nice green bocce court.
Raise those blades!
The number one mistake people make is trimming their grass like it's a putting green. In the hot summer months, raise your mower blade height as high as it will go. I'm serious here, learn to love the lushness. Healthy turf needs to store moisture in the leaves, which help power your lawn to dig deep roots and resist browning out during drought conditions. A good test is to stick your fingers down into the turf. Your grass should come up to the base of your fingers.
Timing is everything
Have you ever been out for a walk on a nice summer's day and seen your neighbors irrigating their lawn in the 90 degree heat? I know, it's the pits. If you're working with an automated irrigation system, you want the cycle to finish up about 30 minutes before sunrise. The idea is to give the water time to soak into the ground before the sun comes out and evaporates your precious resource.
Not just when, but how
Once you have your start time down, consider how frequently you are running your system. It's far better to water deeply and infrequently vs watering daily for a little bit of time. By giving water time to percolate down into the soil, you'll encourage the roots to dig deeper in search of that good drink. Healthy turf has roots that dig 6"+ deep.
Sharpen up: No hack jobs
If the tips of your grass look brown and ripped, your mower blade is dull and needs a sharpening. Dull blades leave grass vulnerable to infection and trick you into thinking that you're not watering enough. A nice clean blade will encourage the grass to regrow quickly, and keep your lawn nice and green after mowing. While we're on the subject of mowing, you should mulch as much of your clippings as possible by letting them decompose naturally on the lawn. Usually this takes a few days, and it does wonders for water retention.
If it works for diapers, it can work for your lawn
I'll leave you with a relatively new water-saving technique: water retention polymers. Similar to the crystals used to absorb moisture in diapers, these polymers absorb 15x their weight in water, and can reduce watering loads by 25-40%. The idea is that the crystals absorb water when you irrigate, slowly releasing that stored liquid and stabilizing moisture levels between waterings. It's not the cheapest product, but one application should last you about three seasons.
Depending on where you live, a lawn can be a big drain on both your wallet and local water resources. If you're looking to make some improvements, but aren't ready to kill your lawn, these tips should help you keep your lawn - and your street cred - green.