by Wes Yohey
Most of us have heard the common global fresh water statistics ... only 1 per cent of the total Earth's water supply is not frozen or too salty. Besides maintaining a sufficient water supply for a growing population, an incredible amount of resources are required to logistically meet this demand, from collection to process, transporting and cleaning. Not surprisingly, many communities across the United States have aggressively pursued new strategies to wide-spread water conservation.
In the United States, of the 26 billion gallons of water we use every day, about 30 percent, or 7.8 billion gallons, is used outdoors. Unfortunately, much of this is, at best, unneccessary, and at worse, wasteful. Beautiful lawns and gardens can save water, prevent pollution, and protect the environment and are easily achieved.
Added to the annual regional rainfall totals, a typical suburban lawn will consume over 10,000 gallons of water per year. The most natural way of reducing this amount is by selectively using more native plants and landscaping.
Plants that are native to the region are better adapted to the average waterfall and soil conditions which can reduce irrigation water use. It can also reduce soil erosion, lower maintenance costs, and preserve natural resources. These native trees and shrubs help absorb and retain rainfall and typically do not require fertilizers in addition to being more resistant to disease and bugs.
The lawn, or turf grass, is typically the most expensive plant in the yard to maintain. Add up the cutting, weeding, watering, raking and trimming and homeowners in the United States expend an incredible amount of resources to maintain this simple species. But here, too, there are significant ways to reduce it's footprint.
Starting with the species of grass in your lawn. Kentucky blue grass is one of the most popular grasses in the United States. Unfortunately, it's not one of the most "green" grasses. Numerous grass species are now available which requires up to 66% less water (read more on grass species in our Grass Types (p1) and Grass Types (p2) articles). While the grass will brown out during the summer dormant period, a single monthly watering will provide enough moisture for the lawn to spring back when growing conditions are more favorable.
Reducing the amount of actual turf grass area in your lawn can also reduce these costs. Expanding a bed or walk path can reduce several square feet of turf area.
An increasingly popular strategy on larger homeowner lawns is to allow areas to re-naturalize, or xeriscape, to it's original, natural habitat. This is particularly effective in arid regions such as the West, Southwest and Rocky Mountain areas of the United States. Xeriscaping has a broad definition, but essentially is the strategy to provide landscaping to areas commonly stricken with drought conditions by utilizing native plants and grouping plants with similar watering requirements.
Start by throwing mulch over the grass in the proposed area to kill off the grass (raking leaves over an area works as well) and leave the area alone. No cutting, trimming or maintenance. It'll take a couple years for the natural plants to firmly take hold, but with the addition of decorative plants and edging, it can provide your lawn with beautiful, maintenance-free landscaping.
For more information on water conservation and good watering practices, see our article on Water Conservation.
Share your xeriscape experience or if you'd like more information.