With recent drought conditions and increasing demands on limited water supplies the need to conserve water has become a major issue for many communities in Massachusetts. Water sources can become stressed due to withdrawals to meet needs such as irrigation and watering of lawns. In fact, nationally, lawn care accounts for 32 percent of outdoor water use.
Reducing the amount of water used for lawn and landscape maintenance is essential to protecting water supplies for current and future uses and for protecting natural resources. Efficient use of water can help prevent waste, lessen the effects of drought, and help minimize run-off and leaching. While each site will have different considerations such as soil type, grass species, weather, and sun exposure, some general practices can be used for developing an efficient watering approach.
- Reduce lawn size
By reducing lawn size you can substantially reduce the amount of water used for landscape maintenance. Replace lawn area with native species of trees and shrubs. Consider alternatives to grass especially when you have steep slopes and shady areas.
- Use drought resistant grass species
Mixtures of grass species are used to get the most effective and long-lasting seasonal coverage. Fine fescues have low water needs and high drought tolerance. Some cultivators of endophytic seeds tend to have a high tolerance for drought and nutrient deficiencies. Generally an insect resistant mixture of grasses that includes a high percentage of fine fescues will ensure a drought resistant lawn.
- Choose native and drought tolerant species
Native species have adapted to the environmental conditions of New England and have evolved in such a way that they need fewer inputs such as water and chemicals.
- Water only when necessary
In most years, Massachusetts has enough rainfall to naturally supply the water needs of most mature lawns without the need for watering. The two simple ways to tell if your lawn needs water are by the color and flexibility. If you walk on your lawn and leave a footprint or the color of your lawn turns blue/green the grass is not receiving enough water. Mature lawns that go brown in the summer are in a natural period of dormancy. They will green up when wetter cooler weather returns.
- Water your lawn in the evening or early morning
If your lawn does not have a fungi problem, it is best to water between 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm. Watering can also take place early in the morning just prior to or just after sunrise. Watering early in the morning will allow your grass to dry quickly and lose less water from evaporation. This can reduce disease susceptibility by limiting moist conditions which encourage spore germination and the spread of fungal infection.
- Water slowly and deeply
Watering slowly and deeply will allow the water to be absorbed. You should water four to six inches deep, which means about one inch of water on the surface. If using a sprinkler system, place a rain gauge or shallow cans on either side of the sprinkler and measure the water that it collects. This approach will help you to determine the amount of water you are using.
- Collect rainwater for landscaping needs
Use cisterns or rain barrels to capture rainwater from downspouts to use for newly planted vegetation. Use a lid, mesh fabric or add several drops of baby oil to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
- Water on sloped areas with care
When watering on sloped areas do not apply water faster than it is being absorbed. Water regularly until you begin to see run off. Stop the watering until it is absorbed into the ground and then continue until you have watered four to six inches deep.
Maintain sprinkler systems and irrigation equipment. Make sure that the sprinkler system is appropriate for your landscape and watering needs. Install matched precipitation sprinkler heads which apply water according to area specific needs. Make sure that the irrigation system has a rain shutoff device. Locate irrigation heads at least eight inches from paved areas and watch where water is going! You should not be watering the sidewalk, street, or the neighbor’s yard.
- Additional Suggestions
Check your equipment. Fix leaky hoses or faucets. Install a shut off device on hoses to prevent water loss from unattended hoses. Hoses without a nozzle can spout 10 gallons or more per minute. Do not leave faucets or hoses on when they are not in use.
Abide by your town’s water bans. Water bans are put in place for a reason!!
Use mulch: Organic mulch lowers the temperature of the soil, which in turns reduces water evaporation. However, you must be careful not to apply too much (the soil does require some heat). Plastic films do the same (clear), while also preventing unwanted weeds around plants.