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Conserve Outdoor Watering

Lawn care and outdoor water use can consume a lot of water.  Here are some ideas to help minimize your outdoor water use.

  • If you have a lawn, chances are it's your biggest water gobbler. Typically, at least 50% of water consumed by households is used outdoors.
  • When you walk on your lawn, do you leave footprints behind? That's a sign the grass needs water. It's too dry to spring back when you walk on it. Another sign is grass that turns a dull grey-green color. Give that off-color grass a good drink.
  • Don't sprinkle grass lightly, deep-soak it. Light watering can't get water down deep into the soil. The grass develops shallower roots and is both less drought-resistant and more prone to winterkill.
  • If you have an automatic sprinkler system, check the heads periodically. Be sure they haven't shifted direction to spray water on the side of the house, driveway, or sidewalk instead of the lawn.
  • Do your lawn sprinkling early in the morning, between 4 and 6 a.m., when water demand is low. After about 10 a.m., both heat and evaporation go up, robbing the lawn of moisture. Sprinkling at night is fine for dry climates, but in humid climates the relatively cool, moist conditions can create an ideal environment for lawn diseases to develop.
  • Don't water your lawn too much. An automatic system can be preset, but a sprinkler on the end of a hose needs your personal attention. Buy timer attachments that hook on between the faucet and hose, or set a kitchen timer to ring in 15 or 20 minutes to remind you to move the sprinkler to a new area.
  • Not all soil is the same. If your grass grows on mostly clay soil, between 1/4- and 1/2-half inch of water per hour can be absorbed before it starts running off wastefully. If you have sandy soil, you'll need to water more often and for shorter periods of time.
  • Grassy areas on sunny southern sides of buildings or on slopes and areas near sidewalks and driveways need to be watered more often. Shady areas and northern exposures need water less frequently.
  • Lawn and garden areas near sidewalks, driveways, and patios tend to dry out faster than the rest of the yard. To water more effectively, push a root feeder or water aerator into the soil I about a foot from the concrete. Push it in about six inches. When the grass raises up like a bubble, pull out the probe and repeat the operation a foot or so farther along the grass edge.
  • Use root feeder or water-aerator probes around trees and bushes. Even for the biggest trees, you need go no deeper than 18 inches, while 8 to 12 inches is plenty deep for smaller trees and shrubs. The probes get water precisely where it's needed and simultaneously create lots of little holes that provide aeration benefits.
  • Delay regular lawn watering during the first cool weeks of spring. This encourages deeper rooting and makes your lawn healthier for the rest of the summer. It also delays the first time you have to mow the grass.
  • How to apply water to your lawn can be just as important as the amount of water you use. If your lawn thrives on 45 minutes of water every two or three days, it will not remain as healthy if you water 15 or 20 minutes every day.
  • Adjust lawn watering to the weather. Following a heavy rain, for instance, skip your regular watering day until the grass needs it again. Teach the family how to turn off an automatic sprinkler system in case a storm comes up during the sprinkling cycle.
  • More water is dispensed faster with a larger diameter hose. Sprinklers that throw large drops in a flat pattern are much more effective than those with fine, high sprays, which can be blown about and evaporate quickly.
  • For any small area of grass, water by hand to avoid waste. On steep slopes, try a soaker hose to help prevent wasteful runoff.
  • Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting. The grass blades grow longer and shade one another, as well as the ground, helping fight off heat and hold moisture longer.
  • Mow the lawn often, at least once a week. Try to cut no more than one third of the grass blade, removing about one half to three quarters of an inch at a time. If you mow the grass shorter than this, excessive shock occurs that causes grass to turn yellow despite your best sprinkling efforts.
  • Minimize grass areas in your yard, because less grass means less water demand. Survey the lawn and consider whether it might make sense to remove grass from areas that aren't used much. Replace it with low-water use landscaping.
  • Try the concept of Xeriscape™ (pronounced Zer-i-scape), which means "landscaping for water conservation." The idea is to use plants that require less water. You also can decorate creatively with interesting objects that need no water at all, such as rocks, bricks, benches, gravel, and deck areas.
  • Mulch planting areas. Mulch covers open areas with tasteful good looks, helps keep the ground from overheating, holds moisture that otherwise would evaporate, and discourages weeds.