Americans love their lawns, so much so that roughly 60 percent of household water use is devoted to them. With 36 states facing water shortages, it’s time to rethink how we treat America’s largest irrigated crop. It’s time to stop landscaping, and to start eco-scaping. Here are some quick tips to bring you and your yard up to speed.
1. Use native plants
Probably the easiest choice you can make if you’re going to rethink your current garden is to simply choose plants that are native to your area. It makes sense, it’s simple, and it’s a lot less work. The plants already thrive naturally where you live, so you’ll put in less work, less money, less water, and less fertilizer. If you’re worried that your yard won’t be as attractive, Google ‘xeriscapes’ for examples of gorgeous lawns and gardens that thrive in desert conditions. At your local nursery or communal garden, workers there can be a wealth of knowledge to help you find beautiful local plants. Once you get an idea for what you’ll have, much of the beauty can come from a well-planned garden which can show off your creativity.
2. Change the way you mow
Powered lawn mowers, even the most efficient ones, are deadly wasteful, and they make your lawn literally bleed away moisture. Most mowers belch gas and oil; but even electric mowers rely on batteries and power plants that are rarely environmentally friendly. To help reduce your carbon footprint globally and locally, look into a modern push-mower. They aren’t the clunky steel monsters they used to be—they’re much easier to use, and won’t deafen your neighbors or rattle your hands like a power mower.
Mow in the coolest part of the day to make it easier on yourself and your lawn. Also, trim your grass higher—low-cut lawns lose far more moisture, and drain the soil of nutrients as they struggle to grow back to a normal length.
3. Efficient watering
The easiest step to water less is changing your schedule: Water just before sunrise, less frequently, and give it a longer soak: for instance try, 1 hour once a week instead of 20 minutes daily. This will use less water, and also strengthen your grass. Next, invest in smarter ways to water. Consider trapping rain runoff in barrels for irrigation; and if you’re not gathering enough to keep your lawn healthy, that’s a good sign that you should consider a hardier grass.
4. Look into de-lawning and hardscapes
Lawns are rarely a naturally occurring part of the landscape. Chances are where you live, this is true for you. If so, consider de-lawning and replanting with native plants, rocks, wood chips or shrubs, or even a garden of vegetables. An easy way to de-lawn is to cover the area you want to convert with sheets of cardboard and newspaper, and soaking it with water. Then, add a mixture of compost and top soil, and wait about 3 months. The paper and grass will decompose into rich, nitrogenous soil, perfect for planting something more sustainable.
5. Use less fertilizer
Fertilizer is commonly misunderstood; it can be a toxic pollutant, and it’s not even always the right thing for your lawn. The most dangerous assumptions people make are:
- Fertilizer will always make a lawn healthier
- More fertilizer is always better
- All fertilizers restore the same nutrients
Take a sample of your soil to get tested, to see what nutrients it actually needs, and then you can choose an effective, natural fertilizer that will give your lawn what it needs. Many plants and vegetables can cycle soil nutrients for each other, if they are planted appropriately, which saves you some work, and gives your lawn a rest.
Katie White is a writer and handywoman from DIY Mother who is passionate about self-reliance and conservation. She takes pride in making her home a more sustainable and comfortable place for her husband and two kids. She lives in Dallas.