Q: “I am always trying to figure out how to make my lawn more water efficient. The lawn is an evil necessity because my four pets poop on it. I recently got my lawn aerated and the company that provided this service have a product that claims to reduce water use by up to 50% and is organic. Should I pay to have them apply this next time?”
A:  Glad to hear you got your lawn aerated. That’s a great first step in keeping lawn organically. Dethatching would be a great next step, even if it’s just running a spring tine rake over it by hand. I would follow up the aeration with a sprinkling of compost or worm castings. Once these have been applied give it a little bit of water to wash it into the soil.

The purpose of the compost or worm castings is to give the soil biology a boost to get it started. Once it’s up and running, nothing more is needed from us in terms of ‘inputs’, so you can get rid of all the ‘weed and feed’ and similar products. The sad fact is that the majority of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers applied to home landscapes end up in the ocean causing problems, so lets all do our bit to stop that.

You will also want to keep a close eye on how much water is applied. Our most frequent garden problems are caused by too much water in the soil which pushes out oxygen creating perfect conditions for the bad guys (pests, diseases). Turf grass needs water when it’s actively growing, and the amount of water it needs is dependent on where you live. Here in San Diego county, cool season turf grass is going to need about 50 minutes of irrigation a week in July and August using a traditional sprinkler system. This drops to just 15 minutes per week from November through January. There are a couple of irrigation calculators available that help you get a sense of how much water you should be using.

You will want to make sure your lawn mower (or the one your gardener uses) is a ‘mulching mower’ – one that cuts up the grass clippings into fine pieces that are then put back on the grass where they can be quickly decomposed by the microbes in the soil. Not only does this continue to feed the soil, but it reduces the need to have grass clippings trucked to the landfill.

The height at which the lawn is cut to is important. The longer the blades of grass, the more water is conserved. Typically we mow our lawns too frequently and too closely. Setting the blades on the mower to about 2″ will encourage the more drought tolerant varieties of grass. You will also want to monitor how quickly the grass grows, and only mow when necessary. Often the maintenance service is locked into once a week or once every two weeks, when really we could probably go longer between cuts. Less service calls could save you money.

You may also want to consider overseeding your existing lawn with clover or a clover mixture. Clover is known to be a nitrogen fixing plant, and nitrogen is what keeps the grass looking green. Clover continues to look green through the heat of the summer, while the grass itself may be flagging, giving you the ‘healthy grass’ look that most people are looking for. G3, Green Gardens Group, came up with this mixture for the ‘Beverly Hills’ or Estate Lawn. Spring and Fall are great times to do this.

Do you have any other suggestions for saving water or money when it comes to your lawn? Do let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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Diane Downey and Sheri Menelli specialize in earth-friendly landscaping practices, including vegetable gardening, rainwater capture, soil health, native plants, and efficient irrigation. Diane is a professional landscape designer with over 10 years’ experience, and Sheri is a certified permaculture designer with a six-year-old food forest in her backyard. Combined, they have over two decades of teaching experience. Their classes are taught to the public in the classroom, in the field, and via one-on-one garden coaching sessions.
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