Is Your Lawn Sucking You Dry? 6 Ideas to Save Money and Water

by Kevin on August 21, 2008

lawn sprinklers

(Photo by Got to Water That Lawn, Doncha Know by cobalt123)

I read a very interesting article in Kiplinger’s magazine about lawn care in America a few months ago. The article essentially argued that most people simply water their lawns and landscaping too much. Some people are putting thousands and thousands of gallons of clean, treated water on their lawns. That can get very expensive very quickly.

Who says we have to have one acre properties, filled to the brim with gloriously perfect, golf course grass?

Alternatives to Grass

So if your property isn’t full of grass, what should be planted? You can’t leave the ground as just dirt, can you?

Well, I’m not suggesting that. There are other cost effective solutions. The Kiplinger’s article pointed out this question: what if you only had as much grass as you used? Let’s say you have a backyard of 1/2 an acre, but you only use 1/4 of an acre worth of grass (kids and pets playing, etc.). You could convert the other 1/4 acre to some of the following.

  • Local/regional appropriate plants. Plants that are appropriate to your area shouldn’t require excess amounts of water outside of what would normally occur (in terms of rain) in the region. These plants should also be more acclimated to the heat/cold for your area.
  • Gravel/rock. Let me start by pointing out I am not arguing that you should dig up all of your grass and plants and replace it all with gravel. (Although that would look very modern if done right!) Adding gravel (which allows water to drain to the ground) as pathways that linger through a garden can help take up space while still maintaining an inviting look.
  • Drought resistant plants. Adding plants that are natural to your region is a good start. Adding plants that are naturally resistant to drought helps even more. Again, you don’t have to swap out every plant for cacti. But it can help.

Alternatives to Heavy Watering

The photo I used with this post emphasizes the point — over watering is a waste. I can count at least 11 sprinkler heads in the photo. A bit much if you ask me. Plus they spray up into the air which may give a broader spray pattern, but also allows for more evaporation. Here are some alternatives to constantly turning on the spigots.

  • Rain water collection. If you want to include plant diversity in your landscaping, but want to avoid the cost and inefficiency of extra watering, you should try rain water collection. It’s a simple concept. Take one big barrel, connect to your gutters, and the next time it rains heavily your rain barrel fills up. You then use this stored up water to keep your plants thriving. This is effective and cheap. We are going to look into this for the future.
  • Proper watering. A simple idea, but not over watering can be as simple as learning how often you really need to water. Then follow a set schedule. Over watering can be bad for some plants, so they will appreciate a proper schedule as well.
  • Drip watering. Even if you desire to keep watering at least consider getting rid of those standing spray sprinklers. Drip watering is by far the most effective way to get water to the roots of your plants. There is little evaporation, and drip watering is slow — allowing the water to really soak in rather than run off.

Benefits of Less Grass

There are additional benefits to not having a huge plot of land covered in short grass.

  • Less grass means less property that needs mowing. If you use a gas mower, that’s less expensive gasoline to buy. I mow with an electric mower, but there is obviously still cost involved. Plus, less mowing means more time for other things.
  • Less grass means less fertilizer needed — saving you money and time.
  • Less watering means less clean, treated municipality water is wasted on the ground. This is why I love the idea of rain barrels. Water your lawn from rain water that would normally run into the sewer system and have to be treated. Seems like a win-win to me.

What do you all think? Do you have too much grass, just enough, or too little? Would you consider planting wildflowers or other indigenous plants in place of grass? What about water barrels? Silly or something you would do?

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Ashley @ Wide Open Wallet August 21, 2008 at 2:11 pm

We only have about a 6 ft by 4 ft patch of grass, and I think it’s too much. lol. It gets watered once or twice a day and still looks terrible most of the time. AZ is just too hot and dry for grass.

When we landscaped the back yard we didn’t put in any grass. We have two trees for shade, a patio made of pavers and the rest is river rocks. We do have to water the trees everyday but at least they provide us with something… unlike the grass.

Deb August 21, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Another issue with the over-watering that owners can’t seem to comprehend is that grass (and other plants) need oxygen as much as they need water. Too much water in the soil pushes out the oxygen and the roots can’t take it up. In the end the lawn dies anyway, or at least develops short roots near the surface which are prone to sun scald.

We have drought resistant grass and wide berms around our beds with mulch or rocks. Much easier mowing around smooth arcs. We don’t water except in severe dry periods except trees and flowers since our water rates are astronomical.

Kevin August 21, 2008 at 8:22 pm

@Ashley: That’s a small patch of grass! Do you clip it by hand? 😀

@Deb: More excellent points. When you first start a yard, deep watering is a good idea so the roots grow… right?

Ashley @ Wide Open Wallet August 21, 2008 at 8:35 pm

@Kevin: No, you wanna hear the funny part. We have landscapers!! LOL. It’s part of the association. The mow it with a riding mower.

sue August 23, 2008 at 8:59 pm

We set up drip hoses from our rain barrels – we got DIY rain barrel kits for the barrels we already had from these folks:

Kevin August 27, 2008 at 7:14 pm

@Ashley: Hilarious. Get out the scissors, boys!

@Sue: Awesome. Do you have images or a write up for your rain barrel setup?

Mary September 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm

Beware of a potential pitfall of rain-water collection. It is illegal in some municipalities, especially those prone to drought.

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