Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Keep a Lawn Green in a Drought


Beyond Imitation Turf
Your grass will retain more moisture if you keep your lawn mower's blades set high.
Your grass will retain more moisture if you keep your lawn mower's blades set high.
Nicolas Russell/Photodisc /­Getty Images

­One increasingly popular way of dealing with lawn care in semiarid or drought conditions is to shrink the size of the lawn -- less lawn means less of a demand for water and fertilizer. This is called xeriscaping. Xeriscaping hardly means ripping out all the turfgrass and replacing it with desert plants such as cacti. Yards are instead landscaped with native, drought-tolerant grasses, trees, shrubs, ground covers, perennials, annuals, bulbs and wildflowers. With this approach to landscaping, yards are planned thoughtfully from the types of plants used and their watering needs to where the foot traffic patterns will be. Plants with similar maintenance needs (water, fertilizer, shade) are smartly grouped together in hydrozones.

Generally your lawn doesn't need as much water as you think it does, and with xeriscaping it needs even less. Hydrozoning or not, before you can determine how much water your lawn needs, you need to know how much it's getting. California households use 50 to 70 percent of their water on lawns and gardens [source: Wilders]. But it doesn't have to be that way. A rain gauge or a small can or jar left out and measured after it rains helps you figure out how much extra water your lawn needs. During a drought, most healthy lawns can last up to about eight weeks with only 1/4 of an inch (1/2 of a centimeter) of water every few weeks [source: Lawrence Journal-World]. Watering during early morning hours is most efficient because it minimizes the amount of evaporation.

Soil aeration also impacts the amount of water lawns need. Unaerated lawns are those with tight, compacted soil or thatch -- both problems mean oxygen and moisture can't reach the root system easily. Keeping lawns aerated and dethatched could mean using up to 50 percent less water to keep the grass healthy [source: Home Improvement News and Information Center].

In addition to smart, infrequent watering, the source of water is also important. During droughts many communities don't allow watering or only allow limited watering periods. Rather than watch your lawn dry out, consider water sources other than your hose or sprinkler system. Place rain barrels under gutter downspouts and window air conditioners to create your own personal water reserve -- you could save more than 1,000 gallons (3,785 liters) of water during summer [source: RainBarrelSource.com]. Community water bans don't include what you collect from runoff.

Changing the way you fertilize your lawn also changes your watering needs. Fertilized lawns grow more quickly and require more water, so during a drought, many people give it up. Rather than deprive the lawn of nutrients, consider making the switch from synthetic chemical fertilizers to organic fertilizer, such as compost -- the lawn continues to absorb nutrients it needs to stay healthy, and with organic materials, the need for watering is reduced by 75 percent [source: Wilders].

With a little planning and maybe a landscaping project, your green lawn could be the envy of the neighborhood even during next summer's drought.


More to Explore