by Dan Carney, Water Conservation Manager
If you are looking for an ideal landscape area to have a picnic, play games with your kids, or rough and tumble with the family dog, a lawn may be a good choice.
When properly cared for, lawns have many environmental benefits: They clean and cool the air, filter storm water, produce oxygen, and require much less water than you might think—lawns are commonly overwatered by as much as five-times! As a rule of thumb, unless it’s the middle of summer and the lawn is in full sun all day long, a healthy lawn only needs to be watered one day per week if it’s not raining. If it needs more, chances are your lawn needs some help.
Common environmental problems with lawns occur when people overwater, use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, do not compost clippings, mow too often, and have a larger lawn than they actually use. This article focuses on the essential things you need to know in order to successfully grow healthy lawn grass in an environmentally responsible, Marin-friendly manner.
But first, ask yourself this question: Do you really need a traditional lawn at all? If your answer is no, then please consider planting a no-mow meadow of native grasses, low-water groundcover, or other drought-adapted plants. Even when perfectly maintained, lawns require more water than any other landscape plant and are best reserved for landscape areas where they will be actively used rather than just a pretty green surface to look at. If you have a lawn area you want to convert into a low-water using garden, check out this video to learn how to sheet mulch. Then, browse our conservation coupons to find discounts on mulch and other supplies from local retailers.
If you still choose to have a lawn on your property, here are the basics of Marin-friendly lawn care:
- Incorporate a generous amount of organic compost into the soil (1-2 cubic yards per 100 square feet).
- Select a drought-tolerant grass species.
- Apply enough organic fertilizer to maintain plant health but not to stimulate fast growth.
- Irrigate with a high-efficiency irrigation system, and adjust watering times frequently to match seasonal plant demand. Never water between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., the time when 97% of evapotranspiration occurs.
- Mow infrequently, use a manual or electric mower, leave the grass blades 2-4 inches tall, and compost the clippings.
- Use graywater, rainwater, or recycled water whenever it is available.
By following these basic steps, you will be training your lawn grass to develop a deep and extensive root system—the key to growing a drought-tolerant lawn with the most environmental benefits and the fewest problems. MMWD offers a number of free services to help you make your landscape Marin-friendly. Visit our Conservation page today to schedule a free water use survey through our Conservation Assistance Program (CAP), sign up for a Marin Master Gardener Garden Walk, and take advantage of great rebate offers for smart irrigation controllers. And, be sure to sign up for MMWD’s Weekly Watering Schedule to get updated watering information for your climate zone delivered to your email box each week.