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5 Tips for a Water-Wise Lawn

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Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/">Kevin Dooley</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>
Photo by Kevin Dooley/Flickr/Creative Commons

For some people, getting rid of grass is just not possible — whether it's prohibited by HOA rules, or it requires a lot of time and expense in re-landscaping a large yard.

But even in the middle of drought, you can still be a responsible steward of the lawn. Follow these five simple tips for saving water and saving money, whether you're establishing a new turf or preserving an existing one.

#1 Choose warm-season grasses
Not surprisingly, warm-season grasses are ideal for our climate as they need 20% less water than cool-season grasses. Since the 1950s, UC Riverside has been researching and developing drought-tolerant turf grasses specifically for the Southern California climate. One such cultivar to come out of the studies is UC Verde Buffalograss, a grass that needs only weekly watering in the summer. Its slow growth means it can be mowed every two to three weeks for a more manicured look, or just once a year for a more natural meadowscape. Other good choices for a drought-tolerant lawn are Bermudagrass (loves the sun but needs frequent mowing), Zoysia (slow growing, loves sun and shade, and tolerates traffic), St. Augustine (one of the most drought tolerant varieties, but prefers dappled shade), and Seashore Paspalum (ideal for soil or irrigation with high salt content).

#2 Water efficiently and responsibly
No lawn ever needs daily watering; at most, a warm-season grass needs watering only three days a week during the summer. Avoid the heat of the day and water in the early morning or late evening. Adjust your watering schedule seasonally, and turn off irrigation in the winter when grasses go dormant. Ensure that water is not wasted by running off into the street or causing soil erosion from poorly planted landscapes.

#3 Skip the sprinklers
Water sprinklers are wasteful in many ways, from water drifting out onto the street to broken heads and pipes that cause under- or over-watering. Consider investing in a smart irrigation system, such as weather-based irrigation controllers (WBIC), which automatically adjust watering to weather conditions, or drip irrigation, which delivers water right to the roots. The SoCal Water$mart program currently offers rebates for new installations of WBICs by residential water customers.

#4 Cut your grasses higher
Resist the urge to mow your lawn down to a low-growing golf course-like turf. Longer leaf blades provide more shade for the soil, in turn retaining moisture, reducing the need for frequent watering, and promoting stronger, deeper root systems. As a result, tall grass is healthier and thicker. (Have you ever noticed that short grass is often riddled with brown patches in summer?) Another benefit to growing tall grass is that it shades out (and eventually smothers) competing weeds.

#5 Invest in a mulching mower
A traditional mower collects grass clippings in a bag as you cut, which you then empty into your compost pile or green bin. By contrast, a mulching mower leaves behind finely shredded grass clippings on the lawn, as if you were composting in place. The clippings add organic matter to the soil and essentially act as a fertilizer, so you don't have to buy commercial fertilizer.

If you are looking to remove your lawn, the Department of Water and Power is currently offering Los Angeles homeowners $3 per square foot of grass removed (up from $2 last year) through their Landscape Incentive Program.

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