At the nursery, I’ve found that there’s a pretty quick tell that indicates I’m talking to someone with a lawn. As soon as I tell them that they need to increase the water to their trees and shrubs, they look horrified and make a comment about how high their water bill is already.
“You have a lawn, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” they inevitably reply. “How’d you know?”
I know because water bills don’t usually go through the roof due to trees and shrubs, unless you have considerably more of them than the average homeowner, or you’re running a small apple orchard in your backyard. Grass sprinklers, however, put out a lot of water. And since people have a tendency to overwater their grass, especially in the summer months, the water bill of a homeowner with a lawn can easily be two or three times that of a home with drought-tolerant landscaping.
How Much Water Does a Lawn Use?
Just a bit of quick math to ponder: on average, grass sprinklers put out around 11 gallons of water a minute. If you water your lawn for the 12 minutes a day that the Southern Nevada Water Authority allows you, that’s 132 gallons of water from one emitter alone, every single day. Obviously, that starts to add up fairly quickly, particularly if you have a large area of grass.
I know what you’re thinking: This freakin’ tree-hugger’s about to tell me to yank out all my grass.
I love grass. I grew up in a place where lawns were (and still are) pretty much the standard. My siblings and I did cartwheels in our front yard and laid out under the stars in our backyard. I wouldn’t have wanted to play on landscape rocks and I certainly don’t expect anybody else to want to.
That being said, I think that a small patch of grass for kids or a pet or your own peace of mind is one thing. If, on the other hand, you have a showpiece lawn that isn’t being used for anything more than to let your neighbors know that you like grass, I gotta tell you, that doesn’t make much sense to me. You’re looking at a whole lot of maintenance and resources, without a lot of reward.
But I digress.
I’m here to help you reduce the amount of water that you’re using, whether your lawn is for play or display. So with that in mind, let’s look at how to save money watering your lawn in five easy steps.
1. Just cut back on your watering. Simple as that. Like I said, people tend to overwater their grass in the summer here. It’s a nurturing thing, I think. But every year, people show up at the nursery with clumps of soil and pictures of a lawn that’s riddled with fungus, and you know what? It’s from overwatering and watering at night.
First things first. If your grass gets some afternoon shade, you can probably get by with watering every other day, even when we’re in the 100°-105° range. The most common grasses in our Valley are fescue, Bermuda and rye, all of which are especially drought-tolerant. If we’re gonna hit 110°, then by all means, water your grass that day. More often than not though, you’ll find that 4 days a week is plenty for an established lawn with afternoon shade.
If your grass gets a full blast of sun all day or takes a particularly bad hit from it later in the day, you may very well need to water every morning. What you can do, however, is cut back on the length of time that you water. It’s recommended that you run your grass sprinklers in three cycles of four minutes each, but if you cut back to three cycles of three minutes each, you can save almost 400 gallons of water a day from each sprinkler head. That’s a lot of water, yo.
2. Stop watering at in the afternoon, evening and at night. Plants, grass included, can’t use water at night. They need sunlight in order to process water, so if you’re dumping water on your lawn late in the day or in the middle of the night, you’re basically wasting water and setting yourself up for fungus at the same time. Remember, hot and wet and dark add up to prime fungus-growing conditions, so you should always aim to water your grass at around the time the sun comes up. If you don’t believe me, a little company called Scott’s offers some excellent basic watering tips that’ll tell you the same thing I am.
So how will changing the time that you water impact your water bill? Keep in mind that even when the sun is down in the desert, the air is incredibly dry. That means that a good bit of the water you’re dumping on your grass will evaporate, even in the dark. Water early in the morning and gradually back off on the amount of time that you run your clock and you might be surprised at how much water you wind up saving. You’re also much more likely to save some cash that you would’ve been spending on fungicide and reseeding. Just my little bonus gift to you. You’re welcome.
3. Cut back on the amount of grass that you have to water. Again, you don’t have to pull out all of your grass in order to make a serious dent in your water bill. But if you have an area of turf that’s 20’ long by 10’ wide, that’s 200 square feet of grass that you have to manage. Cut that down by a mere 2’ in each direction so that it’s 18’ long by 8’ wide and you’ve already decreased your responsibility to only 144 square feet, which will require less water and less care.
4. Give your grass some shade. Even if you can only cut it a break from the sun for a couple of hours in the afternoon, you’ll wind up decreasing the amount of water that your lawn needs. Remember that shade can be created through any number of means, too. A small tree or a large shrub on the west side of the grass will use some water, yes, but it will use considerably less water than a patch of grass would. Take out a 20 square foot patch of grass and put in a little drought-tolerant tree like a mastic on the west side of it and you’ve reduced the amount of water needed in that area and made it a much more comfortable place to spend time throughout the year. Shade cloth or sun sails are another good way to make shade for your grass and they won’t require any water at all.
5. Take good care of your grass. Maintaining your lawn with regular fertilizer, weed control and fungicide when needed will help you reduce your water bill by a great deal. If you stay on top of these matters, you’ll find that you won’t have to reseed or re-sod in the spring or fall as often. Since it takes a lot of water in order to get new grass seed or sod patches established (you should water about every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day for the first two weeks, depending on the temperature), you’ll be able to enjoy a lower water bill and more free time in those seasons than you would otherwise.
See there? That was pretty painless, right? I didn’t tell you to rip out all your grass one single time, though if you did decide to do that, it wouldn’t exactly break my heart. My end goal truly is to help you, and our Valley, save as much water as we possibly can without sacrificing our standard of living. Put these easy water-saving tips to use now and I think you’ll find that you can make a serious dent in your water bill in no time flat!