The EPA estimates that about one-third of all residential water usage in the US goes toward watering lawns and gardens, and that’s about 7 billion gallons of water. Worse than that, experts believe that up to half of that water is wasted because of evaporation and other inefficiencies in outdoor watering systems and techniques. There are actually many simple ways to correct this – in fact, many people simply water their lawns too frequently, so cutting back will save you not only money, but also time and energy.
But there’s a way to seriously cut back on your lawn maintenance expense and hassle. It’s a bit of work up front, and some expense, but once everything’s established… well, just imagine only having to mow once a year. And rarely or never needing to apply chemicals to your lawn or landscaping. You can have all this and a beautiful lawn.
The low maintenance lawn
Creating a low maintenance lawn involves replacing your existing turf grass and landscaping with plants that need very little water, little or no fertilizer or weed protection, and little or no work from you. Getting a low maintenance yard established involves:
- Getting rid of all the weeds in your planting area.
- Buying seeds to plant, plus optional items like mulch .
- Planting the low maintenance yard.
- Some TLC – some plants need frequent watering at first, for example.
- Once the new lawn is established, sit back and enjoy your free time and extra spending money, and the knowledge that you’ve done something very environmentally friendly, too.
It’s definitely a lot of work, or some expense if you hire a landscaper to do the work for you. But it’s worth it. When you’re planning your low maintenance lawn, you have a variety of plants to choose from. This makes it easy to achieve a beautiful landscape.
- No-Mow Grasses. These are mixes of grasses that grow slowly and only need to be mowed about once a year. You can buy special blends tailored to thrive on the conditions in your region. These grasses don’t require fertilizer, withstand drought well, and thrive in the shade. By not mowing, you actually discourage weed germination, too, which makes it unlikely you’ll need to use weed treatments. These lawns may look more flowing and wavy than traditional turf, or you may choose a mix that incorporates small flowers.
- Ornamental grasses initially need a fair amount of water, but require very little once they’re established. Mulch can be used to control grass growth and keep it from getting out of control. Some of these grasses can grow high, and they’re beautiful. Use them for landscaping certain parts of your yard, such as the area around the house or pool, or a sloping side yard by the driveway that’s difficult to mow. Be sure to do some research online or with local gardening shops to find out which ornamental grasses are best suited for your region.
- Ground covers like clover are plants (like the turf grass used in typical lawns) that spread out and cover an area. Like ornamental grasses, they need some extra care at first, but once established, they need very little maintenance. You can water them only as needed whenever it’s particularly dry, and if you got them off to the right start, they shouldn’t need any chemical attention. Some species do require occasional pruning to keep them thriving, so be aware of this when you make your selection and choose a species that suits the time and energy you can put in. There are so many gorgeous options out there, you won’t have any trouble finding one that’s low enough maintenance for you. Most people don’t plant ground cover plants all over a lawn, though you certainly could. Plant these in areas like you would the ornamental grasses, or cover just your backyard in them.
- Mosses are also a form of ground cover that you can use to replace part or all of your landscaping if you live in a wet area (they need more moisture than most ground covers). Moss can thrive without much sunlight, and it creates a wonderful spongy texture on the ground. It can add beauty to your landscaping while reducing your maintenance.
Changing out your high-maintenance turf grass for a lower maintenance plants is just one strategy to reduce the time, energy and money you spend on your lawn. There are others, and you can combine some or all of them to make a significant impact.
- Water plants less frequently. If you water plants less often, they develop deeper root systems that allow them to tolerate drought conditions more easily. Also be aware that some wilting is perfectly natural for plants when it gets dry, but they make a comeback as soon as it gets wetter again. If your plants have been getting watered too frequently, gradually reduce the frequency of watering so they have time to adjust to the new conditions. The way to know if they need watered again yet is: stick your finger into the soil. If it’s dry an inch down into the soil, then it needs watering. If not, let it go.
- Raking fertilizer, not dead stuff. Dead leaves do need to be removed if they’re covering grass and other plants that need sunlight. But instead of composting them or recycling them, you can just rake them under bushes and shrubs, where they’ll be consumed as fertilizer – which is what they really are.
- Plant clover instead of switching out grass. If you’re not prepared to plant a whole new lawn, just plant some clover in the lawn you have. Clover stays green all year round and effectively fertilizes your soil. However, clover needs some moisture, so if you live in a drier climate, be sure to check with a local gardener or nursery for the best species of clover to use in your area.
- Shade trees. Tress can shade large patches of your yard, thus reducing the amount of water evaporating out of that patch, which means less watering.
- Use rocks and mulch to reduce grass area. You can create beautiful landscaping by putting gravel around a tree, or creating a foot path with river rocks. This reduces the amount of grass that needs watered and mown.