Conserving Water on Home Lawns and Landscapes in New Jersey


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Conserving Water on Home Lawns and Landscapes in New Jersey

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Conserving Water on Home Lawns and Landscapes in New Jersey

  1. 1. FS921 Fact sheet For a comprehensive list of our publications visit Conserving Water on Home Lawns and Landscapes in New JerseyMichael T. Olohan, Former Program Associate in Watershed Management & Theodore B. Shelton, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Water Resource Management (retired) To conserve water on your lawn and landscape as well as Water Only Where and When minimize water use, New Jer- Needed sey homeowners have a vari- ety of options to choose from. Water the lawn only when and where its needed. These options will reduce the Remember that millions of acres of crops, in New overall use of water as well as Jersey and elsewhere, depend entirely on naturalcreate a more environmentally friendly home land- rainfall. Watering is only necessary when rainfallscape. By conserving water and establishing low- does not occur for an extended period.water use, drought-resistant plantings, you’ll also On a windy, bright sunny day, as much as 40% ofreduce maintenance time and promote a more sus- sprinkler-applied water is lost to evaporation. Earlytainable, low-input (less fertilizer, pesticide, and morning watering (4:00–8:00 A.M.) is best to avoidwater) home lawn and landscape. disease and conserve water. The typical thunderstorm may provide 1/2–3/4 of anPrinciples of Low-Water Use inch of water. Use an inexpensive plastic rain gaugeLandscaping to check natural rainfall or put empty coffee cans on at least two areas of the lawn and measure. If rainfall ✹ Water only where and when needed. is sufficient, you may wish to turn off automatic sprinklers or stop watering for 4–7 days. ✹ Improve your soil for optimum water holding Knowing when to water is very important. The best capacity. way to do this is to check your soil moisture periodi- cally. Use a hand trowel to check the upper 6 inches ✹ Use low-water demanding or native plants of soil for moisture. and consider reducing lawn size. This is easy and practical. Being knowledgable about the plant’s cultural requirements will include knowing ✹ Apply organic/inorganic mulches. its watering needs, and drought tolerance. Cool-
  2. 2. season grasses generally require 1–1½ inches of water-holding capacity. In New Jersey, clay soilswater per week for optimum growth. Turfgrass, for are typically found in the northern part of the stateexample, may take on a dull green color when water and sandy soils in the south, with a diversity of soilis needed. Another indication that it is time to water types in between. A good soil should be well-drained;is when footprints remain in the grass for some time. hold nutrients, sufficient moisture, and oxygen; andDrought-tolerant lawn mixes for sun/shade are avail- be the correct pH for the plants being at garden centers. Clay soils are often very compact with little aeration.To encourage Plant roots suffer from oxygen starvation and claydrought-toler- also binds water, causing plant roots to rot. Some-ance in your times, plants will wilt even when there is available soilplants, gradu- moisture. Sandy soils have soil particles so large thatally adapt them they do not hold water. Water is wasted in sandy soilsto infrequent as it percolates below the root zone, often removingbut deep water- valuable plant Even forlow-water de- Improving the soil by adding organic amendmentsmanding variet- such as compost or peat moss will help increase soilies, it takes about two growing seasons for new aeration, water retention, and microorganism activ-plants to develop sufficient roots to withstand ity, and moderate pH. This will enhance soil healthextended dry periods. Most bluegrass will go and nutrient availability. (See RCE fact sheetsdormant during a drought and await rain. How- FS074, Backyard Leaf Composting, and FS117,ever, some varieties may not recover from a long Using Leaf Compost, for information on how todry period. If reseeding, consider a drought-toler- make your own backyard compost.)ant turf-type tall fescue or hard fescue. When redesigning your landscape, 2–4 inches ofMany types of irrigation systems exist to help the compost or peat moss should be incorporated into thehomeowner apply the correct amount of water to top 6–9 inches of topsoil, or approximately six cubictrees, shrubs, and gardens. Drip irrigation systems yards per thousand square feet. Adding organicprovide a controlled flow of water directly to the matter to your lawn by topdressing with compost orplants root system. Wasted water due to runoff, other organic soil amendments at 1/4–1/3 of an inchoverspraying, and evaporation is greatly reduced. per application will gradually improve soil texture, and reduce reliance on applications of fertilizers,Modern drip systems will pay for themselves very pesticides, and water.quickly in the cost of water and time you save.Systems are available which are easily installed bythe homeowner. Currently, drip systems have not Use Low-Water Plants andproven reliable for lawns. However, there are Minimize the Lawnefficient sprinklers for turfgrasses. By using low-water demanding plants and mini- mizing the lawn, you can drastically cut water useImprove Your Soil on the home landscape. Reducing the size of the lawn and using sound cultural practices to estab-Probably the most overlooked aspect of landscape lish, maintain, and manage it will result in morewater conservation is improving the soil for optimum efficient water use. Many ground covers thrive 2
  3. 3. where grass does poorly—under dense shade or turf maintenanceshallow-rooted trees such as Norway Maple, Eu- desired.ropean Beech, or Horsechestnut. 3) MowingAsk yourself these questions: Mowing height is an important con- ✔ Are you growing grass where grass is impos- sideration during sible to maintain? droughts. Lawns cut shorter than ✔ Are you trying to grow grass where active two inches are play tramples out all vegetation? prone to browning out. Increase ✔ Are you growing grass just because you can’t think of anything else to plant? mowing height and cut less than 1/3 of the grass blade to avoid summer lawn scorching.You should plan your landscape by balancing lawnareas (active play and recreation areas) with other 4) Wateringaesthetic and low-maintenance considerations. Re-member: lawns require a lot of work. Consider these Water only when needed. A bluegrass lawnfive factors for proper care and management: needs water when it takes on a wilted blue appearance. Become aware of stress areas1) Seed Selection within the lawn, such as areas in competition In the shade, under low-fertilizer conditions, the with shade and shal- fine fescues are still the most successful of the low tree roots, com- grasses. Some bluegrasses are drought-tolerant pacted soils, and south- such as Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. Bluegrasses west embankments. are good in full sun and well-drained soil, but Drip irrigation can be require more water, fertilizer, and attention. Perennial ryegrasses, and tall fescues in mix- used under mulches tures do well in full sun and heavy traffic. Tall during daytime since mulch reduces evapora- fescues take 1–2 years for adequate root devel- tion. Make sure sprinklers water the lawn, not opment before they tolerate heavy foot traffic. the street, driveway, or sidewalk.2) Fertilizer and Lime 5) Turfgrass Alternatives Do not overfertilize your lawn. Test your soil Alternatives to grass provide variety in the land- and determine its current pH, texture, and nutri- scape. These include organic and inorganic ent levels at least once every 3–5 years. Re- mulches and living ground covers. Three shade- turning clippings to the lawn may reduce fertili- tolerant groundcovers are English Ivy, Pachysan- zation needs up to 50%. County offices of dra, and Periwinkle. Varieties of low-growing Rutgers Cooperative Extension sell soil test kits junipers provide interest year-round and flourish for a nominal fee. Separate soil samples are on steep, dry, and sunny sites. Refer to Rutgers required for each different area. Established Cooperative Extension bulletin E080, Landscap- fescue lawns can usually survive with only one ing for Water Conservation, A Guide for New feeding a year, preferably in mid- to late-No- Jersey for a complete selection of living and vember. Fertilization ultimately depends on woody ground covers, landscaping techniques, variety, turf quality desired, and the amount of and native, drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, and 3
  4. 4. plants. underlay organic mulches because they slide off andApply Organic and Inorganic the black plastic looks unsightly. Other inorganicMulches mulches include landscape fabric, porous plastic, and foil. (See RCE fact sheet FS058, Mulches forMulches are divided into two basic types: organic or Vegetable Gardens.)inorganic. Some organic mulches that will breakdown and improve the soil while retarding weeds and Mulches can be used around the edges of lawns,conserving water include wood chips, bark chips, and under trees, on flower beds, and vegetable gardens.shredded bark. For weed reduction, an organic Mulches help conserve soil moisture by minimizingmulch should be 3–4 inches thick. Other organic runoff and allowing the rain to slowly soak into themulches include salt hay, grass clippings, compost, soil. Mulches also reduce weed growth, help moder-and finely shredded paper. These mulches add ate soil temperature, and may decrease gardenorganic matter to the soil as they break down and disease problems. (NOTE: This fact sheet revises and updates infor- mation in previous Rutgers Cooperative Exten- sion fact sheets FS596, FS597, and FS598, the “Principles of Low-Water Use Landscaping” se- ries.) Other Resources…enhance beneficial microorganisms. FS058 Mulches for Vegetable GardensInorganic mulches may range from pea-size gravels FS074 Backyard Leaf Compostingand river-worn cobbles to boulders. If porous black FS117 Using Leaf Compostplastic is laid out first, and then overlaid with 3–4 FS688 Fine Fescues: Low-Maintenanceinches of gravel, weed control and water retention Species for Turfare greatly enhanced. Black plastic should not Photos Courtesy of Nicholas Polanin© 2004 by Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension, NJAES, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.Desktop publishing by Rutgers-Cook College Resource Center Revised: July 2004 RUTGERS COOPERATIVE RESEARCH & EXTENSION N.J. AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION RUTGERS, THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW JERSEY NEW BRUNSWICK Distributed in cooperation with U.S. Department of Agriculture in furtherance of the Acts of Congress on May 8 and June 30, 1914. Rutgers Cooperative Extension works in agriculture, family and community health sciences, and 4-H youth development. Dr. Karyn Malinowski, Director of Extension. Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension provides information and educational services to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension is an Equal Opportunity Program Provider and Employer.