How to Drought-Proof Your Lawn

Without stealing your neighbor’s water

By Diane Rommel

How to Drought-Proof Your Lawn
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15 June 2016

Fact: We live in a changing world. A world in which the platonic ideal of the lawn — upon which English aristocrats drink Pimm’s, play croquet and recite sonnets to one another — is, well, probably the province of the English, and other residents of northern climes and/or former millennia.

May 2016 was the hottest May on record. February 2016 was the hottest February on record. January 2016 was the … you get the point.

We can look forward to more of these banner accomplishments in the future. Writing for the New Yorker in 2008, Elizabeth Kolbert said: “In order to keep all the lawns in the country well irrigated ... it would take an astonishing two hundred gallons of water per person, per day.” The situation has only deteriorated since.

A new reality calls for new landscaping solutions — environmentally conscious ones. Below, a few ideas for saving yourself the indignity of a summer-burnt lawn.

  1. Reconsider your grass. Bluegrass (the dominant variety in the U.S.) guzzles water. Try an alternative; there are plenty of slow-growing choices out there, with many offering the option of monthly or less frequent trims, like dune sedge. Many of these will get you close to the quad lawn feel of yore.
  2. Or consider non-grass “groundcovers.” Like thyme, strawberry or alyssum.
  3. Mix things up. Instead of one sprawling lawn, consider incorporating a variety of plants and landscaping features. Low-water plants (both grasses and otherwise) can sit next to pavers and other rock-centric landscape designs — see here for how black-eyed Susans and fountain grass can mix with drought-tough Japanese maples and pavers for a dramatic, no-lawn lawn.
  4. Or forget groundcovers altogether. Ventura, CA, city manager Rick Cole swapped his lawn for a garden and an ensuing media blitz: his flowering, buzzing, butterfly-friendly space was inspired by the Huntington Gardens and requires “only a little bit of summer irrigation.”
  5. One word: succulents. Pinterest’s favorite landscaping option is both highly dramatic and in line with conservation efforts.

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