Turn your yard from thirsty to thrifty with these tips

Downsize your lawn and add plants that use less water

Published: April 17, 2014 05:30 PM

Not only do lawns soak up a lot of water but homeowners tend to over-water their grass in an effort to keep it green. But pouring on the water can be too much of a good thing and actually harm your turf if not your budget. To keep your energy and water use in check, transform your property with landscaping that uses water sparingly. Here’s how, according to the EnergySaver program at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Choose plants that drink less. Once established, native and low water-using plants require little water beyond normal rainfall. If you’re designing a new landscape or just sprucing up your yard, consider the water needs of the plants you choose.

Group plants according to water needs. Planting vegetation with similar watering needs in “hydrozones” reduces water use by allowing you to water according to each zone’s specific needs. Because of their differing water needs, turf and shrubbery should always be separated.

Cut your lawn size. Turfgrass receives the highest percentage of irrigation water in traditional landscaping. To better manage outdoor water use, plant turfgrass only where it has a practical function such as play areas.

Water wisely. Know your plant’s water needs and avoid watering during the heat of the day when evaporation is greatest. If you have an irrigation system, make regular adjustments to ensure proper watering.

Use mulch. Adding mulch around shrubs and garden plants helps reduce evaporation, inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, and prevent erosion. Aerating your soil and adding organic matter can improve its ability to retain moisture.

Repeat as needed. Replace mulch around shrubs and garden plants at least once per year, and remove weeds and thatch as necessary.

Grasscycle. Leave the grass clippings on your lawn after you mow. They quickly decompose releasing valuable nutrients back into the soil to feed the grass. In the heat of the summer, raise your mower’s cutting height as longer blades tend to shade each other.

Minimize or eliminate fertilizer. Fertilizer encourages new growth, which requires more water. If you do need fertilizer, look for a product that contains "natural organic" or "slow-release" ingredients that feed plants slowly and evenly.

To find plants that are best for your region, consult your county cooperative extension agent or a local nursery as well as using the EPA’s “What to Plant” tool. And here is a gallery of landscaping ideas that homeowners shared with the EPA.

Best mowers for the lawn you have
To take the best care of the lawn you have now, consider a top-performing mower from Consumer Reports' tests. For smaller lawns, our top-rated gas push mower is the Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J,$250. we also recommend push mowers from Craftsman, Yard Machines, Lawn Boy, and Ariens.

For medium lawns, the $600 Honda HRX217VKA self-propelled mower topped our tests. We also recommend self-propelled mowers from Toro, Troy-Bilt and Snapper, among others. And for larger properties, nothing runs like the John Deere X300, $3,000, although lawn tractors from Cub Cadet, Husqvarna and Snapper came close.

—Mary H.J. Farrell

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