11 ways to use less water on your lawn

Conserva founder and COO Russ Jundt, right, and technician Kevin Say evaluate an irrigation system in Eden Prairie. Jundt said new technology and better design will cut outdoor water use at the home by 40 to 60 percent. Elizabeth Dunbar/MPR News

 

Many Twin Cities homeowners see their water bills spike each summer as they start watering their lawns. Here are some tips — from modest changes to the extreme — that could help you use less water this summer.

  • Check for leaks, wet sidewalks and streets. This applies to both built-in irrigation systems and hose-sprinkler setups. Any water that escapes on to streets and sidewalks is wasted water, and you’re paying for it.
  • Get a rain barrel. Instead of watering your lawn with drinking water, capture rainwater from your gutters.
  • Get a rain sensor for your irrigation system. New systems have been required to have these for several years, but older systems don’t always have them. A rain sensor stops an irrigation system from going on during the rain.
  • Go high-tech with your irrigation system. We replace our iPhones frequently, but Russ Jundt, founder of the irrigation company Conserva, says many home irrigation systems are 20 years old. You can put them on a timer, but that often leads to overwatering. New technology including evapotraspiration sensors, soil moisture sensors and a device loaded with 40 years of historical weather data.
  • Shut off the timer on your irrigation system and run it manually. Many suburban dwellers have their irrigation systems set to water every other day according to their city’s lawn watering restrictions. But turf expert Sam Bauer, a University of Minnesota Extension educator, said they are likely over-watering.
  • Use the “footprint method” to decide when to water. For those without high-tech gadgets, Bauer recommends watering after grass shows signs of wilt. Look for leaves to turn a little purple, and when you step on the grass, it doesn’t spring back right away.
  • Collect tuna cans. If you don’t have a built-in irrigation system, spread tuna cans around the yard and run your sprinkler. Bauer said the lawn only needs 1/4 inch of water a week to stay alive. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends an inch a week for a healthy lawn, including rainwater, so some weeks it isn’t necessary to water.
  • Tolerate some brown. Our most common grass species in Minnesota, Kentucky bluegrass, can go dormant during a dry summer and bounce back. If we all tolerated a little more brown grass, we could save billions of gallons of precious groundwater every summer.
  • Replace part of your lawn with native plants. Native plants don’t need as much water. Expanding your garden also means less mowing.
  • Change your species of grass. When re-seeding or starting a new lawn, consider planting fescue or other species that have proven to tolerate drought better than Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye grass. The University of Minnesota Extension has tested some varieties, and Bauer said there’s a lot of potential for them.
  • Mow, but not too much. Keep your lawn no shorter than 3 1/2 inches in height. Longer grass helps the lawn retain water better.

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