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Is It Time to Switch Out Your Lawn? Water-Wise Lawn Alternatives

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A lush, green lawn used to be part of the American dream. But, in these days of widespread droughts, people are reconsidering whether nurturing a thirsty lawn is a good idea.

Traditional turf lawns are extremely hard on the environment. In addition to requiring mowing, feeding and pesticides, lawns guzzle water.

According to water experts, U.S. households use an average of 48 gallons of water per day to irrigate lawns and gardens, totaling some 9 billion gallons a day nationwide. Given the water crisis, homeowners are switching out their lawns for ecologically-friendly and low-maintenance water-saving lawn alternatives. Here are a few to try.

Native Grasses and Wildflowers

Both prairies and meadows contain a mix of native grasses and wildflowers. Once established, these tough local plants are drought-resistant and self-sufficient, thriving without irrigation, fertilizer or maintenance.

Native plants and grasses are accustomed to surviving local weather variances, including drought. That's why they are among the top water-saving lawn alternatives. They also provide shelter and food for wildlife.

Growing tips

Creating a meadow or prairie involves three steps:

  • selecting the native plants (ask for recommendations at an extension office)
  • stripping off the old lawn
  • planting seeds or seedlings in springtime
  • watering and mulching the area during the first two months

After that, keep the weeds down for the first two years to let the young plants develop.

Dwarf Myrtle (Myoporum parviflora)

Dwarf myrtle makes a great water-saving lawn alternative. This evergreen is naturally about 2 feet tall, but you can shear it to half that height if you like. Don't trim in spring or you'll miss the flush of small white blossoms.

Dwarf myrtle grows fast and anchors the soil well. It has semi-succulent leaves and remains drought tolerant once established. However, you can't walk on it.

Growing Tips

Dwarf myrtle can take a full-sun location. You can offer it a drink after a long dry period, but never overwater. This can cause weak lateral growth.

Sedge (Carex spp)

If you'd prefer a more grasslike look, consider replacing turf with one of the native sedges. Sedge leaves are long and thin and grow in clumps. You can walk on sedge, once established, but heavy foot traffic isn't good for it.

For a meadow-like look, let your sedge grow tall and wavy. If you prefer something more like a lawn, mow the sedge a few times a year. It grows happily in shade and is drought-tolerant when established.

Growing Tips

Plant sedge in spring or fall. If you live somewhere with a warm winter, you can also plant in winter. Pennsylvania sedge is a very popular, lawn-like sedge.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

Sweet woodruff is an edible herb with a vanilla taste and a lovely scent. It bears delicate white flowers in spring. This mat-forming perennial features whorls of fragrant, lance-shaped, dark green leaves along square stems.

Sweet woodruff is one of the best water-saving lawn alternatives, since it rarely if ever needs watering. It doesn't need mowing or fertilizer, and forms a dense canopy of leaves and flowers that prevents weeds from growing.

Growing Tips

Sweet woodruff likes shade and won't do well in direct sunlight.

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

For sunny expanses, consider white clover as a water-saving lawn alternative. It has many advantages over turf grass.

White clover thrives in sun as well as partial shade. It also forgives some foot traffic, although not heavy running. It needs no fertilizer, stays green all summer without water, grows well in poor soil and is soft to walk on.

Growing Tips

Sow clover seeds in springtime after night temperatures top 40 degrees. Water the seeds regularly until the clover sprouts.

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