Our phone often rings from homeowner associations (HOAs) that want to convert parts of their lawns into xeriscapes.
The driving reason isn’t altruistic. It’s financial.
Keeping traditional lawns looking good in a semi-arid climate adds up in irrigation and maintenance costs.
Landscape irrigation makes up about 50% of household irrigation in Colorado. Much of it is used to irrigate traditional lawns, like water-happy Kentucky bluegrass.
I’m not anti-lawn. I believe there are places where lawns make sense. But it’s worth asking, are we deferring unnecessary expenses to homeowners when we install lawn everywhere as a default groundcover?
While water prices vary by city, it’s unlikely prices will go down as more people move west (keeping demand high) and drought persists (limiting supply).
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Here are three places to rethink lawns.
- “Hell strips” between sidewalks and streets
These turf islands require their own irrigation or irrigation across sidewalks, making them ideal spots for waterwise plants, not turf grass. In northern Utah, the water-saving program “Flip Your Strip” has estimated that converting these turf islands into waterwise plants saves their residents 5,000-8,000 gallons of water per household every year.
Using waterwise plants also keeps curb appeal up, lowers weed pressure (and the costs of dealing with weeds) and reduces heat islands.
- Narrow paths of lawn next to buildings
Those winding, narrow strips can be tricky to water efficiently, difficult to navigate with a commercial mower and require a lot of string trimming. Make paths a true hardscaped path or mulch zone–surrounded by low-maintenance groundcover, perennials or shrubs.
- Awkward turf spaces
Watch out for patches of lawn with obstacles that commercial riding mowers can’t fit between or with tight corners that need string trimming.
These can be ideal zones for turf alternatives like shrubs. A 2010 Colorado State University water use study found that common landscape shrubs often tolerate drought better than Kentucky bluegrass, keeping a nicer appearance and consistently surviving.
The savings can be tangible
Cherry Creek 3, a Denver HOA community, converted portions of their lawn to waterwise plants and changed to water-efficient toilets, lowering their water and sewer bill from 42% of their annual costs to 30%. Thousands of dollars in savings per year!
The savings add up.
Ann Kendall, Western garden writer and Certified Colorado Gardener, Plant Select. Plantselect.org.