Drought, water restrictions, and increasingly expensive water bills should motivate everyone to learn how to save water in a landscape plan.
Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, there are ways to save water without busting the budget on initial changes. Before beginning any project, review any HOA or city/county restrictions on landscaping. And tenants should always discuss landscaping ideas with the landlord before adding or removing lawn, shrubs, or trees.
5 suggestions for landlords
Implementing water-saving measures can range from repairing a faulty sprinkler system to fully renovating the landscape. Adding plants, shrubs, and trees suited to the local climate reduces the time required to maintain the landscape as well as reducing water usage.
1. Select the right type of grass
Save water by selecting the appropriate grass species for the USDA hardiness zones and environmental conditions. Grasses are divided into cool- and warm-season species. Most grass species require full sun or a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily to thrive.
Bluegrass and fine fescues grow well in USDA zones 2 through 7. The fine fescues, Chewings, creeping red, and hard, are better choices than bluegrass due to their drought and shade tolerance.
In USDA zones 6 through 9, zoysiagrass requires the least amount of water. It, like bermudagrass, becomes straw-colored in winter.
Bermudagrass is another tough, spreading grass. It’s found in USDA zones 7 through 10. It is invasive and will take over the flowerbeds if not separated by a barrier—such as concrete edging—and edged regularly.
2. Use ground covers
Water-saving alternatives to grasses are ground covers and native plants. Replace part or all the lawn with ground covers, preferably natives, which are suited for the site to save water.
Sun-loving miniature daisies, creeping thyme, and blue star creeper cover bare soil while reducing water usage.
In part-sun to shade, easy-maintenance ground covers like ajuga, also known as bugleweed, provide green coverage and flowers. After the ajuga finishes blooming, clean up and rejuvenate the plants by setting the mower at its highest setting and mowing over the fading flowers and foliage. (Avoid Vinca minor, also known as periwinkle and myrtle, and English ivy; both are invasive.)
While people often use decorative rocks as a ground cover, in time they begin to look drab and dusty. In addition, they harbor weed seeds and can develop into a messy expanse of unattractive weeds. Instead, weed cloth covered by organic mulch helps prevent weed growth and slows the evaporation of water from the soil.
3. Practice xeriscaping
Xeriscaping doesn’t mean cactus and bare rocks. The primary focus of xeriscaping is reducing water use. Plant drought-tolerant perennials, shrubs, and trees that may be natives or originated in a similar climate. The plantings might include iris, daffodils, daisies, hardy hibiscus, poppies, salvias, and other flowers that require less water once established in the landscape.
4. Consider installing a drip-watering system with a rain-sensing timer
Each plant, shrub, and tree receives water directly over the rootball according to the plant’s needs with this system. This allows specimen plants that may have higher water needs to receive the correct amount of moisture, while other plants are not overwatered. Set the timer to water in the early morning, between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., on the city- or HOA-specified days. The rain sensor prevents wasteful watering on rainy days.
5. Inspect existing sprinkler systems
Repair leaks and replace broken or inefficient sprinkler heads. Adjust the sprinklers to ensure that the water lands on the lawn or in the landscape and not on surrounding hardscape, such as sidewalks or the driveway. Add a timer to prevent overwatering.
5 ways tenants can reduce water usage
Tenants have fewer options than landlords, but there are a number of water-saving steps that can reduce the water bill while maintaining the landscape according to the landlord’s or HOA’s rules.
1. Water grass deeply in the morning
But water only once or twice a week. Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow roots. Less frequent watering that moistens the soil to a depth of 6 to 12 inches encourages the grass to develop deeper roots and better withstand drought conditions.
2. Mow the grass at the recommended height
Remove no more than one-third of the lawn’s height at each mowing. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and return nutrients to the soil. In spring, dethatch the grass, mow, and then rake a thin layer of compost over the grass.
3. Remove weeds from the lawn
Weeds compete with the grass and plantings for water and nutrients. Landscape as soon as they appear. Rake and remove debris under shrubs and trees before adding mulch. Spread 4 inches of mulch over bare soil or landscape fabric, beginning 4 to 6 inches from the trunk to the outer edge of the canopy.
4. Wind soaker hoses through the flower beds and around trees
Do this instead of hand-watering or using a hose end sprinkler to save water. At the spigot, install a simple battery-operated timer set for early morning on the watering days set by the city or HOA.
5. Add compost to a garden
If your landlord approves a vegetable garden:
- Dig several inches of compost into the garden bed to improve the soil and to increase its ability to drain or hold water, depending on whether it is clay or sandy.
- Plant the fruits and vegetables at the recommended distances, or consider a square foot garden to increase productivity in a small space.
- Add trellises to the north side of the garden for peas, beans and cucumbers to save space and keep the fruits off the ground.
- Use soaker hoses covered with loose organic mulch between the rows to reduce water usage while keeping the soil moist.
Landlords can implement a range of water-saving measures or can completely renovate the landscape to reap the maximum benefits of xeriscaping. Meanwhile, tenants can reduce their water bills by adding easy water-saving steps to their weekly lawn maintenance routines.
A well-kept home with a thriving green landscape is an asset for everyone. It makes the property more desirable, and reducing water use is good for the environment and the checkbook—a win-win.