06.To lawn or not to lawn
Before you rush out and buy a new mower in these water-restricted times, consider whether you need a lawn at all. While grass does prevent soil erosion, it can suck in up to 90% of your garden’s water. It also needs regular mowing and fertilising to look its best.
Many new home builders are opting for less lawn, but it’s not for environmentally sustainable reasons: it’s so they can build a bigger house. Research at Queensland’s Griffith University has revealed that new home builders are erecting houses that cover up to 65% of their block, which may leave a gap of only one or two metres around their house. Traditionally, houses occupied 35% of a standard suburban block, leaving the rest for garden and lawn.
The rise of McMansions with massive floorspaces began in the 1990s and appears to be unique to Australia. The trend isn’t being mirrored in the US, despite its similar suburban sprawl. While a gardenless state may save water, researchers say the loss of trees and garden can have a serious impact on the local ecology, drainage and microclimate. So maybe you need that small strip of garden after all.
If you decide to keep your lawn, the following tips may help to keep it healthy and your water use low:
- Choose a warm-season lawn variety that requires less watering, such as couch or Sir Walter Buffalo.
- Don’t cut grass too short. Keeping it 4 cm or longer will leave the roots shaded and reduce evaporation.
- Use lawn clippings as a mulch to reduce water loss.
- Water your lawn early in the morning or in the evening when it’s cooler and give your lawn long, infrequent soaks, rather than watering it every day.
- Using a timing device or an alarm clock to avoid leaving sprinklers on overnight.
- Install a water tank for watering your garden.
- Keep the blades on your mower sharp — if grass is torn rather than cut, it can be more susceptible to disease.
- Use a wetting agent such as SaturAid to ensure tap water or rain water soaks deeply into the soil.
- Embrace your brown lawn — it isn’t dead, it’s just dormant and will spring back to life when it rains.