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Drought Proof Your Yard

Drought Proof Your Yard

Many locations throughout the country are dealing with drought restrictions.  The restrictions have been met with a variety of responses.  Some people rage that the restrictions aren't fair.  Some secretly water more than allowed hoping their neighbors won’t see.  Some people demand a discount on their already extremely cheap water bill.  There are difficult realities we all need to come to terms with.  In the words of Charles Fishman, “The last century has conditioned us to believe that water is naturally abundant, safe and cheap. That it should be.  That it will be. We’re in for a rude shock.” Water scarcity will be the normal condition, not just for dry climates but also for areas that typically enjoy water abundance.  

We need to prepare right now for a future where water will be less abundant.  That means we’ll need to find ways to use less, but most of us don’t even know where to start.  Let’s start with your yard since that seems to be a major concern.  Each scenario is a bit different, so let’s address a few of those below. 

Established Lawns

If you have a yard that already has an established lawn that you’d like to keep, here’s some tips to drought proof:
  • Aeration. This is a process of perforating your lawn. A machine, much like a rototiller, pops out little plugs of turf so that water, air, and nutrients can more easily get to the roots. This will allow the water you use to fill the holes and be less likely to run over the top. 
  • Leave your lawn longer.  Raise up that lawnmower so it leaves your lawn longer.  Lawns with longer grass tend to retain the moisture much better.

New Lawns

If you are putting a new lawn in then you’re in luck.  You’re in a position to really prep the soil for the best possible chance to keep your lawn hydrated.  
  • First, till your yard as deep as you can.  Bury those tines in the soil.  Digging into that soil deeply allows the water to really penetrate. 
  • Next, spread untreated wood chips over the whole yard.  Go back and deeply till those into the soil.  
This option is a lot of work, but will pay off for many years to come.
Check out the picture below.  Why are there lines of green while the rest of the yard stayed brown?  The reason is that deep trenches were dug to bury the sprinkler system.  The water is able to penetrate those trench lines more deeply than the rest of the yard, even many years after the sprinkler system was installed. 
drought damaged lawn
Below is a picture of a yard in the same area where the steps shared above were carefully followed.  More than 20 years later, the lawn looks like this while using the exact same amount of water as the example above. Both are using drought restricted watering times of 20 minutes of watering once a week.
Drought resistant lawn

Use Every Drop

Most of us have had the experience of watering a severely dry potted plant. The water seems to just run over the top, down the inside edges of the pot and out the bottom.  You have to turn the water way down and water slowly for it to penetrate the dried out soil.  Once the top is re-hydrated, the water seems to flow down to the rest of the plant quite well.  You can use this same principle with your lawn.
  • Set your sprinkler to run all the way through the stations for 5 or 10 minutes on each station. This will re-hydrate the dried out soil and give the water a path to follow.
  • Run your sprinkler through all the stations again for the remaining allotted water time. (We've based the following times on our area's water restrictions. but it works the same wherever you are) For pop up spray type sprinklers, water for 5 minutes. Then, on the next cycle, run for the remaining 15.  For rotary style sprinklers, water for 10 minutes then go back through the stations for the remaining 30 minutes.  

This will allow the water to penetrate your yard more deeply and it will be less likely that water runs off the dry yard and down the gutter. 


For many people this is an extreme choice, but it can look amazing if done right.  There was a yard nearby that had a terrible looking lawn for years.  They never could seem to keep it from filling with weeds and drying up. They zeroscaped their front yard this year, and it’s beautiful.  They still have a lawn in their backyard for the dog and kids to play on, but they have reduced their water use by about 50%.  Check it out:
zeroscaped lawn
Check with your local government and see what kind of programs they have in place to help pay for your project.  With decreasing water supplies, many programs are in place to help pay for different landscape options. 

Final Thoughts

Unrestricted growth in communities around the country have resulted in serious water shortage issues even in areas where there seems to be a lot of water.  In Georgia, the city of Atlanta has been in danger of running out of water more than once and they have rivers running throughout the state.  At the same time, cities like Las Vegas know they have to conserve and have been establishing laws and regulations to reduce water usage wherever possible.  In a 20 year span, Las Vegas doubled in size but cut their water use in half.  It wasn’t easy and it required a lot of attention to infrastructure, re-use of water and industrial innovation but it’s been worth the payoff.  

We have to think differently about our water use.  This problem isn’t going away.  We started with a quote from Charles Fishman so let’s end with an expanded version of what we opened with, “We’ve ushered in an era where water is free, unlimited and safe. Once it was free, unlimited and safe we stopped thinking about it.  The fact that it was unfailing on demand meant we’d use it more and think about it less.  The golden age of water is rapidly coming to an end.  The last century has conditioned us to believe that water is naturally abundant, safe and cheap. That it should be.  That it will be. We’re in for a rude shock.”