Water-wise Lawns: Lawns of the Future

Based on an article by Keith Kristen for gardenandhome.co.za

With the recent drought in many parts of South Africa, lawns have become frowned upon as water guzzlers. However, unlike hard surfaces such as concrete and tiles, lawn grass helps clean the air, traps carbon dioxide, diminishes erosion from storm water run-off, improves soil, decreases noise pollution and reduces temperatures, all of which is necessary in built-up environments.

More like water-wise lawns: How to use grey water in your garden

“As long as you choose the right grass for your area and manage it cleverly, it is in fact, one of the most effective methods of reducing water run-off thereby preventing water loss,” says Richard Erasmus of Lawnpro. 

Traditionally, lawns took up the largest area in a garden. Due to water, time and space constraints, gardens today usually have a single area of lawn with other materials such as gravel and paving used in awkward spots, or in areas where grass is difficult to grow. To reduce the size of your lawn, gardening expert Keith Kirsten has these tips:

  • Instead of lawn on your pavement, plant hardy perennials and groundcovers with mulch pathways leading through them.
  • Rather than growing lawn in the narrow strip between your pool and flower bed, let the bed come right up to the pool; grow shade-loving plants and groundcovers between pavers in the narrow alley between your home and boundary wall.
  • Replace lawn in courtyards with gravel, or pave without grouting so that water can penetrate into the soil; intersperse with indigenous groundcovers, for example, hen-and-chickens.
  • Plant a meadow garden with endemic wild grasses to attract wildlife such as birds and beneficial insects. This will survive on natural rainfall and become dormant in winter.

Related to water-wise lawns: Groundcovers and why it’s a good idea to grow them

Choose the right lawn

According to Richard Erasmus, warm season lawns, like kikuyu, buffalo/St Augustine, LM grass and Cynodon species, require a lot less water than cool season grass blends, which include shade and evergreen varieties. In summer-rainfall regions, these warm season lawns only require watering once a week in summer for about half an hour (about 25mm of water). In winter, watering can be reduced to once every second week, or stopped altogether, if water restrictions are in place. These grasses will go dormant if not watered and will revive in spring.

David van der Byl of Green Buffalo highlights lawns that can withstand low-water conditions:

1. Buffalo or St Augustine

Water-wise lawn : buffalo grass - SA Garden and Home

Indigenous to the Cape and coastal areas, this semi-shade-tolerant, broad-leafed lawn can survive low water conditions better than most other species. It grows well in sandy soils and is saline tolerant.

2. Kweek or Bermuda (Cynodon dactylon)

Water-wise lawn - kweek grass - bermuda grass - SA Garden and Home

Probably the most water-wise grass, this fine-leafed lawn is indigenous to the Cape. It’s resilient in all regions. It’s saline tolerant, but not good for shady areas. As it’s deep rooted, it prefers infrequent, deep watering and sandy soils.

More like water-wise lawns: Self-watering containers

3. Kikuyu grass

Water-wise lawns - kikuyu grass - SA Garden and Home

This grass is hard wearing and grows well in all soil types. It likes a fair amount of water, but has excellent regenerative qualities, bouncing back after periods of dormancy in times of drought. It doesn’t like shade and can be invasive.

Water-wise lawn care

 Keith Kirsten has these tips on how to keep lawns looking healthy without excessive use of water:

  • In winter and summer-rainfall areas, reduce watering in winter as the lawn isn’t growing as actively. In winter-rainfall areas, cut out watering altogether unless absolutely necessary.
  • In summer, water deeply, but less frequently to encourage a deep root system, which makes the lawn more resilient.
  • Water only in the late afternoon or early morning to reduce evaporation. Early mornings are best as the grass won’t remain damp for too long, minimising the chance of fungal diseases.
  • In very hot conditions, don’t mow too low, leave some leaf cover to protect the roots.
  • Leave lawns longer in shady areas as larger leaf blades get more exposure to the light. By doing this you can create interesting shapes by combining two different blade heights.

Water-wise lawn tip: Give lawn a head start

 “All new lawns require water once they are planted, whether from seed, seedlings, lawn plugs or instant lawn. Although more expensive, instant lawn settles quicker than other planting methods, enabling you to follow general watering regimens a lot sooner,” says Richard Erasmus.

According to David van der Byl, correct soil conditioning and preparation are key to being water wise. “Make sure your soil is well composted before installing new lawn. Organic material holds moisture better. Add a water-retentive product like vermiculite. The healthier the grass and soil, the easier it is for the lawn to survive times of drought.”

End of article by Keith Kristen for gardenandhome.co.za

Which type of grass is best for lawn?

  • Berea – A grass that needs minimal Mowing, along with being soft and vibrant.
  • Cynodon – Dense and velvety. Perfect for golf courses, gardens and sports fields.
  • Royal Blue – Soft, deep green and lush. This grass is perfect for a manicured look.
  • Kikuyu – Quick growing, resilient but still just as soft, this grass is perfect for places suffering frequent droughts. 

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