At a time when Minnesota is experiencing droughts, we are fortunate in the Cannon River Watershed that we have access to plenty of groundwater. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to watch how we are using our water.
One reason our water bills are so low in Minnesota is that we have abundant groundwater. Groundwater is like a bank account, and if we all use too much water, especially during a drought, it’s possible to “overdraw” that water “bank account,” leading to water shortages. What’s more, every gallon of water that we use on our lawns and gardens costs money in the form of our water bills.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to use less water, save money, and give our outdoor plants all the water they need, even during a drought.
One reason people water their lawns is to “keep grass alive.” According to landscapers, once established, most lawns that turn yellow or brown during a dry period will green up as soon as the rain returns. This is more a sign of grass “dormancy” than death. You can also make your lawn more resilient to drying out by letting it grow taller. Keeping your grass 3-4 inches tall means that your grass roots will also grow 3-4 inches into the ground, allowing them to access more soil moisture. Taller grass also fights off weeds better than 1-2 inch grass.
Installing a rain barrel provides free soft water for your garden and trees. Many Minnesotans take advantage of this free water source. While it is possible to connect a hose to a rain barrel, most people use a watering can to distribute rain barrel water to gardens and flower pots.
We have a red maple at our house that shows stress during drought conditions. I thought about getting a lawn sprinkler to water the tree, but then I learned about the far more efficient “drip hoses.” These are a special kind of hose that leaks water into an area, rather than spraying it the way that lawn sprinklers do.
These hoses work well for watering trees, bushes and gardens where you need water specific points. Single drip hoses many not be ideal for large lawns, since you’ll have to keep moving the hose to get coverage over your whole lawn. There are lawn watering systems that use drip irrigation.
Most sprinkler systems are only about 50-70% efficient, losing one-third to one-half of their water to evaporation and runoff. By comparison, drip irrigation systems let plants absorb about 90% of the irrigation water.
If you have to use a sprinkler, you can save water by sprinkling in the morning, since more water evaporates from sprinklers in the heat of mid-day. Avoid watering in the evening, since this can encourage fungus growth and plant diseases. You can also mulch around your plants with compost or wood chips to reduce soil evaporation. Mulching can also make it easier to mow around these plants.
Kevin Strauss is community engagement coordinator for Clean River Partners, formerly Cannon River Watershed Partnership. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.