Green landscapes are inviting – a place you want to live, visit and do business. In Colorado our lawns and landscapes are a source of pride. Single family homes, multi-family complexes, office parks and shopping malls proudly display well-kept, tidy lawns.
Now, early in 2013, due to a sustained drought, Colorado stored water reserves are much lower than normal. The Colorado water supply looks much like it did in 2002. Colorado water providers are talking about water restrictions. Twice-weekly landscape irrigation is a common thread. More draconian measures may be instituted should water supplies continue to diminish.
Sound water management does not mean bare soil and sagebrush. Grass is not the enemy. Prohibition-style rancor is not a reasonable response. Rather, the landscape including grass requires management according to its use. The trick is to match the lawn care with the needs of the site.
Water Inputs Based On Use
A lawn can be characterized as high, medium or low input. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a grass species that produces excellent results with little input. Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most adaptable grasses in Denver and Colorado lawns. Bluegrass adapts well with high use sites needing higher inputs as well as low use areas that can get by with medium inputs. Higher water inputs give bluegrass excellent resistance to foot traffic and recreation. Lower inputs of water will produce a lawn with a less than perfect appearance, but still provides an aesthetic benefit to the property. If water availability is such that part of the lawn cannot be watered for a period of time – bluegrass will go dormant, returning to green once moisture is available.
Lawns are Cool
A 2,500 square foot lawn releases enough oxygen for a family of four. While a direct comparison is difficult, prairie grassland is more efficient in sequestering soil carbon than trees are in a woodlot. While this smacks in the face from what we have been told about trees, suffice to say grasses encourage populations of beneficial soil bacteria. These bacteria break down leafy plant material and fine roots storing the carbon in the soil. The same bacteria are also responsible for building soil structure. A well structured soil results in superior water and air percolation. Turf grass serves to moderate soil temperatures, cools the air through water evaporation and moderates reflective heat.
Once upon a time, lawn installations resembled those of living room carpet. Grass was planted right up to the walk, tree trunk and shrub stems. Now, landscapes integrate areas with shrubbery and perennial plants. These landscapes provide visual interest and often require less water input. The size of bed areas and lawn should be predicated on the needs of the site. These needs include aesthetic backdrops, barriers, definition of areas, soil stabilization, foot traffic and recreation. One size doesn’t fit all.