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Many Choices for Drought-tolerant Lawns

As published in the Lake Travis View, March 2023.

Let’s break the cycle: mow, weed, fertilize…and water, water, water. Exotic turf grasses, such as Bermuda, Zoysia, or St. Augustine require a lot of maintenance and unfortunately, makeup the majority of lawns across Texas. They are the biggest reason why experts say 50 to 70 percent of household water use in this part of the country is spent on lawncare. Why not, instead, choose landscaping options built for our climate. Native plants have adapted to our ever-changing temperatures and supply of water.

Drought-tolerant landscaping can be so much more than just cacti, succulents, and rock. Native plants can provide shade, produce flowers, add privacy, as well as be used for ground cover. Once established, they are low-maintenance and require infrequent irrigation. Your local nursery or landscape architect can help you select the right plants for your yard, but if searching on your own, check the plant’s tag for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zone.  The country is divided into 13 plant hardiness zones used by gardeners and growers to help determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The majority of Texas ranges in USDA Hardiness zones from six to nine with Austin located in USDA Hardiness Zone 8. A few great choices would be Bald Cypress, a tall conifer tree, Rock Rose, a small shrub that blooms with pink hibiscus-like flowers, or Yaupon Holly, an evergreen with bright red berries that attract birds.

Replacing grass with Texas native plants. Image source: Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

Impermeable hardscaping and artificial turf are other popular options for reducing lawn size, however they have disadvantages. While these options are low maintenance and durable, they can provide opportunity for stormwater runoff of pollutants that greatly impact our lakes and degradation of the biome beneath them. Incorporating the natural habitat into your landscaping or planting native plants is more sustainable and better for the environment.

Native plants can provide shade, produce flowers, add privacy, as well as be used for ground cover.

LAKEWAY MUD

Harvesting rainwater is another great way to cut down on your outdoor household water use, even without changing your landscaping. Among its many benefits, collecting, storing, and distributing rainwater or roof runoff for irrigation of ornamental plants and lawns helps save the treated water provided by your water utility for its intended uses such as drinking, bathing, and cooking.

If reducing your lawn size is not right for you, stay vigilant about your watering schedule. Most water utilities currently require their customers to irrigate a maximum of once or twice a week. For example, LMUD customers are on a one-day-per-week irrigation schedule with their watering day based on the last digit of their address. Inground automatic irrigation systems have been known to reprogram their schedule after power outages, so routinely check your controller and manually inspect your sprinkler heads for damage or over spraying. Water before sunrise or after sunset to minimize evaporation and turn it off during rainfall. Watering deeply and less often will help with root growth. Top-dressing your lawn twice a year can help improve soil health.

Written by Stephanie Threinen, public information liaison for Lakeway Municipal Utility District (LMUD). Earl Foster is the general manager of LMUD.