One of the most important pieces of real estate in Utah seems to be the lawn. Along with apple pie, motherhood and the American flag, the right to grow a lawn seems almost sacred.
Trying to change that thinking seems almost unthinkable, but Wes Groesbeck has done the unthinkable and has said no to his lawn.If getting rid of your lawn seems unpatriotic, read your water bill. While many lawn-owners are complaining, Groesbeck is smiling all the way to the bank. His water bill last month was between $5 and $6.
His landscape is not cinders or concrete. It is not without the amenities of a backyard orchard or a vegetable garden. In fact, it has many of the plants that are growing in landscapes and gardens throughout the area. They just happen to be planted by a person who is passionate about not wasting water.
Groesbeck tried for years to combine water-saving techniques with growing grass.
"In spite of all my efforts, I just could not do it. No matter how careful I tried to be with my lawn watering and how conservation-minded I try to be, I still was using more water on my lawn than all the rest of my yard put together. For me this was unthinkable. I could not preach con-ser-va-tion and still continue to pour thousands of gallons of water onto my lawn. Each time I watered I could see the tremendous waste and knew I had to do something about it."
He describes the water wasted in his neighborhood: "Water was running down the gutter and going to waste. I installed a simple dam across the gutter, put in a pump and watered my entire yard with what was going to waste from other individuals running their irrigation systems too long. Utah is the second driest state in the nation, and we will not have water to waste forever."
Groesbeck decided to kill his lawn to prove that having an attractive landscape with far less work is possible and what could be done with very limited water.
In addition to collecting the water that was running to waste, he collected water drawn from the rooftop of his home and stored it in plastic or wooden barrels. On these barrels he installed faucets that allow him to drain away the water and use it for the plants. Collecting in these barrels saves 500 gallons of water that would otherwise be lost.
"The most difficult part was deciding to take the first step. I was unsure how neighbors would react but I felt the principal was important enough that I needed to go ahead with it," Groesbeck said.
"With that in mind I mixed Roundup in my sprayer and killed all the grass. That was the easy part.
"Designing the replacement planting was much more difficult. It required me to think about many different drought-tolerant plants that could grow and look good in spite of the harsh conditions here in Utah.
"Finding the drought-tolerant plants I wanted was not near as difficult as I supposed it would be. I did not have to resort to exotic mail-order catalogs or search far and wide for my plants. I used a couple of local nurseries as I did both the front and the backyard. I gave them a list of what I wanted two to three weeks in advance, and when planting time came they had each plant that I wanted.
"I had been told that one of the reasons I could not install a good, serious, drought-tolerant planting is that I would never be able to find the plants without a great deal of difficulty. I managed to find everything I wanted with only a minimal effort."
When pressed for his favorite plants, he responded, "There are so many good plants that do so well in our area. I like plants that offer more than one thing in the garden. For example, I have grape vines to shade the west side of my home and an arbor in the back. That way I get something off them as well as enjoy the shade. I also like mountain mahogany, rubber rabbit brush, sumac and many others.
"I'm also a great believer in mulch. I was able to get the mulch from a local tree removal company because they were able to dump it here rather than hauling it to the landfill. I spread these shredded tree limbs about five inches thick around the planted areas. I also had to add some nitrogen fertilizer to prevent the nitrogen in the soil from being tied up by the microorganisms as they were decomposing the chips."
When asked if the project has been successful, Groesbeck responded, "I have tracked my water use since I first started this project in September of 1993. Over that time I have saved at least 60 percent on my water bill. To me, this is what must be done if we're going to stretch are limited water resources even further then we have done in the past. Although it is just a small garden, I have had over 800 visitors who want to know more about conserving water."
Although not everyone will want to get rid of their lawn as Groesbeck has done, we can all save water. One of his favorite helps in this whole process was the book "Water-wise Landscaping" by Terry Keene. This book offers valuable advice on how to resolve the conflicts between water use and having an attractive landscape. (The book is available at local Utah State University Extension Service offices throughout the state).