I never really considered myself a “lawn guy.” Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy lying down under the shade of a tree on soft grass or seeing the outfield of the baseball field bright green instead of brown.
But then Beth and I bought a house that has about 7,000 square feet of lawn, on a corner lot (so all can see), in Durango. We purchased the place in winter, so it was tough to judge the quality of the turf. All we had to go by were the photos online, and those depicted this amazingly lush lawn. The first year, it didn’t disappoint. Even though that summer was incredibly dry, the lawn stayed green, and we didn’t see very many weeds.
Fast forward to summer 2020, and I’ve had some realizations that I really should have seen coming at me like a freight train in the middle of the night: A 7,000-square-foot lawn is really costly to irrigate; even teenagers get tired mowing a lawn this big; and the thought of replacing turf with something not so dependent on water is a wise, albeit expensive, option.
We tried to cut back on irrigation and quickly realized the grass didn’t really appreciate the amount of water it was getting. I’ve also tried to limp along with an outdated and inefficient irrigation system, knowing that if I did have to replace it, then I wouldn’t have any money left to buy plants to irrigate.
See my dilemma here?
We were frustrated enough with this lawn that in June, after weeks of heat and no rain, we decided that at some point we need to remove some of the lawn. A section that wasn’t getting efficient irrigation – grass getting thinner, more weeds every year – rose to the top of the chopping block.
As a plant lover, it couldn’t just be mulch or rock, so we decided to start with three trees in the hope that we could also get some shade on the lawn that we were keeping. Mind you, we already have two giant Colorado blue spruces (Picea pungens), so we didn’t want the new trees to compete with those. After a trip to a tree farm in Montezuma County, we fell in love with an Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra), a (hardy) bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and a yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea). All of them are beautiful species, and hopefully, we will bask in their shade for decades to come.
But back to the lawn because I still have about 5,000 square feet of it that I need to deal with. Would we like to remove more? Potentially, but less sod equals more plants, and as previously mentioned, I really like plants, so that equals more money. Apparently, a new bathroom takes precedence over new plants. And, to be honest, we like the lawn (at least the nice parts) and its benefits.
The lawn, along with plants, trees and shrubs, keeps our house cooler. Research has shown that through shading and evapotranspiration (combination of evaporation and plant transpiration), temperatures can be reduced 7 to 14 degrees. If I had air conditioning, the home landscape would reduce its use up to 25%. In terms of retaining rainwater, grass does a pretty good job – my (future) 5,000-square-foot lawn can absorb more than 3,000 gallons of water without noticeable runoff.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at [email protected] or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter