Reform lawn irrigation

A new NASA and Mountain West study reveals that lawn is now 2% of the continental U.S. surface and America’s single largest irrigated crop. Gulp! That’s 40 million acres or 63,000 square miles of green carpet, dominating many regions’ residential water use. Removal, a top priority in dry climates, saves the most hands down. Second most is fixing the 50% waste from irrigation inefficiencies reported by the EPA.

This post tackles what I call the 3 T’s of waterwise lawn irrigation – timing, technique, and tough love. While grass type, soil composition, climate, and equipment vary greatly in yards across NASA’s map, the tips below universally reduce consumption and make lawns healthier.


  • Water when the sun is down to avoid evaporation, preferably very early morning. After sunset works too, although risk of disease and weeds can be higher then.
  • Water when not windy to minimize overspray to surrounding surfaces.
  • Adjust timer settings monthly so lawn gets less in cool temperatures than in hot.
  • Suspend irrigation before, during, and after rain. Wait until the lawn needs it.


  • Incorporate technology advances such as rotary nozzles that use 30% less than traditional ones or variable arc nozzles for odd shapes and corners. They’re inexpensive and simple to install.
  • Many homeowners reportedly water a little most every day. Instead, water 1-3 times weekly and water longer to develop deep roots.
  • Cycle and soak to reduce runoff and increase penetration.

Tough love

  • Resist cutting the lawn short. Instead let it grow to 2 – 4” depending on grass type. Blades shade themselves and the soil. The higher the grass, the more extensive the root system.
  • Let it brown – accept less green.
  • Lighten up on fertilizer. It stimulates growth, which in turn stimulates thirst.

We removed 9,100 square feet of lawn and implemented all these tips to consume 50% less on 900 square feet left. These actions know no geographic boundaries – they work their water-saving, health-improving magic in droughts, downpours, or normal weather conditions everywhere.

You or your lawn care service may be on autopilot like we were, not realizing how easy and effective change can be. Appoint yourself Sustainability Officer to responsibly manage your bit on the map.