Living in a mountainous desert state, it’s important to conserve water and resources, but that can make it difficult to have the yard of your dreams. There are some good solutions to balance a lush green yard and conservation, though, by incorporating native plants.
We live at an altitude of about 7000 ft. above sea level. That’s high! The mountains are amazing, the skiing is some of the best in the country, and the mountain biking is legendary! We really seem to have it all; from incredible snow in the winter to lush, green grass everywhere in the spring.
When I first came to Park City to look into the idea of buying a small lawn care business, all I saw was snow (ten feet of it) and couldn't even imagine that it would ever melt, or that there would be grass underneath. Then, I came out in the summer and was both pleasantly surprised and a little shocked.
I quickly learned that Utahans (like many other folks in the country) love their green lawns. People here want their lawns to have vibrant color, stay weed-free, and look picture perfect. What’s more, I have learned that the people in Utah seem to have higher expectations and less tolerance for imperfect lawns than people who live on the East Coast tend to have (where I lived and did lawn care previously).
This was a little surprising considering that we live in a mountain desert! What does that mean? We’re over a mile high in altitude which puts us close to the sun. Being closer to the sun means lawns get stressed out during the summer.
Living in a desert means that it does not typically rain in June or July or the first half of August. Where I used to live on the East Coast, it rains a lot and the soil can be amazing in some areas; you can throw a handful of grass seed out, let nature water it, and it just grows into a beautiful lawn on its own.
Here in Utah, though, you must have an in-ground sprinkler system that you check and maintain at least once a month to keep a lawn alive. Here you can water everyday and still get drought stress spots!
Utah, like most of the western US, seems to be in a constant state of drought. We’re not in as bad a situation as areas like Northern California, but things are bad enough to be concerning. I just read an article published in March 2017 that says that for the first time in six years (since 2011), Utah has just come out of the drought - but it won't last.
Amazingly enough, even with nature and the elements working against us, Utah is a beautiful, lush place and has some of the greenest grass I have ever seen. However, it does take a GREAT deal of work, effort, resources, and money to get those results. I know plenty of people who spend thousands of dollars a year to water their lawns.
Why spend so much? The benefits of lawns, grass, plants and landscape to a property’s value are proven. They can increase property value, improve the air and environment, and are beautiful and can even be healing. But is there a better, more affordable way to have a beautiful yard in Utah? Are there small steps that we can take before we sod, seed, or install that will pay off in the long run; a way you can use up fewer resources but also get the outdoor space you want?
As a lawn care expert and from what I have seen while living here, I think the answer is yes. There are some things that we can do to maintain a great property without using up so many resources.
One solution is to plant native and local plants and grasses. Because these plants essentially “grew up” here, they know how to survive here. They were made for this climate and use fewer resources. I have some clients who have installed huge sections of native grasses and they love it. They only mow it 2-3 times per summer! That means less-frequent use of gas powered mowers and trucks traveling to your property.
That’s much less energy consumption and impact. To add to that, instead of watering grass turf every other day for 40 minutes, you can water these native plants only once a week. And, instead of fertilizing 4-6 times per season, just one fertilization in the spring and one in the fall will keep it looking great.
Another solution is cutting back. Most people are just not willing to give up their lawn, and I don’t think they should have to. I love my lawn too! So go ahead and maintain that section of beautiful, perfect lawn where your family can play and friends can join you for a barbecue. But you might not need the entire expanse of your property to be turf grass.
Consider replacing some sections of grass with native grasses and plants. If you know that certain areas of your lawn just don’t grow Bluegrass well, these are prime places to try it out. I have seen many people who have figured this out and done it right. In fact, if planned properly, it will enhance your property. It brings in a real, natural, and outdoorsy feel - like the Utah landscape itself - instead of just a flat sea of high-maintenance green.
If you want to see something beautiful, plant some native grasses, let them grow out, and watch them moving in the wind. There’s nothing like it. And it’s easier than keeping a lawn.
If you need another idea for those areas where grass doesn’t grow well, you could rip it out and turn it into a firepit or gravel area. Make it a planter bed and fill it with native plants. Plant a garden or build a sandpit for the kids. Have fun with it! Don’t be afraid to change things and shake it up!
You know that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street? Growing and maintaining pristine grass is really difficult in park (or curb) strips for several reasons. We replaced ours with river rock and it looks great and the maintenance is low. We do have to go through and spot spray the weeds that pop up during the summer months, but it takes less than 2 minutes a week.
The last thing I want to mention is my favorite consequence of replacing areas of grass with non-turf alternatives. It saves you a ton of time! With a good plan, using native grasses and plants can be low cost and require little time in outdoor maintenance. This gives you more time enjoying life and having fun at home rather than working on your lawn!
My purpose in writing this article is to inspire you to think differently about the outdoor space you have to maintain. Lawns are great, but make room for native grasses and plants, too. Save time, money, and resources for the things you actually want to do. Un-sterilize your property. Add life and diversity to it. Bring nature into it and it will become a unique and beautiful sanctuary for you.