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New Mexico State University

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Workshops show how to keep lawns green with little water

ALBUQUERQUE - Homeowners can learn to maintain plush green lawns despite drought at two free workshops May 17 in Santa Fe and May 24 in Albuquerque.

Specialists with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service will teach participants to install subsurface drip systems, choose low-water-use grasses and cut irrigation time to a minimum by watering only when grass needs moisture and when weather permits, said Bernhard Leinauer, Extension turfgrass specialist.

"If homeowners learn to irrigate efficiently and plant proper grasses, they can save substantial amounts of water without converting their landscapes into rock gardens," Leinauer said. "At these workshops, we'll teach people how to maintain grass despite the drought."

Research shows that even when homeowners replace grass with xeric plants, they don't always save water because many still irrigate inefficiently, Leinauer said.

In San Antonio, Texas, for example, municipal authorities surveyed homes in 2003 to determine how much water was saved after years of encouraging people to switch to xeric landscapes. The survey showed only 25 percent of homeowners saved water, Leinauer said. About 50 percent used the same amount as before, and 25 percent actually used more water than when they had grass.

"There was a zero sum gain in water savings," Leinauer said. "People didn't know how much water their turf needed in the first place so they overwatered, and they continued to overwater even after planting xeric plants."

To address the problem, Extension specialists now emphasize irrigation efficiency as an alternative for homeowners who want grass, Leinauer said.

"We need to revisit our approach to conserving water," he said. "There's been a big push in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to replace traditional backyard turf with xeric plants, but many homeowners would do just as well by keeping their grass and instead learning to irrigate with less water."

To do that, people need to adopt new technology and watering techniques, said Joran Viers, horticulture agent with the Bernalillo County Extension office.

"By using drip irrigation and learning to water only as much as the grass actually needs, people can still have nice green lawns," Viers said. "We want to teach homeowners to apply these techniques."

Subsurface drip systems use about 30 percent less water than sprinklers, said Leinauer, who will show how to install drip irrigation step-by-step at the workshop. He will teach participants to access NMSU's online weather station to schedule irrigation only when there's no rain and little wind. He'll also discuss low-water-use turf to encourage homeowners to select varieties that are better adapted to dry climates, such as Bermuda and Buffalo grasses.

The events include visits to residences with sprinkler systems for hands-on demonstrations on how to reduce water use even without drip irrigation.

The workshops run from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Santa Fe County Extension office at 3229 Rodeo Road and the Bernalillo County Extension office at 1510 Menaul NW. After lunch, participants will visit nearby residences for hands-on learning.

For more information, or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate, call Patrick Torres in Santa Fe at (505) 471-4711 or Viers in Albuquerque at (505) 243-1386.