Written by Parry Webb, Western U.S. Sales Manager

Can turf removal really save us?

Currently, there is a lot of effort to remove turfgrass from drought stricken landscapes. Although this is not a bad strategy to save water, the expectation of savings may be more than the actual outcome.

Studies have shown the success of turf removal is dependent not on the removal of the grass itself but on the awareness it creates around water conservation and the implementation of efficient irrigation. See “Cash for Grass” – A Cost Effective Method To Conserve Landscape Water?

All of this begs the question, did we really need to tear out all the turfgrass or could we have accomplished a similar level of water savings by just managing the irrigation system better?

Turf removal makes for thirsty trees

Additionally, there are a number of landscape professionals who are now raising the alarm on the impact that turfgrass conversions have on our trees. In the race to convert thirsty lawns to more drought tolerant landscapes, many have unknowingly also eliminated the primary source of water for California’s urban forest.

Unfortunately the impact on trees from these conversions won’t occur immediately. The stress from lack of water will likely not be seen for a year or two even if the drought is over. By then the effects of the drought will be too established to reverse, resulting in widespread tree loss. The rise in tree stress will also lead to the need for greater disease and pest mitigation.

It’s getting hot out here

Multiple studies have also concluded that the “urbanization” of U.S. cities over the past 10 years has led to significant increases in average summertime daily temperature. One study found soil temperatures averaged 8°C higher for xeriscape landscapes vs soil temperatures under turf. See Urban Land Use and Surface Cover: Effects on Soil Temperatures

Converting under-utilized or poorly managed turf areas to more drought tolerant plants and trees makes sense, but removing large swaths of green grass does have its consequences.

“The roads, buildings, and infrastructure in urban areas make cities much hotter than rural areas, which often have more plants and trees. 57 of the 60 cities analyzed had measurable urban heat islands over the past 10 years. In the summer, temperatures can be as much as 15-27°F hotter in cities.” Hot and Getting Hotter: Heat Islands Cooking U.S. Cities

No end in sight

The debate will undoubtedly continue far into the future as cities struggle to provide adequate water for their growing populations.  It is up to those of us who call ourselves irrigation professionals, to provide leadership and direction in keeping our cities green efficiently.

We’d love to hear your experiences with drought response and your professional predictions for how current drought remedies will impact the future of landscape. Connect with us on any of our social media channels (links in the gray bar below) to share your insight.