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About Utah: ‘Plants don’t waste water, people do’

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The professional grass growers in Utah want to let you in on a little secret:

They use half as much water as you do.

They do, that is, if you're an average set-the-automatic-timer, water-it-when-it-looks-dry Utahn who goes through 50-plus inches of water every year to keep your yard green.

The pros use an average of 23 inches a year to produce lawn lush enough that people are willing to buy it.

Kirk Harris, president of the Utah Evergreen Council, was dispensing this and other water-saving information yesterday as his crew was laying 10,000 square feet of sod on the west side of the State Capitol.

"The more we can get people to understand how to properly water their lawn," he said, "the less we have to worry about not being able to enjoy the green lifestyle we all love."

Harris freely admits the Evergreen Council has a dual if not triple motive in pushing water conservation. Helping people save water and the money they spend on water is only part of it. The other part is enabling grass growers — Harris is with a company called Willowwood Turf — to stay in business.

To a turf farmer, hell can be summed up in three syllables: xeriscape.

But xeriscape is the wave of the future if people persist in using too much water.

Already, as Harris pointed out, states such as Colorado and Arizona have passed legislation prohibiting planting or laying down new grass at certain times of the year, all in the name of H2O conservation.

"We don't want to see that happen here in Utah," he said. "That's why we started our coalition."

The Evergreen Council is a nonprofit organization consisting of sod producers, greenhouses, landscapers and nurseries that are committed to doing all they can to educate the public about how to water their yards correctly.

Their motto: plants don't waste water, people do.

There are plenty of do's and don'ts that will help — and you can see them all on the Evergreen Council Web site, www.greenutah.org — but for starters, Harris said most people start watering their grass way too early in the spring.

"This month, there's no need at all for people to water," he said.

And when it is time to water, people tend to water too often and not deep enough.

The trick, said Harris, is to train your grass's roots to reach down farther in the soil for their drink. If the roots only have to go down a half-inch for a sip of water, they'll never have to grow and become responsible.

"Sort of like your kids," said the turf farmer. "You have to teach those roots to get tough and go deep."

For the humans in charge, this also means, to further the kid-teaching analogy, having to do more than putting the watering system on auto-pilot and expecting good results.

"Automatic sprinkler timers can be a big problem," said Harris. "People set them in the spring and forget about them until fall."

In between, a whole lot of water gets wasted, roots remain shallow, and as demand for water continues to increase, the fate of Utah's traditional green landscape hangs in the balance.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.