Experts offer advice for
water-conscious lawn care

A suggested additive helps grass
to retain water, as do compost
and mulching material

Experts say there are ways to keep lawns green while honoring the request to conserve water during the dry summer.

One manufacturer claims its gel-like product absorbs and holds water well enough to cut water usage by 50 to 86 percent.

AgroDiamonds is a polymer that can be incorporated into the soil or can be purchased already mixed into potting soil.

Hiromi's Nursery owner Paul Mayeda says the product has been around for years, but few people want to spend the money when they are installing their lawns.

The product is ideally mixed into the soil before planting either grass or potted plants.

But with plants already potted, holes can be drilled into the soil and the product inserted.

The city has been using the product in its hanging flower baskets in Waikiki to prevent the need for frequent watering, Mayeda said.

Water usage in the Honolulu and Ewa-Waianae districts was up during the week that ended last Wednesday, the first full week since the Board of Water Supply asked Oahu residents to voluntarily cut back.

But because usage was down in other districts, the island showed a decline to 168.9 million gallons per day from 171.7 million gallons per day.

The Water Board has asked residents to limit lawn watering to Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

Pat Oka, a landscape architect for the state school system and nursery owner, recommends Turface, a compostlike ceramic-based material that absorbs moisture and nutrients, Oka said.

Oka says compost can cause a "ripple effect" or make bumps in a lawn when it decays, but Turface does not do that.

When installing a lawn, Oka encourages good drainage to keep the roots deep and the plants strong.

"I use sand, Turface, a little bit of compost and peat moss," he said.

Oka said adding a layer of mulch on the ground around the plants will help the soil retain moisture.

Philip Gernler, a sales clerk at Koolau Farmers for the past 10 years, said he recommends customers use any kind of mulching material, including tree bark, around plants. An economical alternative is to use dry grass clippings around plants; they can also be spread evenly over the lawn, he said.

"People know about the water restrictions," he said. "They're not buying that many plants that require a lot of water."

Others have been holding off on plantings that may require lots of watering, he noticed.

Landscaper James Nakata said he sees a lot of water waste because sprinkler systems are improperly adjusted.

"If they turn the pressure at the head down, there'll be less mist," Nakata said. "Then the droplets will hit the ground rather than blow away in the air."

Nakata's other suggestion to reduce water consumption: "not to plant a lawn.

"It's like throwing water on the road," he said, since there is no shade over the soil in most lawns.

Nakata recommends rock gardens and xeriscaping, using drought-tolerant plants or at least those that require less water.

He suggests using native Hawaiian plants.

"Most of the native plants have had to struggle with water shortage," he said.

He recommends plants like akia, a low ground cover; aalii, a shrub; akoko, a ground covering; pau o hiiaka, a creeping vine; and mao, a native cotton, to name a few.


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