With the West facing an historic drought, many people are ripping up their grass to save on water. But what if you can save water and keep the lawn?

Johanna Silver

Consider this: Ditching the lawn just to replace it with gravel may save water but it isn't a perfect solution to our drought. In fact, loss of green parcels adds to urban heat islands—a phenomenon that occurs when a city is significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas due to human activities. So before you ditch the lawn entirely, have a plan for a low-water landscape to take its place.

If you're not ready to make the leap to lawn-free, go organic with your maintenance regime. A lawn maintained organically has much more water-holding capacity than a turf fed with conventional fertilizer. No matter how you've cared for you lawn in the past, making the switch to organic practices will save water, money, and effort.

Tenets of organic lawn care:

Add compost. Incorporating compost is the best way to create healthy, living soil—and all of that organic matter will improve water retention, meaning you need a lot less water to keep the lawn green. Top dress lawn with compost: Spread small piles of compost around the lawn and use a rake create a layer measuring 1/4-inch-thick.

Choke weeds. Seeding lawn more densely is the natural way to prevent weeds from having light and room to germinate. Fall is the best time to overseed.

Watch the water. Water early in the morning to keep disease and evaporation loss at bay. Deep, infrequent irrigation will force roots to grow deeper, creating a lower-water patch of grass. Triple check to ensure your sprinkler system has no leaks, sprays only lawn, and has no runoff flowing away from the planted patch. Install a smart irrigation controller to manage your watering. Get one with Wi-Fi connections or in-ground sensors that will adjust watering according to the weather.

Grasscycle. Invest in a mulching blade for the mower and leave the grass trimmings on the lawn to decompose, add nitrogen, and replace the need for synthetic fertilizer.

Use organic fertilizer. Follow package instructions to avoid overfeeding. Lawn generally typically needs to be fed once in spring and once in early fall.