Caring for Your Lawn in a Drought

What you can do to keep your lawn and save water

Save water on your lawn

Here are some tips on how to save water while still keeping your lawn alive during this historic drought

  1. No irrigation system distributes water in a perfectly uniform pattern. Homeowners typically over-irrigate the lawn so all areas stay green. Decrease your irrigation minutes to keep most of the lawn green then hand-water the dry spots twice a week.
  2. Be willing to accept some brown color. A lawn with some brown will require 25-33% less water than a lawn that is bright green.
  3. Set your mower high, about 3 or 3½ inches. This provides shade to the root areas and increases the chances of survival.
  4. Keep your mower blades sharp. Dull blades tear grass and it takes 40-60% more water to recover from stress.
  5. Minimize fertilization in times of high heat to reduce growth.
  6. Spread mulch on bare areas to decrease run-off and retain irrigation water.
  7. Aerate the lawn, making it easier for water to soak into the ground.
  8. Minimize traffic on your lawn in the heat of the summer when the lawn is stressed.
  9. When the heat of the summer is over, there may be a few dead spots. Install pieces of sod or sprinkle seed in those areas.
  10. Long term water saving solutions include:
  • Install low-water use grasses like Hybrid Bermuda or St. Augustine, which take 25% less water for optimum color and can survive on 50% less water than the typical Fescue lawn.
  • Install a weather-based irrigation controller with a rain shut-off sensor.
  • Install low flow sprinkler heads which improve infiltration to the plant roots.

Water Wisely

  • “The type of plant materials or irrigation system in a landscape has much less effect on water consumption that the human factor of good landscape water management.” Doug Welsh, Ph. D. and past president of the National Xeriscape Council
  • Over-watering weakens turf plants more than under-watering. Watering to attain a medium green turf color results in a deeper root system and less time required for maintenance.
  • The best time for watering an established lawn is from 4 a.m. to noon. Why? Less wind and evaporation plus less risk of disease on the leaf blade.
  • For sloped areas, avoid wasteful run-off by programming multiple, shorter watering events rather than one longer watering event.
  • Poorly designed or maintained irrigation systems are big water wasters. Visually inspect your irrigation system at least once every season. While the sprinklers are running, look for malfunctioning sprinklers, excessive run-off or clogged drips emitters. Make repairs as needed.
  • If you notice dry spots, perform a simple audit of your system. Place empty tuna cans or similar containers 2 feet away from each spray head. Run the system for 15 minutes and measure the water in the cans. Compare the amounts collected. Are some more than others? You may find a brown spot in a lawn is near a sprinkler head that puts out less water or has a poor distribution pattern. Make repairs as needed.
  • If your controller does not automatically adjust with the weather, manually adjust your watering times monthly.
  • Plant Hybrid Bermuda grasses such as Tifway, Tifgreen and Celebration. These “warm-season” grasses have deep root systems and will maintain adequate color in the warm months with less water than “cool season” varieties such as fescue or bluegrass. With as little water as 50% of reference ET, “Bermudagrass quality was good throughout all treatments.” (Youngner, V.B. et al, Water Use and Turf Quality of Warm-season and Cool-season Turfgrasses, California Turfgrass Culture, Summer/Fall 1981)

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