Maintaining Your Lawn in Drought Conditions
With water rates increasing and the continued drought, we created a simple guide to help you maintain your lawn during these harsh conditions. Your lawn is perhaps your biggest water user. The typical 500 square foot lawn uses potentially more than 18,000 gallons of water in one year. This is a great opportunity to save water and money.
One way to do this is to re-consider the amount of lawn in your landscape. If you only walk on your lawn when you’re mowing it, why not re-landscape with permeable pavers and local, drought-resistant plants? Or maybe add a pathway through your garden with decomposed granite? Or create a BBQ area for entertaining guests?
While removing parts of your lawn is recommended to cut water usage, here are some maintenance tips for the areas you have installed lawn:
- Keep your grass long. Mowing your lawn to 2.5” – 3” tall helps promote deeper roots, which in turn promotes healthier grass. The taller blades also shade the soil, helping to reduce evaporation.
- Mow only once per week. Removing only the top one-third of your lawns helps keep it long.
- Stay sharp. The sharper your mower blades, the better. Dull mower blades result in shredded, not cut, grass. That leads to your lawn looking brown.
- Stop fertilizing it. Fertilizers promote lawn growth and an actively growing lawn uses more water. Fertilizers can also damage stressed root systems and drought conditions definitely cause stress for your lawn.
- Trim around sprinklers. Make sure the areas near your sprinkler heads are carefully trimmed so as not to block the spray.
- Wet soil is a “no-mow” zone. If you mow your lawn when the soil is wet, you will end up compacting your soil. This hardened, packed soil is less water-permeable and the water you do apply will not reach your lawn’s roots.
- Be messy. Instead of raking up lawn clippings after mowing, leave them. As they decompose, the clippings will add small amounts of nitrogen to the soil, which will help strengthen your lawn.
- Lower your standards. These tips will help you maintain your lawn during drought conditions, but it’s true that as long as there is a drought, your lawn may not be as lush and wonderful as it was pre-drought.
Despite the drought and in order for your lawn to survive, you’ll still need to water it. Here are some tips on watering your lawn during drought conditions:
- Cut back on watering. Your lawn is more durable than you might think and can survive on less water. You can limit watering by: lowering the number of times per week and/or number of minutes per watering cycle.
- Maintain your sprinkler system. Every few weeks, check your sprinkler heads to make sure everything is working properly. Repair or replace bent, sunken or broken sprinklers. Re-adjust the heads so the water is soaking your lawn and not adjacent paved areas.
- Water early in the morning. The ideal time frame is 3AM to 8AM when it is cooler, the evaporation is limited and there are few winds to blow away the water before it hits your lawn (misting).
- Don’t use the calendar. Water based on watching your lawn, not the calendar. When your lawn stops springing back right after it’s walked on or starts looking blue-grey, it’s time to water. If you don’t have time for this, consider adding smart watering sensors to automatically adjust your watering schedule based on soil and weather conditions.
- Use the cycle and soak method. Again, this is easy with automated sprinkler systems. If your system uses spray head sprinklers, water your lawn in three cycles of 3 to 6 minutes each; for rotor heads, change that to three cycles of 10 to 12 minutes each. Leave roughly an hour between each cycle, as this allows the water to fully soak in and cuts down on runoff and water waste.
- Don’t “set it and forget it.” Update your automated watering schedule each week based on your water use reduction goal and your lawn’s condition.
- Apply some elbow grease. Instead of increasing the watering schedule, hand-water any small dry spots.
- Cut it in half. The parts of your lawn that are shaded (usually the north/east side of your house) need about 50% less water than the parts of your lawn on the sunny side of your house. Set the system for the shady zones to water less.