Care and patience makes the difference between a lush, healthy lawn and a coarse, brown eyesore, especially when rainfall is sparse.
Most people take pride and care in maintaining their lawns, although weather conditions often hamper even a green thumb’s best efforts. And, it’s not just a matter of beauty — or friendly neighborhood competition. Maintaining your home’s landscape is important for property values.
According to the Oregon State University Extension Service (OSUES), many people water their lawn more than necessary. As a result, lawns have developed a reputation for using a lot of water. Instead of following a predetermined watering schedule, check the soil moisture regularly. You can then alter your schedule to better meet your lawn’s needs.
To check soil moisture, the OSUES suggests inserting a screwdriver into the soil. If it penetrates the soil easily, it is moist. If not, you know your lawn is getting dry.
During dry summers, consider watering half as much as usual. Lawns will stay mainly green, with a few brown spots, if they receive ½ to ¾ inch of water per week. Watering once or twice a week to apply this amount of water should be sufficient.
Another option, one that home owners may be reluctant to consider, is to forgo watering altogether and allow the turf to go dormant and turn brown during the summer. If having a brown summer lawn is not your idea of compromise, here are some additional lawn care strategies from the Agronomy and Horticulture department at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln:
- Minimize fertilization. Over-fertilized, over-watered lawns tend to lack the wherewithal to thrive under stress. This spells trouble during a drought because the lawn hasn’t developed a deep root system. Heavily fertilized lawns also require more water, so home owners may want to wait until fall to fertilize.
- Mow your lawn properly. A good rule of thumb for each mowing is to never remove more than one-third of the height of the grass. Mowing higher forces grass to develop and use deeper roots.
- Try mulching — even if you don't have a mulching mower. Let clippings remain on the grass. Lawns tend to lose more water and nutrients through evaporation when you remove clippings.
- If you didn't aerate your lawn in the spring, consider doing so this fall. Aeration creates small holes in the ground that allow water to soak deeper into the ground and promotes root growth.
- Maintain your lawn care equipment. Sharpen mower blades at least twice this summer. Dull blades tear grass, forcing grass to use 40 percent to 60 percent more water while it struggles to recover from stress.
- Finally, water during hours when the sun is not full strength, such as in the early morning or at dusk. Irrigating during the day wastes water, because much of it evaporates in the heat.
Even if your community has imposed water limits, it doesn’t necessarily sentence your lawn to a long, brown summer. Follow them. Watering on alternate days can save 40-50 percent of water, and heeding these few guidelines will go a long way to helping you maintain and enjoy your lawn, even though the hot, dry summer.