Lawn Irrigation during Water Restrictions

waterSummer's in full swing, and while some areas of the country are getting deluged with rain, others are scheduling lawn irrigation under water restrictions.  Just because there are limitations about how much and when you can water doesn't mean that you have to let your grass go completely.  There are some ways to keep your grass alive (notice-I didn't say "green") during periods of water restrictions, and ensure a quick recovery when rain becomes more frequent, or water restrictions are lifted.

Learning the Difference between Dead and Dormant

I love geeky plant humor.  I can't help it.  One of my favorite shirts, bought during a trip to Phipps Conservatory says "I'm not dead, I'm dormant."  The same could be said about many grass types during various times of the year.  Warm season grasses go dormant during the winter.  Knowing about that makes golf courses in the south seem a lot less strange during the winter.  (During the winter, they let the rough go dormant, and they overseed the fairways with cool-season annual grasses that stay green.)  Cool season grasses, most of which are planted up north, go dormant during hot weather, sometimes in the middle of summer, especially if they are not receiving supplemental water.  That leads us to irrigation under water restrictions, and a very important point to keep in mind while deciding what to do about your lawn:  Just because the grass is brown does NOT mean that it is dead.  One of the "coping mechanisms" for dealing with drought is letting the grass go dormant, so it is important that you understand that "brown" doesn't mean "dead."

Coping with Water Restrictions

Water restrictions are generally imposed by local officials to deal with a lack of rain and replenishing of the drinking water supply.  Restrictions are not to be taken lightly, but can be extremely frustrating for homeowners trying to maintain the lawn.  An important thing to keep in mind during water restrictions that are tougher than usual is that, ultimately, what water is available is being rationed for things like drinking and hygeine.  So, while it is annoying, it is better to abide by the restrictions, while keeping your lawn alive, than to drain water resources and potentially put yourself at risk of not having fresh, un-polluted water to drink.  Here are some things you can do to irrigate during a drought.
  • If you are installing a new lawn, and you have a choice in terms of which turf to plant, select a drought-resistant turf.  Drought-resistant grass types include: Bahia grass, Bermuda grass, Blue grama grass, Buffalo grass, Tall fescue, Western wheatgrass, and Zoysia grass.  The old "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" saying holds up here.
  • Stop fertilizing until water restrictions are lifted.  Synthetic fertilizers are made of salts, which further dehydrate the grass.  An exception to this rule is compost:  compost, when added to the lawn as a top-dressing or after aeration-improves the water retention capacity of the soil, which always helps.
  • Set your mower to mow at least 1/3 to 1/2 taller than you would normally mow.  Mowing Kentucky Bluegrass at 3 inches instead of 2 inches will conserve water and protect the plants.
  • Don't aerate the grass during water restrictions.  Aeration can help relieve compaction, but it is also extremely stressful for the grass, which as to recover from the aeration.  Wait until rain becomes more plentiful.
  • Water deeply and infrequently.  (I know it seems like I write that in every single blog post, but that is only because it is a very important piece of advice for lawn care!)  If you are only allowed to water on certain days of the week, give the lawn at least one inch of water each day.  That will really penetrate the soil and put water in the root zone.
  • Water in the early morning before the sun is hot to reduce evaporation.  This will allow the maximum amount of water to reach the grass roots, but will give the plants plenty of time to dry out before sundown, which will reduce disease.
Follow those lawn care tips to keep your lawn healthy, even in times of drought.  If water restrictions are severe, allow the lawn to go dormant.  Following the above instructions will help you keep the lawn healthy even while it is dormant so that it will start growing quickly and healthily once water is more available.
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