A Dozen Water Right Tips:
Keys To Lawn Water Conservation And Turf Quality

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How you water your lawn may have a greater impact on conservation and your lawn’s quality than how much water you use.
Turfgrass research scientists have documented that too much or incorrectly applied water more often damages home lawns than by not supplying enough water. Dr. James Beard, among the world’s leading turf researchers, notes “It’s man’s decisions and methods concerning specific cultural practices that create a high water use rate in certain turfgrass species not the plant itself.”
Too much water or infrequent shallow watering creates weak and shallow roots as well as grass plants that are inviting to both disease and insects. To combat disease and insects, homeowners often turn to pesticides that create still more stress on the grass plants actually worsening the situation they hoped to improve.
To conserve water and maintain all acceptable lawn quality, the Turf Resource Center (a not-for-profit educational-oriented group based in suburban Chicago) recommends the following 12 easy-to-follow steps:

1. Mow as infrequently as possible with a sharp blade. Mowing puts the grass plant under additional stress and it will use more water. A sharp blade cleanly cuts the grass and it heals quickly while a dull blade tends to shred the tips leaving them open to disease and prolonged water loss.

2. Mow higher than normal. Greater leaf surfaces hold plant liquids and shade the root zone. Never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade in a single mowing. Longer blades usually mean deeper, more efficient roots.

3. Water and mow in the early evening or morning. Less wind and heat reduces stress on the plant and allows greater penetration and less run-off and evaporation.

4. Water for deep penetration. Interrupt watering when puddles or run-off occur, allow the water to penetrate into the soil before restarting. Light, infrequent sprinkling may actually do more harm than good.

5. Spot water. Drier areas near buildings that reflect heat and light or on slopes require more water than flat areas where water does not on-off.

6. Acrify or verticut turf. Increased penetration of water and air will place the water where it can he used by the grass plant.

7. Use a soil probe. Test soil moisture with a probe or screwdriver. Water only when the soil is dry or the probe is difficult to push into the ground.

8. Perform routine maintenance of in-ground and hose-end sprinklers. A single grain of sand can clog a sprinkler tip, or accidentally stepping on a sprinkler can change its alignment. Non-uniform and inefficient watering patterns require increased amounts of water.

9. Change watering routines to match weather and plant requirements. Water after a rain if needed to maximize the availability and benefits of rainwater. Don’t play the “set it and forget it” game with automatic sprinkler system.

10. Match fertilizer to plant requirements. Extension agents or professional agronomists can recommend timing and amounts of fertilizer needed by each grass variety. This reduces waste and mowing needs as well as overly succulent, water-wasting growth.

11. Increase disease and insect control, with care. Drought stressed turf is more susceptible to pest problems but too much pesticide will increase stress in the plant.

12. Accept a less than lush lawn. Grass will naturally go dormant during periods of drought but will readily regenerate when water becomes available. Reduce traffic on these areas if possible.

Protecting the investment and environmental value of a home’s lawn and landscape is important. While real estate studies have shown that a well designed and maintained landscape adds 15 - 20 percent to the value of a home, environmental benefits such as erosion control, cooling impacts and pollutant entrapment are also important.
Statements about lawn and landscape water use, as well as the potential water-savings that can be achieved through out-right bans on lawn watering tend to be exaggerated. This is particularly the case during times of severe drought or delivery problems. But homeowners with adequate knowledge and good cultural practices can protect their investment, the environment, and their right to water with proper watering practices.