If you reside anywhere near the intermountain west, you have likely seen the same drought warnings or are aware of the great water problems across the country. While the amount of precipitation has varied over the years, there is something you can do to help right now. Make wise water choices. Appropriately watering your garden and lawn areas helps reserve water for drinking, emergency use, or future instances of drought. You can’t always expect a good rain or snow year.
Training your lawn for expected drought conditions or heat waves is not as hard as you think. Start by observing your lawn regularly. By observing, I don’t mean looking at its color alone. Look for how it bends throughout the week. Is it looking wilted? Do the blades spring back after walking across it? If it takes longer than normal, it is time to water. In addition to its movement, a bluish color can also indicate a need for water.
Water Deeply, and Infrequently
When deciding when and how long to apply water, keep in mind that it is better to water deeply but infrequently. This means watering for longer periods of time to adequately saturate the ground, then allowing it dry over several days. As the soil dries, it promotes stronger root growth deeper into the soil. Your lawn has likely gotten used to being watered in cycles for a few minutes every other day. This habit promotes weak and shallow plant growth. When drought conditions hit, the roots are then unable to reach water stored lower in the soil profile. By starting in the spring, you can train your grass to endure the expected summer heat.
Update Irrigation Controls
Because soil temperatures are lower than air temperatures, water is able to stay in the soil longer and with greater saturation, compared to the rate of evaporation with shallow watering habits. This means water is available for several days, or weeks, in between your watering days. Updated irrigation controls can help you know when to water, as many are able to receive local weather information from airports and other data-gathering locations. As the irrigation control receives information about precipitation, you can delay watering schedules. Or, simply using a hand-held soil moisture gauge can help you make better watering decisions from day to day.
Optimal Watering Time
You will want to apply at least 0.5 inches of water over your turf area when you do water. To optimize the amount of water soaked up by your soils, water between 3 am, and 8 am. It is best to water before sunrise as temperatures start rising after this point. If you are watering when the sun is up and temperatures are warming, some of the water being applied will evaporate before it gets the chance to soak into the ground.
To further help your grass survive the hot summer months, mow your lawn at higher settings. This will preserve a greater carbohydrate reserve your grass can access for nutrients and water storage.
Embrace the Brown Summer
Your lawn will likely begin to brown during the summer, as this is a regular habit when grass enters a dormancy due to high heat. The good news is the precautions you take early on will help it come back with life and a more vivid color when fall approaches and temperatures cool.