Summer temperatures have arrived. Combined with what seems to be relentless wind and high desert sun, plants, including the grass, are drying out. How can we conserve water with the drought this year?
If you can tolerate dry-looking grass, allow a bluegrass lawn to go dormant during the summer. Deep watering once a week to twice a month should keep it alive, but it won’t be green. Established trees can also be watered deeply a couple of times a month separately from the lawn and survive, but may lose their leaves and have some branch dieback. However, these extremely rationed watering practices aren’t particularly good for plant health.
One water-saving option is to reduce your lawn size. Since trees grow better without lawn under them, start by taking it out under trees. Remove grass from the trunk to the dripline (as far out as the furthest branch tips). Mulch this area with organic material, which is cooler than rock and holds moisture better.
Add multiple multi-gallon per hour drip emitters all around under the canopy of the tree. This technique works well in large yards. In small yards, remove the lawn in a four-foot to six-foot ring under each tree instead. I reduced my lawn size by removing two to four feet from the outside edge in making the shrub beds wider. I didn’t plant additional plants, I simply added mulch. Less to water, less to fertilize, less to mow. And, I like how the plant-less mulched area sets everything else off nicely.
Any grass you do have should be watered efficiently. This means knowing how much you are applying when you water and only watering as much as the lawn actually needs. Place a number of coffee mugs or cans of the same size all over the lawn for each irrigation station to check the efficiency of the coverage of your lawn irrigation system.
Also use this test to calculate how many inches of water the sprinklers are actually putting out each week. For the exact directions on how to do a “can test” go here. If you find that coverage is uneven, adjust or fix the sprinklers. As the temperatures reach the 90s and higher, we probably will need at least two inches of water per week. The Washoe County Evapotranspiration Project site, https://wrcc.dri.edu/washoeEt/ is an excellent source of information for how much water to apply each week.
You will need to adjust your irrigation timer as the temperatures change to apply only the necessary amount of water.
— JoAnne Skelly is an Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.