by Charlene Burgi
Let’s face it: Despite the fact that we live in a Mediterranean climate, where we experience five to six months of dry weather every year, we love our lawns. We know that lawns consume more water than any other vegetation in our yards, yet the love affair continues. Where did this affair start?
Historically, large expanses of lawn in England were signs of great wealth. As our ancestors crossed the “pond,” they brought their traditions, customs and ideals with them as they settled on the East Coast, and with them came lawn seed. For the most part, lawns planted on the Eastern Seaboard did not require irrigation systems as the weather offered year-round rainfall—enough water to keep lawns looking lush and green.
As the covered wagons moved west, so did the love affair. Lawns sprouted up with the growing population. Irrigation systems were needed to maintain these spots of green since summer rainfall is a rare commodity on much of the West Coast.
Simple solutions in the east became more complicated out west. The migration also brought maintenance habits that caused this water-guzzling spot of green to need more water, encourage more weeds, require more fertilizer and add more work for mowing. The way you mow your lawn can make or break these habits.
The theory is to keep it simple. The key is to mow your lawn to a height of 2.5 – 3 inches, which will shade the root system, keeping the roots cooler and requiring less irrigation. The taller grasses also prevent weed seeds from getting enough light to germinate, eliminating the need to use herbicides to eradicate the weeds. The tips of grass clippings (not clumps of grass) from frequent mowing will add nutrients to the soil and feed the lawn as the clippings decompose.
This brings up another issue for managing lawns. I am often asked if it is better to water a little every day until the evapotranspiration rate is met for the week. Let me go on record saying that a deep soaking every three days is better for your lawn. If you are on a slight slope, you may need to set your controller for multiple run times, or use the cycle-and-soak feature. This will help prevent runoff by allowing the irrigation system to water for short spurts, with time in between for the water to soak into the ground.
If you have a love affair with your lawn, remember:
- Good practices now can make a lawn strong and healthy in case of future drought and help sustain it if water restrictions should occur.
- Watering deeply early in the morning will develop deep roots that can tap into moisture deep within the soil.
- Cutting lawns too short allows the soil to dry out faster and weeds to develop.
- Short water times every day should be avoided since this will keep roots close to the soil surface.
- Check various types of lawn seed or sod for water-conserving and disease-resistant varieties that were not available during the pioneer days of yesteryear.