COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Keep grass green with mindful watering

The beginning of August is when water worries start as the dry season is upon us.

The beginning of August is when water worries start as the dry season is upon us. First, decide now if you want to keep your lawn green all summer or allow it to “go golden” or dormant. The good news is if you must conserve water, time and money and allow your lawn to dry out this summer, it will not die. When the rains return in September your brown lawn will once again green up and look fine. The bad news is you have to look at the brown lawn all month.

Here in western Washington most gardeners do not have the luxury of a built-in or underground sprinkler system so keeping lawns and garden areas hydrated can mean dragging a hose or sprinkler all over the yard. Here are some watering tips to save money, time and your liquid assets.

Rule No. 1: Water Twice and It’s Double Nice

This magical rule is good for vegetable gardens, lawns, bedding plants and plants in pots. Use a hose, sprinkler or watering can. Apply water, wait, then add more water. This way the first application of water has time to seep into the soil and then through the wonder of capillary action the second application of water will be drawn deeper into the root system. When you get water to go down deep, the roots of any plant will follow. Deeper roots mean more-independent plants as a longer root system can find more water and nutrients without your help.

Join the Grass Roots Movement

The best way to water a lawn in our climate is to apply a half-inch of water, wait a couple of hours, then add another half inch of water. Your lawn will need less water to stay green because you’ll be wasting less water on runoff and forcing the grass roots to grow deeper where they can find moisture on their own.

So how much is enough?

All sprinklers and water pressures are different. You really have to measure the output from your sprinkler by placing an empty tuna can on the lawn and turning on the sprinkler. Tuna cans are about one inch deep. Use a ruler to mark the half-inch mark on the side of the can. When the sprinkler fills the can to the half-inch mark, note how long it took, then turn off the sprinkler for two or three hours. Then resume watering until the tuna can is filled to the one-inch mark. Now you know you have given your lawn one inch of water and given it time to sink in down to the roots. Most lawns only need one inch of water a week to stay green.

Don’t Overwater

Most homeowners in western Washington are enablers and they encourage their lawns to have a drinking problem by watering too often. Watering a lawn every day is a waste of water. The goal is to water once a week, but water deeply. Watering in the morning is best to avoid fungal infections. Here are two ways to determine if your lawn is really thirsty:

• the footprint test: walk across the lawn and see if you leave footprints. If the lawn springs back and hides your recent footprints it does not need water. A thirsty lawn will show footprints.

• the screwdriver test: plunge a large screwdriver at least 8 inches into the soil. If it goes in all the way, your soil is most likely moist down deep and no water is needed.

Clay soils stay wet in the spring but dry out quickly in the summer. Clay soils need aeration and a topdressing of compost and lime to improve their drainage in the spring and hold more water in the summer. Sandy soils need aeration and a topdressing of compost to act as a sponge to hold more water.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her website,

Copyright for this

column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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