Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wasting Water By Saving It

The Los Angeles Times tells us water demand in Los Angeles has reached a 32 year low due to new water restrictions in place there. I don't know that demand is the right word to use in this situation, is it? Maybe water use per household is at a 32 year low? After all, if they have to restrict water use then the demand for it is still there.

But, that's a good thing, except I don't understand their lawn irrigation restrictions. Sprinklers are only allowed to be used for 15 minutes, 2 days a week. I don't know much about the requirements of warm season grasses that make up the bulk of lawns in Southern California, but I can't imagine a half hours worth of water a week would be enough to keep lawns green. Nor would the 45 minutes also proposed.

I know cool season grasses up here need at least an inch of water a week to stay green and growing. I'm sure it's the same down there. If they're going to restrict watering to a half hour to 45 minutes a week, they might as well just restrict lawn watering altogether since any water used is being wasted since it's not accomplishing its purpose.

The same goes up here. It takes hours to put an inch of water on a lawn, depending on the flow of your irrigation system. If you just run your sprinklers a half hour a week and the lawn stays brown and dormant, why keep wasting water? Just wait until the rains come for your lawn to green again.

For those of you keep- up- with- the- Joneses types that want the greenest lawn in the neighborhood, the way to figure out how long it takes to put an inch of water on your lawn: Get some coffee cans or other straight sided containers. Place them randomly around your lawn to get a good average measurement. Turn on the sprinklers and see how long it takes all of them to get an inch of water. That's the minimum you should be watering and it's best to water once a week since deep watering encourages deep root growth.

As far as the time of day: I see both Sacramento and Los Angeles don't allow watering during the heat of day, which is good. But the best time is probably at night as there's less wind and less evaporation at night.

Just make sure to turn the sprinklers on during the day every now and then to make sure they're working right. You don't want to be like the fellow up the street a few years ago who was missing a sprinkler head and the water was running straight into the gutter. Don't know how many gallons he wasted until he took care of the problem.


At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred, I'm glad you are putting the focus on one of my favorite subjects, keeping one's lawns green.

As a Eurekan homeowner, I do my best to keep my neighborhood looking good - and that includes my lawn.

I am often saddened to see how many other Eurekans let their lawns die off in the summer. It gives the visitor an impression of Eurekans as people who just don't care about themselves or their communities.

Be that as it may, you and I can do our part to "green up" our home town. And here is my contribution:

Watering can be more effective in greening up your lawn if it is fertilized. That's because without the needed nutrients, no amount of water will turn a brown lawn green. In fact, one sure sign that your lawn or certain parts of your lawn are starving for nutrients is that is will be brown or actually orange in color.

Watering can also be more effective if the water can reach the root zone more effectively. Especially for the types of grass that produce a thick thatch that water can't easily penetrate, using a garden tool to push holes through the thatch can be very helpful in greening up a lawn.

Don't forget mowing! Many well-meaning people scalp their lawns, weakening the plants and reducing their ability to use water to produce that green effect we like to see. During the dry season especially, lawns should be cut long, not short.

Using these ideas, which I have gleaned from extensive Google searches and long personal experience, a person can produce a pleasing green lawn and actually use less water than they might have thought necessary.

Good luck to you, Fred, and to all your readers who strive to give Eureka a comfortable, lived-in look. The look of a community that cares about the beauty of its surroundings. A town where individual people take personal responsibility and do their part to make Eureka a town of which we can be proud.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Fred said...

no amount of water will turn a brown lawn green..

I disagree. No further proof is needed other than to note that nearly all lawns in the county turn green once the rain starts. You simply have to water enough to soak the soil deep. Using only water also gives the benefit of not having to mow as often as when fertilizer is used.

Funny, I was discussing this same subject with the Akley's gardener last Friday. She held your position. I was adamant in opposition.

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Mr. Nice said...

Being an avid flower and vegetable gardener, I can tell you that lawns suck and people who spend time maintaining their lawn are suckers. That said...

There is more to this fertilizer business than just "add fertilizer." If you add fertilizer in the summer, you are encouraging drought-tolerant hot-weather plants (e.g. dandelions). Add fertilizer in the spring and autumn only.

Lawns greening up from the sporadic addition of fertilizer is often a sign of a problem with soil health or watering schedule, not a sign that fertilizer is actually needed.

If you find that adding fertilizer instantly greens up your lawn, your soil lacks enough pH buffers to maintain the slightly acidic pH that both earthworms and cool-weather plants (e.g. grass) love. Sprinkle on some lime, it is much cheaper and far more effective than fertilizer for effective pH maintenance. Fertilizer itself will lower pH, but this quickly goes away as this is due to the acidic nature of the fertilizer as opposed to a buffer-hydrolysis reaction.

Also, if you find that fertilizer greens up your lawn despite watering it regularly, you are watering too much. Water dilutes soil nutrients and more to the point causes them to float up to the surface, down into the gutters, and off into waterways where they contribute to eutrophication. Fred's advice is dead on, water deeply and allow it to nearly dry out before watering again. The aeration from the dry out cycle will cause explosive root growth which will allow the grass to more effectively capture nutrients and water during the deep water cycle.

Fred, your point about the rainy season is both correct and incorrect. The reason lawns go green during the rainy cycle is because most varieties of lawn grass are cool-weather plants, not because of the heavy exposure to water. If anything, a lawn would grow even more lush if one could somehow exclude some of the rain while maintaining the cool temperature. Of course, that is pretty much impossible.

By far, the most important factor in any lawn is soil depth. If you want a lawn that looks like a million bucks, you have to spend some fraction of that building the soil level up. The easiest technique is to buy a few truckloads of soil and simply dump it over your existing lawn to a depth of 1-2 feet. If you maintain the pH of this soil, water deeply per Fred's advice, and preferably use a well-adapted dune grass, you will never need to apply fertilizer. Oh... and don't forget to seed a new lawn after you kill off your old lawn with a huge pile of dirt.

The advice about not scalping the lawn is both right and wrong. The reason not to mow too low to the ground is not because the plants become weak and can't absorb nutrients from soil, it is because they lose their photosynthetic capacity and must draw more nutrients to grow back. It is a little counterintuitive, but the closer you mow your lawn to ground level, the faster it will grow back to a difficult to manage height and the more nitrogen it will suck out of your soil.

At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred, who are the Akleys and what is the name of their gardener?

At 5:44 AM, Blogger Fred said...

You're obviously not from around here, huh?

Rob and Cherie Arkley are Humboldt's wealthiest couple. Their gardener is Kathy Jantz- Hoffman.

At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, Fred. I AM from around here. I know the name of the Arkleys and how to keep my lawn green during the summertime in Eureka.

I was trying to draw your attention in a humorous/subtle way to the fact that your typesetter had inadvertently spelled the Arkley name without an "r."

I know. Big deal.

Even so, I WAS trying to be helpful. Or maybe annoying. Sometimes I get those two confused.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few more notes on green lawns and how to achieve them. Very accurate meters for measuring the dampness of soil are available at a reasonable cost at garden stores. Some people may find them easier than using the coffee can method. Watch out, though. They are not very sturdy and so must be handled carefully.

I used my moisture meter after Fred made his comment about deep-watering of soil under lawns. Turns out I have been underwatering my lawn.

Not only that, I have been neglecting to use heavier-duty fertilizer and to monitor my lawns' pH balance, as suggested by the other lawn-care expert above.

It's amazing how much one can forget over the years, and how quickly a few quick jabs by my fellow-bloggers can bring it all back!

I thank you. My lawn thanks you.


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