Does lawn care wear you (or your wallet) out? Besides weekly mowing, lawns need more water than most other plants. To keep your lawn in top shape and to reduce maintenance, try some water-conserving practices.
Established lawns need about one inch of water per week during the growing season to avoid stress from drought. When we get less than an inch of rain, add only the missing amount of moisture.
One deep watering when evaporation is low in the early morning is best, because more water will be absorbed by the soil. The grass blades will dry quickly once the sun rises, reducing the chance for lawn diseases. Also, deep watering promotes deep root growth that keeps lawns strong and healthy.
Lawns can be watered by oscillating sprinklers that attach to hoses. To keep the water pattern even, move sprinklers often and overlap about one half of each pattern. Use a rain gauge to see how much water has been delivered.
If you have an in-ground irrigation system or plan to install one, include a timer and water-saving technology, such as a rain sensor, soil moisture sensor or ET (evapotranspiration) controllers. Sensors generally repay their cost in water savings in a couple years.
You also can conserve water by “grasscycling,” which is leaving clippings on the lawn when you mow instead of bagging and removing them. These clippings act like a mulch for the grass, helping reduce moisture loss from the soil. Clippings also decompose and add organic matter to the soil, which adds water-holding capacity to the soil.
Another bonus is that up to 30 percent of the nitrogen applied to the lawn goes back in as the grass clippings decompose.
Watch out for overfertilizing, which encourages rapid growth. Overfertilized lawns need more frequent watering and mowing. Be sure you are using the correct fertilizer timing and application rates.
University of Illinois Extension provides information on four different lawn fertilizing schedules for our area at web.extension.illinois.edu/lawntalk/planting/fertilizer_schedule_for_home_lawns.cfm.
Lastly, you can reduce lawn care and its need for water by reducing your lawn size. Consider how much lawn you need for your outdoor activities, such as children’s play or entertaining. Perhaps you can replace some lawn with decorative blooming plants adapted to our climate, which need less care and water.
Trying some water-wise lawn care just might give you more time to put your feet up and enjoy your yard.
Sue Styer is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.