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Garden Help Desk: Root out poor lawn-watering habits

By Usu Extension - | May 8, 2021
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A large lawn uses lots of water, but it can be taught to be more water efficient.

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Sprinkler controllers can seem complicated, but a little time spent with the user's manual, either printed or online, will help you program your controller for wiser watering.

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Sprinkler controllers can seem complicated, but a little time spent with the user's manual, either printed or online, will help you program your controller for wiser watering.

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Not every rain-delay or manual option is this obvious, but every modern controller has these water-wise features.

Today, we’re looking at a vegetable garden question that’s really more about watering than about growing specific vegetables. Utah’s long-term drought seems to have no end in sight, so landscape water use and wise watering are topics we can all keep in mind.

Here’s today’s question:

Question: My water bill’s gotten so high that I can’t afford to have a vegetable garden this year. Can you recommend one or two vegetables we can grow in large pots instead?

Answer: Before we talk about choosing a few vegetables to grow in pots, ask yourself these two questions:

— Am I sure it’s my vegetable garden that’s the problem and not my lawn?

— Am I using the best watering options for my garden and my lawn?

We’ll look at some options for watering a vegetable garden next week, but today, let’s look at how changing your watering habits can change your water bill.

Most of those gallons of water that show up on your water bills is water that goes onto your landscape and the lawn is typically the biggest user. Many of us have large lawns, or areas of lawn that we only use when it’s time to mow. Reducing the amount of lawn in your landscape can translate into lower water use. It’s something to consider, but for now let’s take a look at your current landscape and watering.

Do you water more than twice a week during the summer? Are you already watering more than twice a week now? Do you use the same watering schedule from spring through fall? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions then your lawn watering habits, not your vegetable garden, are probably the reason your water bill is so high.

Most lawns in our area can easily go three to four days between waterings in the summer if they’re watered properly. Deeper but less frequent watering will reduce water use, improve the health of your landscape, and reduce the size of your water bill. We’ll look at several things over the next few weeks that you can do to reduce your landscape’s water use, but here are three tips to get you started with your lawn.

First, don’t water in the spring until the lawn really needs it. This usually happens near the end of April through the first few days in May. Until then, soil moisture is usually still adequate and daytime temperatures are still cool, so trees, shrubs and lawns aren’t stressed by the delay. We’re past that point this year, but in the future, if you can wait to start watering, you’ll have a lawn that does well with less frequent watering during the summer.

Some years, we have warmer, drier, earlier springs and we may need to water a week or so earlier than this. In other years we have extended cool, wet weather and we may not need to water until a couple of weeks later than this.

Once you do need to water (because you’ve checked the soil, and it’s dry for at least an inch or two down into the soil), water deeply (you want water to soak at least 6 to 8 inches into the soil), then wait for about 7-10 days before watering again. Repeat this for another watering or two. Decrease the interval slowly until you’re watering once every three to four days during the summer heat of late June through early September. If you have sandy soil, you may need to water a bit more frequently and a little less deeply.

If you live where there are watering restrictions, you’ll have to control the watering manually until summertime, then program your timer to water on the two most evenly spaced days in the week, Tuesday and Saturday for example. Remember to keep an eye on the weather forecast and use the rain-delay feature on your controller, if needed.

Delayed watering in the spring and deep, less frequent watering once you do begin irrigating will promote deeper rooting of the lawn. A deeply rooted lawn means a healthier lawn that can use water more efficiently while being watered less often.

The second thing you can do to promote deeper, more water-efficient rooting is a taller mowing height. Taller grass blades, about 3-3½” tall, also will promote deeper rooting. As a bonus, the taller grass blades will shade the soil and keep the lawn cooler.

Tip number three is to use the mulching feature on your mower. The clippings will insulate the soil to keep it cooler and reduce evaporation. As a bonus, the clippings also will add some slow-release nitrogen back into the soil.

Next week, we’ll circle back to how you can find vegetable varieties that you can grow in containers and also talk about the best ways to improve the way a conventional vegetable garden is watered.


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