Following up last week’s strident defense of every American’s right to grow a lawn, Grumpy needs to educate his countrymen on how to do so wisely, responsibly, and efficiently. Because when it comes to lawn care, there’s a lot of dumbness going on.
Nothing is stupider than the way people water. People water too much, too often, at the wrong times, and the wrong way. Not only does this waste a valuable and increasingly scarce resource, it also makes your lawn look worse by increasing disease, insect, and thatch problems. How many of the following have you seen in your neighborhood?
Stupid Lawn Tricks
Using sprinklers in the blazing hot sun. Hello? Using sprinklers when it’s sunny and 95 degrees is dumber than swimming with polar bears. Practically all the water applied will evaporate into the hot air before ever reaching the roots. You might as well water the storm drain.
Using sprinklers when it’s raining. Most people guilty of this use in-ground sprinklers set by a timer. Having to eat boiled yak every day for a year is not too harsh a punishment.
Using sprinklers to water the street. Again, in-ground sprinklers are the culprit. People set them to go off in the middle of the night and never see where the sprinklers are pointed. As I’ve said before, you can water asphalt all you want, but that stuff just ain’t gonna grow.
Giving your flowers, shrubs, and trees the same amount of water that you give your grass. Different plants have different water requirements. Treating them all the same means one will be happy and the others will hate you. Who practices such idiocy more often than anybody else? Owners of in-ground sprinkler systems.
Watering the grass every single day for 15 minutes. This turns the lawn into a shallow-rooted water junkie that demands a water fix every day just to soldier on. Instead of watering shallowly every day for 15 minutes, water deeply once a week for an hour or so (or how ever long it takes to apply an inch of water). Your lawn will be healthier and more drought-tolerant. It will also have fewer loathsome weeds like dollarweed and nutgrass (nutsedge) that thrive in overwatered lawns.
Let’s All Water Less
“Dr. Strangelove” is one of Grumpy’s all-time favorite movies. In it, Air Force General Jack D. Ripper, convinced that Communists are using fluoridation to pollute “our precious bodily fluids,” launches a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. He correctly points out that most of our bodies are water and that fresh, pure water is essential to our survival. If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to say that if you’re terrified of dark, confined spaces, you’ll be thrilled that the Cold War is over.
Ripper was right. Pure, fresh water is fundamental to human life, yet we waste it in so many ways — from building humongous, bloated desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas that have to steal their water from distant rivers to average folks who overwater their grass. So how can you have a nice lawn while using a modicum of water? Grumpy shall elucidate.
Choose a grass well-adapted to your region. Here in north-central Alabama, most people grow either Zoysia or Bermuda. Both are naturally drought-tolerant and don’t need regular watering. Grumpy has a Bermuda grass lawn that he almost never waters. When it doesn’t rain, the grass goes dormant and turns brown. OK, fine. Eventually, it rains and the grass wakes up and turns green again. Simple. Now you can try to grow tall fescue here, but unless you water it regularly, it dies in a heartbeat. St. Augustine grows well here, but needs more water than Zoysia and Bermuda. Bottom line — pick a grass suited to your climate that doesn’t need a lot of water.
Don’t make the lawn bigger than you need. Devote more area to natural areas and drought-tolerant plants and ground covers. Watch your water bill shrink.
Water at the right time. The best time to water is very early morning before it gets hot. Most of the water will make it to the roots. Plus, the grass blades will dry quickly, preventing disease problems.
Don’t mow your grass during droughts. Cut grass loses lots of moisture through cut blades and turns brown if you don’t water it. So don’t cut. Grumpy’s rule during hot, dry summers is, don’t cut the grass until it rains two days in a row.
Cut your grass at the highest recommended height for your grass. Taller grass shades and cools the ground, reducing moisture loss. In a drought, taller grass always stays greener longer than shorter grass. So cut bluegrass at 2 to 3 inches, tall fescue at 3 inches, perennial ryegrass at 2 inches, Bermuda at 1-1/2 to 2 inches, Centipede at 2 inches, St. Augustine at 3 to 4 inches, and Zoysia at 2 inches.
If you don’t have in-ground sprinklers, don’t get them. People with sprinkler systems always use more water because watering is so easy. You don’t have to drag hoses. You just set the timer and forget it. Just look at the Atlanta metro area to see the consequence of sprinkler systems gone wild. For 10 years, practically every house built came with lawn sprinklers. No one really thought about how much water they’d need. Then Atlanta had a terrible drought and its principal water supply, Lake Lanier, nearly dried up. They had to ban all outside watering, unless you carried gray water outside. Water junkie lawns dried up and died.
Finally, if you live in an arid place like Phoenix or Las Vegas, don’t plant grass at all. Stay indoors and watch Netflix. Choose movies with “green” in the title. My son’s favorite: “How Green Is My Toilet.”