In the Garden:
Inland Northwest, High Desert
May, 2004
Regional Report

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A healthy lawn takes less water, fertilizer, and effort than most of us think.

Get on My Grass

Relaxing on a soft, grassy spot is the picture of summertime for most of us. So it's important to plan ahead: What do you want to do with your lawn?

Maybe you want to daydream in a hammock under a shade tree. Or let the kids play hide-and-seek. Or have a tea party or a badminton game. How you will use your lawn determines how large your grassy area needs to be. Can you do it, considering the ongoing drought and new watering restrictions in our region? Yes. Let's embark on the Quest for Less Thirsty Turf, with help from The Lawn Institute.

Modifying Our Expectations
While an uninterrupted expanse of green is soothing to the eye, we don't need golf-course perfect. We need a lawn that doesn't demand a lot. Not a lot of fertilizer. Not a lot of water. Not a lot of our time to care for it.

Fertilizing
Reduce the amount recommended on the label. You'll get less growth, along with less demand for water. A slow-release type of fertilizer insures a more consistent growth rate.

Mowing
Raise the mowing height of your lawn mower to 3 inches. Longer grass blades shade the soil and grass crowns, lessening the need for extra water. And they encourage better, deeper, root growth. Make sure, too, that you mow often enough so that you only mow a third of the grass at any one time. Mulching mowers return all that fertilizer and moisture to the lawn, do not cause thatch, and eliminate raking. And be sure to keep the blade sharp. A dull blade tears the grass blades, turning them brown. And that makes you think the grass needs water.

Watering
Adjust the schedule so the lawn gets what it truly needs: 1 inch per week. Weather changes and growth patterns determine a lawn's water needs. Sink a screwdriver into the turf. If it goes in easily, the soil is well-watered at least 6 inches down. Most grass roots in sandy soils should be 6 to 12 inches deep; in clay soils, only 4 to 8 inches. The root zone needs a soaking every 7 to 10 days in hot weather.


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