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The Salt Lake Tribune
Gardening: Tips to keep a lawn alive while conserving H2O
By Maggie Wolf
Special to The Tribune
(Picture legend) : Hot temperatures and uneven distribution of sprinkler water causes large, irregular shapes of straw-color turf in lawns, such as this one in Herriman. Solve problem spots by watering with a hose-end sprinkler, preferably within a few hours of running the automatic sprinkler system. One-half inch of water every 2 to 3 weeks will keep areas like this alive but dormant. Kentucky bluegrass recovers from summer dormancy within 20 to 30 days when temperatures cool down. (By Maggie Wolf)
Can your bluegrass beat the heat?
Most northern Utah homeowners strive to maintain a lush, green Kentucky bluegrass lawn. Besides being attractive, a vigorous green lawn cools its surroundings, provides a soft surface for playing and resists weeds. Good lawn management keeps grass green with only about 24 inches of additional water per year. That’s half what the average Utahn uses. But when water bills soar and you’d rather see green in your wallet than in your yard, combine good lawn maintenance with drought survival strategies. Healthy bluegrass lawns can survive several weeks without irrigation by going dormant. The key is to make sure your lawn is in good shape going into summer.
Aerate: Kentucky bluegrass grows best in spring and fall, when temperatures are mild. During April and May, core aerate your lawn. This technique removes small diameter plugs (cores) 2 to 3 inches deep from the lawn. This allows more air to reach grass roots, and air is essential for root health. Core aeration also promotes the breakdown of thatch. With less thatch, irrigation water better penetrates the soil. Thatch acts like a sponge, repelling water when it is very dry and absorbing water when slightly moist. Either wet or dry, thatch blocks water from reaching grass roots. If thatch layers are thicker than 1/2 inch at the end of summer, core aerate in early fall.
Topdress recently aerated lawns with fine-grade organic compost to help build soil structure.
Fertilize: Because Kentucky bluegrass grows fastest in spring and fall, those are the times to fertilize. Fertilizing during hot summer weather prompts growth of new leaves that use more water. Only playgrounds or high-traffic lawns need summer month fertilizer; even those at only half rate.
Water: Because you should always apply the same amount of water every time you irrigate, the frequency of watering increases during hot months. If you haven’t had a free water check from Slow the Flow, sign up at
or call 877-SAVE-H2O (877-728-3420). You can also learn the basics at
Water when wind is calm and sunshine is less intense. Spot-water the dry parts of your lawn instead of running your sprinklers longer.
Mow: Raise the mower deck so grass blades are 2 1/2 to 3 inches tall. Taller grass shades and cools the soil surface, reducing water evaporation. Taller grass also grows deeper roots, so you can water less often.
More strategies: If all these tips still aren’t enough, try letting your lawn take a nap. Summer dormancy is a natural event for most cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass. Researchers at Utah State University saw good recovery of Kentucky bluegrass after it remained dormant three months (mid-May to mid-August). Grass blades will dry up, but crowns should stay alive. Irrigate about 1/2 inch every 2 to 3 weeks to minimize permanent damage. Once daytime temperatures cool down, begin irrigating again. Within one month, Kentucky bluegrass will recover its lush green appearance.
Learn more about turfgrass research at Utah State University by visiting http://www.hort.usu.edu/html/research/turfgrassresearch.htm
* MAGGIE WOLF is an assistant professor for Utah State University Extension in Salt Lake County. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.