If you love your lawn, you probably feel a bit picked on these days. With concerns about allocation of Colorado River water among Western states, lawns are beginning to come under scrutiny. Yet thirsty, cool-season grasses (bluegrass, fescue, etc.) continue to dominate much of the region’s landscapes.
As gardeners, we should consider ways to diminish our reliance on turf grasses to meet our aesthetic and recreational needs; meanwhile, by using the best lawn care practices, you can minimize the water needs of the turf in your garden.
Water only when the turf is dry.
Look for signs of drought stress before watering. These include wilt, footprints and lawnmower tracks that remain at least 30 minutes, or turf that is a shade of blue-gray. If you are not home to monitor the lawn, consider a smart irrigation controller that will monitor weather and estimate water needed while adjusting seasonally and in response to rainfall.
Aerate as soon as the ground is thawed; if your soil is really compacted, repeat in the fall.
Since we cannot cultivate soil under turf, compaction is a problem. Core aeration, a process whereby 2- to 3-inch plugs are pulled from the turf, usually by a powered core aerator, will help reduce compaction. Water your lawn one or two days before aeration. Leave the plugs on your lawn to decompose.
Spreading a thin layer of compost over turf after aeration can be helpful to improve soil.
The core “holes” make terrific space to germinate seed. By reseeding with newer seed cultivars, you can gradually improve the quality of the turf. Use seeds that are appropriate to the area’s growing conditions. Reseeding can be done when the ground is at least 45 degrees.
Spring is a good time for a first application of fertilizer if you did not do so in late fall. Apply a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Using a spreader will ensure the application is even and doesn’t damage the lawn.
Many fertilizers labeled for spring application also contain preemergent weed controls. It is important to decide whether to use these products. If you are reseeding, do not apply a pre-emergent weed control; it will prevent the grass seed from germinating.
Mow high and frequently
Set your mower on the tallest setting. It might take a bit to get used to the slightly longer look, but it will lessen the water needs by reducing the evapotranspiration in the lawn.
Try to mow frequently, removing no more than one-third of the grass height each time. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn; they will break down quickly and reduce fertilizer needs.
To find fact sheets on lawn care, go online to cmg.extension.colostate.edu/gardening-resources/online-garden-publications/lawns/