Column: “The Garden Girl” – Lawns

June 1, 2014 14:00 pm · 11 comments


Our Claycord lawns are beginning to show signs of stress as folks voluntarily cut back on irrigation.  Patches of dehydrated, drying grass are obvious in many neighborhoods, and they are shown as badges of honor.  Those people are cutting back on their water usage by not irrigating as often the largest, thirstiest part of their traditional landscape.

With the heat last week, lawns have been on the minds of many visitors to the nursery.  People are inquiring about replacing their lawns with water-wise plant material.  They have seen some of their neighbors do it, and for the most part, it can look very nice.  Last week I spoke to 5 homeowners.  That’s a lot of interest generated by one heat wave.  As summer progresses and extended heat comes our way lawn care will become more of a burden.  The idea of replacing lawn with water-wise plants will be even more appealing.

Replacing your lawn maybe an option for you to consider.  Drive around and see if you can spot any lawnless landscape designs that you suit your style.  Take photos so you have a reference to show any consultants or designers that you seek out to help with your vision.

Say replacing your lawn with water-wise plantings isn’t your idea of a landscape.  Perhaps you want to minimally water and really try to keep your lawn greenish until fall and winter relief comes our way.  First step you should take to try to keep your lawn surviving is to not cut your grass too short.  Low mowing allows the soil under your grass to be more exposed to the sun and wind, and encourages faster dry out.

Second, consider mulching a layer of multi purpose soil condition atop your lawn.  Choose a product that is for productive plants.  Look for conditioner that contains ingredients such as chicken manure, earthworm castings, bat guano, and micorrhizae fungi.   The layer needs to be only 1-2” thick.  Rake the lawn to spread the conditioner evenly.

The time of day that you choose to water your lawn really matters.  Just yesterday I spotted a lady in our neighborhood watering with a water-wand on the mist setting around 11am.  The water vapor that she was wasting was amazing, and she was hardly wetting the lawn and possibly burning the grass blades. Lawns need to be watered in the very early hours of the morning.  If you feel the urge to add more water by hand, do it early in the day, choose the shower setting, and keep the hose low towards the grass.  If you lawn as dry patches, water using captured water from the shower or sink.

Happy Gardening.

Nicole Hackett is the Garden Girl at R&M Pool, Patio and Gardens, located at 6780 Marsh Creek Road in Clayton, 925-672-0207.

Nicole writes for the Clayton Pioneer Newspaper, and She is also the Clayton Valley Garden Club 2012 President.

1 Julio June 1, 2014 at 7:11 PM

If people would water their lawns correctly we wouldn’t be in this mess and everyone who wanted a lawn could have it.

2 Save Water June 1, 2014 at 7:43 PM

Doing our best to conserve water. We didn’t start watering our lawns until about a month ago because it wasn’t really needed. Trying to keep our lawns from completely dying off now. It sickens me to see people watering every day and wasting so much water. Just stupid.

3 Silva June 1, 2014 at 8:16 PM

We survived the last big drought in the ’70s. There was NO outdoor watering except with “grey” water; water collected from dishwashing, showers, etc.. The lawns appeared completely dead. My mother said “the only things green are the weeds!” and it was the truth. When the rains returned, so did most of the landscapes and the lawns! We weren’t expecting it either.

4 Mark June 1, 2014 at 8:57 PM

I really like having a green lawn. You guy’s make me feel guilty cuz I want to keep it green. lol
I might tear this one out and plant a different strain that has very deep roots, so that you do not need to water as much.
I’m not sure what strain it is, but I hear there is one that has 18 inch roots that hardly needs watering.
Do you have any idea what the name of this grass is?

5 Csspaw June 1, 2014 at 10:15 PM

Please give us more details on mulching a lawn. For example: you can rent a Top Dressing Roller, aka compost roller spreader. There are online calculators to convert inches of compost per sq ft to cubic yards to be purchased.

6 Bluebird June 1, 2014 at 11:07 PM

With so much adobe just a few inches down, I don’t think any grass would be able to grow 18 inch roots. I could be wrong.

7 Antler June 2, 2014 at 8:08 AM

Mark (and please correct me on this if you think I’m giving misguided advice, Nichole), now is the worst time EVER to rip out your present lawn and to re-seed or re-sod with ANY variety of grass.

Instead, try aerating the lawn and then top-dressing it with good compost (per Garden Girl’s suggestion), then gradually cutting back on the number of times you water the lawn per week. And please water ONLY in the very early morning hours! All the above will encourage the grass roots to grow more deeply. Playing C/D’s of folk music from the early 1960’s to it in the hottest part of the day helps, too! ;-)

Silva is correct that many lawns with parched top-growth came back again after the last major drought. One of our neighbors had a specific lawn rotation plan for pouring buckets of gray water onto his lawn; he figured each spot got water every 10 days. The grass looked completely dead, but the roots were eeking by. We feel very fortunate to have a well for landscaping and patio-hosing purposes; the well did not go dry during the last big drought, but then the groundwater level was higher back then. So we’ve re-programmed the sprinkler system control box so as to cut back on number of watering days per week, and we’re about to see what happens this time.

Many homes in our area went to the rather destitute-looking Arizona desert landscaping format during the last big drought. I have to try hard to see the beauty of it, but at least those front yards look more orderly!

8 tal June 2, 2014 at 8:41 AM

I’ve changed the program to my irrigation system to just 2x per week, it seems to be staying green pretty well, I do have some brown creeping in. I have it running in the early mornings, about 4:30am and took great pains to make sure there isn’t any runoff. I only get a small amount on one part of the driveway, and most of that runs down hill into some plants, so very little to no runoff into the gutter.
As long as we don’t get any super hot spells for more than a day or two, I think it will survive.

9 Early Morning Watering No Good For Me June 2, 2014 at 11:13 AM

Our sprinklers go on early, but we live in a windy area and the sprinkler spray gets blown backwards towards my really green Agapanthus and very clean rocks.

I changed the watering time to later in the day–just for the lawn so the wind won’t affect where the spray goes. I don’t want to invest in new sprinkler heads since we will likely move to a xeriscape landscaping soon.

Any other suggestions?

10 Silva June 2, 2014 at 11:51 AM

My preferred watering time in Claycord is after sundown. I feel that I’m getting more bang for the buck, as the landscaping has more time to luxuriate in the moisture before the sun rises and broils it again. The only trade off I know of is more mildew on certain susceptible plants which I must spray with soap to keep in check.

Antler, you are blessed to have that well! We didn’t bother even trying to save our lawn with grey water last time around. I’d really like to know what kind of grass it is also. It’s fine like a rescue, and very lush and pretty. It does suffer in spots where it bakes in the sun all day, but always comes back strong. It was here before us, and neighbors compliment, but we really can’t take credit for doing anything. I fertilized it for the first time ever this year! The rewards are spectacular.

11 RunDogRun June 2, 2014 at 7:52 PM

I also changed my watering schedule to
later in the day so that I could monitor
it for over spray, runoff, broken
sprinklers, etc. Lawn makes me happy
and replacing it would cost more in the
long run, so I’m keeping mine.

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