Oklahoma State University Turfgrass Science
July turf management tips
SAVING WATER IN THE YARD DURING JULY
Courtney Sidwell and Justin Quetone Moss
Don’t be discouraged if the heat is beating your plants this July. There are several actions you can take in your landscape that will keep your plants looking good despite the lack of rain and high temperatures. Keeping an eye on your plants and giving them a little TLC when needed will help to avoid these problems. Be aware that some plants may need more water than others during the summer. Here are some ways that you can save water in the yard while maintaining a healthy landscape.
- Mow the lawn at the highest recommended height. Bermudagrass can be mowed at 1-2 inches and tall fescue lawns can be mowed at 3 inches during the summer.
- Use a mulching mower blade and leave grass clippings on the lawn.
- Keep the mower blades sharp. Dull blades tear the grass as opposed to giving it a clean cut.
- Avoid fertilizing cool-season grasses such as tall fescue in the summer.
- Aerate the lawn when needed. Aerating is the process of taking small plugs out of the ground to increase oxygen flow, soil drainage, and nutrient intake. When the soil is healthier and can breathe, the water that is given to the turf can soak in better, and decreases wasted water due to runoff. An aerator machine can be rented from a farm equipment store. There are several types of aerators, but the best one to use is a core aerator because the spikes on the machine are hollow as opposed to solid spike aerators.
- Use automatic pop-up irrigation sprinklers with a rain gauge. The rain gauge will tell the system to shut off when it has rained recently, avoiding excess watering. Pop-up sprinklers also avoid the need to manually move the sprinkler around the yard, saving labor and time. They also go back into the ground so that the mower can easily go over them and foot traffic can easily walk across them.
- Avoid watering when it has rained in the past 24 hours or it is going to rain in the next 24 hours. Always check the weather forecast and avoid unnecessary irrigation events.
- Water early in the morning. Watering late at night can increase disease problems that happen when water sits on the leaves overnight. Watering during the heat of the day can lead to water loss through evaporation.
If you have flower beds or beds with shrubs, trees, annuals, perennials, and/or groundcover, here are some tips to save water.
- Use drip irrigation. Drip irrigation saves 80% more water than sprinklers. Drip irrigation slowly releases water into the soil, or drips on the soil. Slow water release allows the plant time to soak up all the water, eliminating runoff. Drip irrigation also releases water at the base of the plant, avoiding unneeded water on the leaves. Drip irrigation systems do have to be checked regularly for clogs or salt accumulation. Clogging can prevent water from reaching the full length of the irrigation line, and excess salt can kill the plants.
- Water the plant at the base. Water where the plant meets the soil to avoid wasted water on the leaves. The plant needs water in the roots, not in the leaves.
- Mix compost into the soil. Amending the soil with compost in flower beds will add nutrients to the soil and help the soil retain moisture, reducing the need to water.
- Add a 3-4” layer of mulch to flower beds. This will help retain moisture, reducing the need to water, will help maintain constant soil temperatures for the plants, and reduce weed growth. Pine mulch is best recommended because of its organic ability to break down into the soil, and for its dark color that absorbs the light as opposed to reflecting the light back on to the plant. Light colored mulches reflect light back on to the plant, which can sunburn the plant and also cause it to need more water.
- Pull weeds when they are young. Weeds compete with bedding plants for water. Eliminating them when they are young will save water in bedding areas.
- When planting plants, group them together in the landscape according to water needs. Plants that require a lot of water should be placed with other plants that require a lot of water, and vice versa. This tactic reduces wasted water, disease problems, and dead plants. When plants are randomly placed together and they receive the same amount of water, the plants that need very little water may get fungal and disease problems because they are receiving too much water, and/or the plants that need a lot of water may die because they are not getting enough water.
- Choose plants that can take the heat and naturally save water. There are many trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, groundcover, and grasses that are drought tolerant in Oklahoma.
- Water in the morning. Watering late at night can increase disease problems that happen when water sits on the leaves overnight. Watering during the heat of the day can lead to water loss through evaporation.
- Water infrequently and deeply. Let the soil dry out between watering. Overwatering can be harmful to plants by reducing available oxygen in the soil.
- Check the soil to see if it is dry. Instead of watering on a schedule, check the soil to see if it needs to be watered. Check at a 3” depth, and if it is dry, it’s time to water. This can be done with your finger or with a trowel or shovel.
- Place plants that need a lot of water in places that tend to naturally collect a lot of water. Pay attention to areas in your yard that collect more water than others, and plant the plants that need more water in those areas.