Gardening: The water we need to feed our lawns

EILEEN WARD

It’s spring and we need rain. This much needed water would help to refresh our drought stricken lawns and gardens. It would also activate the fertilizer applied this spring which will add strength to help them better survive the rest of the dry season.

In spite of future rainstorms our sandy soil puts us right back into drought conditions within a few days when the temperatures are in the 90s and the wind is blowing during the day.

For many years during the spring months, my column had to discuss those dreaded brown spots which would appear on our lawns. Inevitably our potable water pressure would dip as everyone needed to water their lawns due to the dry weather. During the ’90s, sprinkler coverage problems on the drinking water system had been wide spread around Marco Island. The City of Marco Island utilities worked to resolve these pressure problems and it seemed they had done a great job. But not long after Islanders were complaining that the city had increased pressure to make more money and it was causing damage to their systems.

It seemed the water company listened and once again we did not have adequate pressure to water our lawns all at once. The reclaimed system sent out red alert notices about inadequate water and asking them to please conserve. The water pressure to all customers suffers as a result of these and any other problems. I once again noticed, on my route around Marco Island today, that neighborhoods all around the island are drying up fast. I did report this to Marco Island Utilities in case there is a mechanical problem in those neighborhoods which could be corrected. They are always quick to look into any problems reported. Hopefully the pressure problems are something which can be easily remedied. Fortunately the rainy season is just around the corner. Summer rains almost always arrive in the first week of June. Here are some tips to help your lawn get through this difficult spring season and spring seasons to come.

With the temperatures getting hotter and the air becoming drier your grass would turn to a golden brown without the supplemental irrigation from your sprinkler system. Most brown spots indicate a lack of proper coverage by your irrigation system. Homes with newer systems did not have as severe a problem with lowered pressure as those with older systems as there may be more accumulated gunk and debris in older valves and other system parts. If you think pressure may be a problem call an irrigation company to clean your system to help prevent future problems. Also, keep in mind that when you run the system during the day the pressure is adequate but dips lower in the early morning hours when everyone is watering at the same time.

The first thing you should do is run the sprinklers manually and visually check for proper coverage. Clear any heads which are clogged and adjust any which are misaligned. Check for shrubs and trees which may be blocking the water and trim them as necessary.

The worst thing you can do is run your sprinklers for more days trying to green up the brown spots. First of all this is against the restrictions in place and second the spots are still not getting coverage and the rest of your lawn is getting too much water. This can also needlessly drain our water reserves and bringing us closer to salt water intrusion.

Watering during the midday hours is another water waster. You will lose over half of the water to evaporation into the atmosphere due to heat and wind. I recently watched as a neighbor watered during the afternoon hours allowed under previous restrictions. It looked like smoke from a fire as more than half of the water flew into the air and disappeared with the wind.

So what else should you do?

Water the dry spots with a hose whenever you can find the time, preferably in the morning hours to help prevent disease problems. Remember the rules say you have to be at the end of that hose personally watering. These stressed areas are more susceptible to disease problems and insect infestation. For disease prevention apply a fungicide like Daconil to the spots and a foot or two beyond the edges.

As for insects, keep a close eye on your lawn for chinch bugs especially if it rains. A very hot, dry period followed by frequent afternoon rain showers creates a climatic period that is perfect for the breeding of a generation of chinch bugs. They like to lay their eggs when it’s dry and then they hatch with the rains. Watch for the telltale yellowing at the edges of the brown, damaged areas in your lawn followed by the increase in size of your brown spots or new areas. Part the blades to find the little black bugs with the white wings running in the soil or on the base of the grass blades. The newly hatched are tiny orange specks.

Another problem likely to arise with these dry spots is an inability of the soil to absorb water. The soil has been adversely affected from being dry for so long. The grains of sand in our sandy soil tend to accumulate oil around them. This prevents water from penetrating the soil and so it just runs off these areas rather than being absorbed and used by the grass roots. Applying a surfactant to the dry spots will help break down these oils and allow them more readily to absorb water and thus enable them to green up again. A good surfactant which most of us already have around the house is liquid dish detergent. Or you can buy a surfactant in the garden center. Mix 1 tablespoon of dish soap to one gallon of water and drench these dry spots.

And finally, the most important way to help your lawn survive drought is to prepare it by watering deep and less often all year. It is possible to water once a week year round once your lawn has been conditioned. Also cutting the grass at a higher depth will grow a deeper root system which will help the lawn to sail through with little or no damage when your sprinkler coverage is inadequate. I water my own lawn once a week all year.

These brown spots from inadequate irrigation can become the breeding ground for problems which need chemicals to correct. And we all know where our chemicals and fertilizers end up. In the Gulf of Mexico.

Eileen Ward and her husband Peter have owned and operated Greensward of Marco, Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company since 1981. Watch Eileen’s gardening videos on MarcoIsland-TV.com.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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