It's summer in Western Washington. This means we have dusted off the sunglasses (if we haven't lost them!) and can finally wear our flip flops. But a few 75 degree days, doesn't mean we need to crank up the irrigation system full force. Here are a few quick, simple tips to keep your landscape looking great through the summer, while saving water and protecting our environment at the same time.
1) Stop overwatering! For Irrigation Systems: Often we follow a "set it and forget it" mentality. This means sometime back in April or May, when the irrigation system was turned on, all the zones were probably set for the same time, the same days, and if you have a water budget feature, it was set for 100 percent. Now when summer and those first few days of really warm weather hits, our first inclination is to bump the run times up, or adjust the water budget beyond 100 percent.
The goal should be to work towards 100 percent, not against it. We aren't Arizona, Southern California, or Florida! Thurston County plant water requirements are much different. Think of climbing stairs; spring and early summer are the first few steps, using less than 100 percent. Mid‐summer, usually mid‐July is the top, where you are using 100 percent and then you come down the back side into fall, adjusting the water runtimes back down to less than 100 percent.
Need help to plan a schedule? Here is a quick, simple and easy to use resource to help you in planning your watering scheduling: www.iwms.org/SprinklerCalcB.asp. There's even a setting to have email reminders of when to adjust. Also, sidewalks and driveways don't grow: so make sure the sprinkler heads point to the grass, and adjust if needed.
For hose and sprinkler users: You should not turn the sprinkler on before bed and turn it off on your way out the door in the morning! Hose timers are very simple, inexpensive tools to attach to your spigot and hose that automatically shut off the water when the time you specific is up. You will likely be adjusting your sprinkler times each week, based on weather, so purchasing an inexpensive moisture meter from your local gardening store will take the guesswork out. It will tell you how moist or dry your soil is before you water, so you can decide how much water your lawn needs that day. So what's the benefit of all this work? First, you will save money by not paying for water your landscape doesn’t need. If you are on your own well, you'll be saving unnecessary running on your pump. Second, you will control run off. Lastly, the overall health of your landscape will improve; an over‐watered landscape can be just as unhealthy as an under‐watered landscape.
2) Set your mower HIGH! You should be mowing to a height of between 2 and 3 inches. The turf will be less stressed, requiring less water, and the soil will also be more shaded. You can also mulch mow, provided you have a properly equipped mower, with well sharpened blades. Up to 70 percent of the grass blade is water, so returning it the ground is very beneficial. It’s not too late to aerate, but you will need to make sure the ground is soft enough to pull a good plug.
3) Fertilize correctly! Fertilizing should be done with a very slow release, or organic fertilizer. Remember, all fertilizers now applied to lawns should not have Phosphorous in them, unless a soil test is performed first. Read the label on your fertilizer, and follow the directions carefully. Thinking that "if some is good, more must be better", is not the right approach here. Don't be afraid to ask a professional or nurseryman for help. Also reach out to the fertilizer manufacturer when you have questions. Again, you’ll be saving money, and protecting the environment.
4) Less water = less weeds! We wouldn't be complete if we didn't talk about weed control. By using less water, and keeping your lawn healthy, you are well on your way to fewer weeds. Weeds have shallow roots systems, and you know they can pop up just about anywhere. By limiting the amount of water they get, you are discouraging their growth. Also, performing a thorough cleaning of the beds and applying a good, clean mulch, beauty bark, or compost, you will be helping to limit their growth and infestation, while improving the soil health, and moisture retention around your plants trees and shrubs.
If you have questions about any of these great tips, just ask. Our area is chock full of resources, professionals and people who genuinely care about the balance of maintaining a great looking yard and protecting our environment.
About the author: Rick Longnecker is native Western Washingtonian, landscaper, and dad who wants to be a responsible steward so a thriving environment can be passed on to the next generation of gardeners. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org