Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Lawn choice to make this summer: Stay green or go gold?

August is not a good time to reseed, aerate, thatch or fertilize the lawn — leave your grass alone except to water it.
August is not a good time to reseed, aerate, thatch or fertilize the lawn — leave your grass alone except to water it. istockphoto.com

The first week of August is when lawns start to turn brown and flowers can grow a bit seedy. You can allow the lawn to “go golden” or brown with the dry weather and it will still green up in the fall when the rains return. If you decide to keep the lawn green all summer here are some watering tips:

August is not a good time to reseed, aerate, thatch or fertilize the lawn. The grass is hot and thirsty. Leave it alone except to offer something to drink.

Use an oscillation sprinkler to conserve the most moisture. This is the type that moves back and forth. Not only are oscillating sprinklers the most fun for kids to run through but they also allow water to soak in a bit before more water is applied.

If you have a different type of sprinkler such as an in ground or spray sprinkler, turn off the water after the first 10 or 15 minutes and let the moisture soak into the soil. Then turn the water back on for another 15 minutes. This way the capillary action — the pull of the water from the first watering session —will draw the second application of water deeper into the soil.

It is better for the lawn if you water deeply but less often. Daily watering is not good for lawns in Western Washington. If you have decent soil you may be able to water your lawn just once a week to keep it green. Water long enough so that the moisture soaks down through the top 8 inches of soil. How do you know? Dig in with a shovel after 30 minutes of watering the lawn. By removing a section of the lawn and roots, you will be able to see how far down the soil has turned dark or moist.

The amount of water that comes out of the sprinkler and your type of soil determine how much water your lawn needs. For Western Washington lawns, the amount is 1 inch of water per week. To measure how much water your sprinkler delivers, mark an open but empty tuna can with a ruler to the 1 inch mark. Set this on the lawn and turn on the sprinkler. When the can is full to the 1-inch mark, note how long it took for your sprinkler to fill it up. Now you know how long it takes your sprinkler to apply 1 inch of water. If your soil is sandy or drains well you may need to water twice a week giving the lawn half an inch of water each time.

Lawn Alternatives

If a brown lawn or higher water bills do not float your boat, consider replacing your lawn with grass alternatives. Rocks and gravel with boulders may look more natural in a desert climate than in Western Washington, but if you add creeping junipers, thyme, and low growing sedum groundcovers to your rock scape you can enjoy your landscape with less water.

Another lawn free landscape design is to have mounds of topsoil added to your old lawn to make planting islands on top of the grass. After the soil settles these islands can be planted with trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers depending on the size of your yard. The walkway between the islands can be groundcovers or gravel or wide pathways of the old lawn.

A final idea for the lawn free front yard is to put a patio or courtyard in the front yard with planting areas around the sides and solid surface walkways that link the front courtyard to the side yards and back yard area of the home.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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