KATHY LUTHER: Tips for healthy turf, gardens

2013-08-27T12:20:00Z 2013-12-19T17:44:07Z KATHY LUTHER: Tips for healthy turf, gardensBy Kathy Luther nwitimes.com
August 27, 2013 12:20 pm  • 

This is the time of year when it is usually pretty easy to see who has decided to let the turf grass in their lawn go dormant for the hot summer months, and who has decided to irrigate.

Most common turf grasses grown in Northwest Indiana like Kentucky bluegrass and fescue are not very heat or drought tolerant. Kentucky bluegrass is particularly known for being thirsty.

If you are a lazy lawn-keeper like myself and prefer relaxing on hot summer weekends, letting your lawn go dormant is a viable option. Well established turf will naturally go dormant as part of its survival mechanism during dry weather.

Remember a dormant lawn is not a dead lawn. A dormant lawn can survive very well on one-quarter to one-half inches of water per month. Unless we are experiencing drought, the thunderstorms common to the season will provide for the minimal water requirements of a dormant lawn.

Allowing your lawn to go dormant during dry periods is actually better for the plants. This enables them to conserve nutrients and energy until more favorable conditions occur. Your lawn might not look be as green and lush as your neighbor’s, but you can congratulate yourself on your “green” choice.

On the other hand, if you enjoy the challenge of keeping the grass growing all summer long, or are irrigating gardens, there are plenty of ways to do it while still taking care of our water.

The varying requirements of vegetable and flower varieties make it difficult to provide any generic guidance for watering gardens.

One simple step is to keep the water in the garden. Watering sidewalks, patios and driveways isn’t using water wisely and can cause polluted runoff. If you are gardening over clay soils, drip irrigation is the best way to go. Applying too much water too fast causes more problems than it solves.

Irrigating turf grass properly requires careful attention to the lawn’s appearance. Watering according to a fixed schedule can lead to overwatering, which washes away nutrients and increases the risk of turf diseases.

Signs the turf is thirsty include blue-green color and visible footprints in the grass. When it is time to irrigate, do a deep soaking of 1 to 1.5 inches. Frequent, short watering leads to shallow root zones and vulnerable grass. Watering in the evening conserves the most water, but it may also promote fungal growth. So watering in the morning is actually a better approach.

But what about during a drought? Minimizing unnecessary water use on poor irrigation practices is critical to ensuring adequate water for all needs.

There are many strategies available to help your lawn survive future droughts. Carefully managing fertilizer and keeping grass blades at least 3 inches tall helps the turf have deeper roots.

Mowing too frequently, too short, or over fertilizing results in plants that put all their energy into blade growth and not enough into the roots. 

Kathy Luther is director of environmental management for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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