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Karen Siddall
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After 2 years of heavy spring rains, and pretty regular storm clouds in the sky lately, water conservation may not be much of a topic of conversation these days. However, conditions of plenty can change very quickly in our area: just look back at May. Although May is historically our wettest month of the year with an average rainfall of 4.84 inches, May of 2017 was almost record dry across our area with only 1.65 inches recorded in Waxahachie.  (Of course, then came June with a surprising 5.23 inches recorded.)

May usually ushers in our driest, hottest months in North Central Texas. Our biggest water output during this time is for outdoor watering. To avoid the “sticker shock” of a high water bill and still keep your yard at its healthiest, it is important to know how to tell when your landscape needs supplemental watering.

When do you need to water?

For two of our area’s most popular warm-season grasses, Bermuda and St. Augustine, one way to determine if it is time to water is by inspection of the blades of grass themselves. If your Bermuda grass lawn presents wilting leaves and a blue-gray color throughout, that is a good indication of drought stress; your yard could use supplemental watering. If your St. Augustine grass has a dull, bluish color, rolled or folded leaves, and footprints tend to retain their shape after you’ve walked across your lawn, it is showing signs of drought stress as well. Time for you to water.

How much/how long do you need to water?

Of course, each yard will be different. However, the following principles will apply to all turf grasses. Deep infrequent watering creates deep roots. Shallow frequent watering creates short roots. As water evaporates from the soil surface, short-rooted plants and lawns will need water more often. Deep-rooted plants and lawns will be able to absorb water from the deeper soil, over a longer period of time. This approach also reduces disease, helps insure good air movement down to the root system, and conserves water. Water lawns slowly, allowing water to reach a depth of 6 inches.

As for how long this will take, again, each yard will be different. Try watching and measuring how long it takes for your sprinkler to fill a standard sized tuna can (or cat food can) with one inch of water as it sweeps across the yard. If water starts running off your lawn before hitting the one-inch mark, pause the process to allow the water to soak into the underlying soil, before continuing. Note the amount of time before you paused and the amount of time you needed to wait before continuing. You may need to pause more than once. But once you’ve successfully capture one inch of water in your catch can, you can determine your watering pattern for your individual yard. Just reproduce what you did to get one inch of water on your lawn, then stop.

What time do you need to water?

Since 50-60% of your irrigation can be lost to evaporation, it is best to water when that is less likely to happen. Whenever possible, water between midnight and 8:00 a.m. 

What about automatic sprinkler systems?

You need to understand how to operate, set, and re-program your automatic sprinkler system. Determine how much water your system discharges (as described previously) and set the timing of the various zones in your configuration to water what is needed for your type of grass, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees. As your landscape matures, the height of some of your plantings may even necessitate changes in your head placements as the spray patterns become blocked or altered. Keep an eye on those heads and replace those that break.

What about planting native plants or those that are adapted to our climate?

Incorporating native or adapted plants to areas in your yard can help you build a more sustainable landscape. These plants typically use less water, have fewer issues with pests, and thrive in less-than-perfect soil conditions. Along with less water, they also require less pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer.

An excellent online tool to help you refresh your yard using native and adapted plants is the Texas SmartScape website (www.txsmartscape.com). This website is free and has online landscape design functions and an easy-to-use, and frequently updated, plant database developed just for the North Central Texas area.

How much time will this take?

Considering the above changes to some of the ways you may be maintaining your yard, you’re going to be spending less time watering and doing yard work. You’ll have more time to just sit back and enjoy your beautiful yard while conserving water and saving money on your water bill.

For more information on these tips and others, visit the Prairielands GCD website at www.prairielandsgcd.org or call (817) 556-2299. The Prairielands GCD office is located in the Liberty Hotel, 205 S. Caddo St., Cleburne, TX, 76031.

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