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Aug 04

To Water or Not to Water Your Lawn?

Posted on August 4, 2015 at 12:40 PM by Ryan Dicks


People love their lawns.  We tend to make unfair judgments about homeowners by how their lawn looks in front of their home.  But as our climate warms up and longer summer droughts become more normal we will have some difficult choices to make about our lawns.

Are lawns more important than local food?

Are lawns more important than flushing toilets, showers and baths?

Are lawns more important than the health of native fish?

Even the biggest supporter of lawns would have a hard time making the case that lawns are more important than the above necessities.  For the most part these drought related conversations have happened in California and not in Washington State. But for the last two years in a row we have had nearly zero snow pack in the mountains (something your snow skiing friends can attest to).  The lack of snow pack is going to result in less late summer water in our rivers and also warmer water that is deadly to fish.

So what to do with that lawn that wants to be watered after a record 10 days of 90 degree heat?  My answer is one you might not suspect a sustainability manager to give.

"Water once or twice a month so it does not completely die."  

Most native grasses go dormant and can survive for a while without water (turning yellow as you see throughout Pierce County now).  But experts admit that most grass needs at least one inch of water per month to make sure the grass does not die completely. One idea is to leave a cleaned tuna can on the lawn to see how much rain we have gotten and then supplement with a hose as necessary. If your grass does die it will take a lot of natural resources to try and regrow new grass from the start.

If you want to have a lawn but want to do it in an environmentally friendly way follow the 5 keys below.

Five Keys to Maintaining a Not Perfect Looking Eco-Lawn.

1) No chemicals.  My kids and my animals walk, play and eat around this lawn.  Chemicals that are commonly used on lawns are not well tested and their effects on humanswildlife and fish can be devastating. Just say no to weed and feed and other common pesticides that your local hardware store sells. 

2) Allow your lawn to go drought-dormant in summer by only watering once or twice a month during prolonged heat. The added bonus is that a drought-dormant lawn does not need to be mowed limiting effort and air pollution from your mower.


3) If you need to water plants and lawns do it in the early morning or late evening to avoid water evaporation.

4) Use local slow release fertilizer products like Tagro on your lawn to build healthy soil and watch your lawn grow happily.  You can even pick up Tagro for free at their site.

5) Leave the grass clippings on the lawn and they will act like compost to keep your lawn strong and needing less water.  This also limits the questionable use of plastic bags to hold grass clippings and minimizes unnecessary work.  Even the Mariners grounds crew leaves grass clippings at Safeco Field.  

For some of you the bigger question to consider is do you need a lawn in the first place? 

PUYALLUP1.pngFor some people with kids and animals grass is an important feature of a home.  For others grass is a costly time intensive endeavor that does not provide any benefit or enjoyment. In this case you should consider native drought tolerant landscaping that can provide enjoyment, environmental benefit and limit your cost and effort.

For more resource about natural yard care click below.

Tacoma Water
Thurston County

The local Master Gardener Program is another excellent source for information and advice. In Pierce County, the number is (253) 798-7170.