Most grasses can easily survive a month without water, say turf specialists, but homeowners tend to turn on the hose when the lawn starts to turn from green to brown. The color change is merely an indication that the plant is entering a natural state of dormancy to conserve nutrients. The time to water is when you step on the grass and it doesn't spring back, leaving footprints. Even then you should water wisely. Here's how to conserve water and energy without sacrificing the look of your lawn.
Don't make the mistake of giving your lawn a light daily watering during dry spells; that will encourage a shallow root system that does more harm than good. Instead, give the lawn a nice long soak, say, 30 minutes' worth (or enough to fill a tuna can), at which point it should be good for another month.
The best time to water is in the early morning (4 to 7 AM) to reduce evaporation when the sun is low or down, winds are calm, and temperatures are cool. You can lose as much as 30 percent of water to evaporation by watering midday, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. To supplement water from your local water utility, save rainwater in barrels or cisterns. And instead of dumping the water in your dehumidifier bin down the drain, use it to water your plants. Another way to save is to sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down.
As we reported in The slacker's guide to a great lawn, you don't have to devote your entire summer to getting a lush lawn if you adopt some time-saving practices and overlook a few dandelions. The long-held rule that you should never remove more than one third of the blade's total height has come under scrutiny. Most domestic grasses can thrive with 50 percent or more of the blade removed, says Frank Rossi, a turf expert at Cornell University. So you can let the lawn grow to about five inches before mowing. That will reduce mowing frequency by about 25 percent.
Keeping your mower maintained and the blade sharp will also make short work of your mowing chores. Some of the newest models in our lawn mower tests have such time-saving features as electric start, power steering and blade-brake clutches that make mowing less of a chore.
—Mary H.J. Farrell