AN EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT | Lawn Owners Adapt to Water Restrictions – VC Reporter | Leaf Probably

by David Goldstein

Many Ventura County communities are now subject to restrictions on outdoor watering one day per week, with the exception of drip irrigation and hand watering with a shut-off valve. Other parts of Ventura County also have restrictions on the frequency and timing of outdoor watering. As in previous droughts, water utilities are increasingly managing requests for incentives offered to replace turf with artificial grass or other low-water-use landscapes.

Still, many people love their lawn and won’t uproot the landscape they’ve cultivated for years. Grass is a great playground and can look beautiful.

Reducing to a weekly watering will not kill most lawns. Scotts, a large supplier of lawn care products, recommends watering enough to keep the top 6 to 8 inches of soil moist. According to the company’s website, “Most lawns require 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week — either from rain or from watering — to drench the soil that deeply.” “However, this amount of water can either be applied during a single irrigation or split into two waterings during the week.”

To make this level of watering workable, Scotts also has a watering recommendations section on its website. These include early morning watering recommendations when there is less wind and the lawn has time to dry. Watering at night leaves the grass wet for too long and creates “conditions for disease onset.”

LawnMowerGuru.com also recommends using mulching mowers to retain moisture and cutting lawns on higher settings to allow grass to grow deeper roots.

Even so, many local lawns will no longer look lush. Some lawns are made up of thirsty grasses.

The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program has published a guide to healthy lawns, including a section on the types of grass that are “best adapted to California conditions” and arranged in a grid based on tolerance to heat, cold, drought, shade, salinity, and wear/traffic.

If your lawn has the wrong type of grass, it may be too late to switch. It is impractical to plant new sods during drought restrictions. The Sod Watering Tips section of the website of Southland Sod Farms, an Oxnard-based sod grower, shows a watering schedule for new sods that recommends watering daily for three weeks with watering at 7:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. In the first week. The times and frequencies required would violate water restrictions.

Instead of starting with grass, companies are advertising in national magazines and online with mail-order “plugs” grass varieties like Zoysia, which are said to require only a third of the water of other varieties and can be planted in existing lawns. The plugs can be planted in a checkerboard pattern or used just to fill in brown spots. The Zoysia Farm Nurseries website claims that just one 1 inch plug per square foot will completely fill a lawn within two of the three growing seasons and “choke out” crabgrass and other weeds. However, the strong nature of this grass species is also a potential problem. It’s invasive and difficult to control. It could spread to areas of the garden where homeowners don’t want grass, and it could even spread to neighbors’ yards.

With new water restrictions, many lawns develop brown spots on slopes, in direct sunlight, and in areas of excessive wear. Grass can be dormant in some places, although watering once a week will keep the grass from dying.

One solution is a paint specifically formulated to keep dormant lawns looking healthy. Solarogen sells this paint over the internet and asks customers to ensure a drying time of 24 hours for the paint to ‘set’ and ‘rub off’. The website claims that the color “keeps blades of grass green for months or until cut by mowing.” Elsewhere on the site, the “months” claim is clarified: “It can even take up to three months.”

An online Safety Data Sheet for a common type of turf paint classifies the product as “possibly carcinogenic” and recommends protective gloves, clothing, eye protection and face protection during application. However, the reason for the warning is the use of carbon black in the product, which is also found in many items we tolerate on a daily basis, including photocopier ink.

Based on the centuries-old history of turf being a hallmark of British estates, Americans have been conditioned to want grass. The current drought is unlikely to revolutionize local landscaping. Instead, homeowners will find ways to adapt.


David Goldstein, Environmental Resource Analyst at the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.

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