letting your lawn go to 'sleep' during drought

mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)June 25, 2012

I am seriously considering stopping most of the watering of my lawn due to this hot, dry weather having made the majority of it go dormant. My backyard lawn is probably 90% dormant and seriously brown and crunchy :^(. I've been keeping up on the watering, and parts have been starting to try to come back (after making the mistake of running a dethatcher over it about a month ago, when it was already getting too hot and dry), but it is still in such poor condition I don't have hopes for it ever getting back to looking primarily green this season.

I found this site that has recommendations about doing this, such as keeping it watered about 1/2" every 2-3 weeks in order to keep the roots alive: http://www.wikihow.com/Save-Water-with-a-Sleeping-Lawn.

Has anyone else tried doing this? Were you successfuly in that your lawn did come back the following season?

We may go ahead and try this, and if it doesn't come back better next year than I guess it's the impetus we need to make a major change in the amount of lawn area we have as we've thought about doing on numerous occasions!



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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

Do you know what type of grass you have? I imagine it's a cool season grass. Most cool season grasses can go dormant in the summer but they still need some water. Brown and crunchy sounds like it's already quite thirsty. When I lived in Denver during the drought about a decade ago watering was cut back to maybe 1 or 2 days per week can't remember which but it also got quite crunchy. Most of it survived ok though some patches did die off.

I'm not a fan of grass. Don't care to water it or mow it. Every year I get rid of more of the grass maybe only 250 sq feet remain and that will probably be gone within a year.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 6:08PM
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mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)

We've got appx 5000 sq ft of lawn in the backyard - way, way too much IMO, especially for Colorado climate. It is sort of an oval shape in our yard, with the perimeters being either gravel or flower and vege garden. There are two additional small lawn areas off of the main one that we designated for other purposes - one small area for the doggie potty (it's in the shade so it stays fairly green, despite the irregular watering and dog business), and another area we covered with sand and made it into our own "beach". Any design ideas for creating the rest of the lawn area into pathways and plantings in order to reduce grass area would be wonderful!

In the main lawn area I know there is a little portion of Buffalo grass, but I think the rest is just a mixture of grass (and weeds!). I have kept up with the watering, but may have gotten a bit of a late start with it this year. I had been scheduling it 2-3 days per week at about 15 min. per zone, but changed it a few weeks ago to 2 days per week for 30 minutes per zone (due to recommendations I keep reading that it's better to deep water less often than to light water more often). But I have also run it an additional time or two during these hottest spells. Still mostly brown and crunchy!

I also did a soil sample with one of those test kits you can get at the big box store. It said the ph was 7, but the nitrogen and phosphorus were almost non-existent (as best as I could tell, anyway - it's hard to match up the color of the water to the chart, I found). But I haven't investigated any further on what, if anything, I should fertilize/supplement it with. My neighbor, who is a lawn business owner, has mentioned several times about fungus being a general problem, so I used a broadcast spreader with the fungus control granules a couple of weeks ago. But probably not the right time to do it since it was already dormant.

We've also thought about getting some green spray paint ....


    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 7:05PM
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I have to say, I think this would stress the crap out of your lawn, making it more prone to infection, weeds, etc.
Maybe call your extension office for their thoughts...?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 7:13PM
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mayberrygardener(z5a, Broomfield, CO)

I'm with amester. When hubby and I bought 6 years ago, we moved in on June 1. First thing we did was turn the sprinklers on for our straw-colored crispy lawn, but it was almost too late--the spider mites had already moved in (red variety) and so had the bindweed. Now we are in an epic battle with bindweed and thistles for what remains of the grass--dandies are pretty responsive to weed killers, but the others are about as noxious as weeds can get. So, if you are battling bindweed, I'd definitely think twice; on the other hand, my hubby says if it's green it counts, so maybe the bindweed could be your new ground cover? Watch for those mites, though; they love the garden, and have told me that they have no intentions of moving out!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 9:00PM
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mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)

I don't think my lawn could get any more stressed than it already is! But understand your point. I've been watering it with our sprinkler system for a month and a half, regularly - so that's why I'm so surprised it went downhill so fast. The front lawn is fine, but not the back. I don't have bindwind in the lawn - other places, yes, but it doesn't get in the lawn much. I'll keep an eye out for mites, though - can they be seen easily in the lawn?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 9:27PM
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david52 Zone 6

I don't think its a great idea either, due to the bugs - I have problems with web worms that will destroy it.

You might take the plunge and replace it with one of many less-water hungry grass varieties, for example buffalo grass. HIgh Country Gardens has other varieties.

At the link is a thread from bpgreen who did his yard with buffalo grass.

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 11:02AM
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i don't know but i am about to give up too. Some times i think it just isn't worth it. Most of you have that usual blue grass which is probably the worst there is for Colorad0. I bought this place a year ago with dead lawn. I watered and watered and now have a mixture of god know what. some rye grass some cheet grass. I scatered buffalo seed last year and hope for it to catch. I am at 100 degres all ready this morning at 10:00.
Kenny,with no built in sprinkler system.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 2:03PM
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You could always replace your lawn with a smaller section of artificial turf. We installed it in our backyard 3 years ago and loved it so much we replaced the real grass in our front yard with it this summer. It takes no water/fertilizing/mowing but looks lush and green all year. And yes, our HOA approved it (that's the question we're always asked first).


    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 7:11PM
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mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)

We were at Home Depot a few weeks ago and they had a display of the different types of astroturf they had - and we starting calculating what the cheapest would cost if we were to do our entire backyard lawn. It came to close to $10K!! Yikes, no way doing the whole thing that's for sure!! I do think we need to do something along the lines you have going, Trish, though - additional planter areas with xeric plants and walkways, and toss in some smaller areas of turf (real or artificial). I just haven't come up with the right design and plan!

Here are some pics of our poor lawn, so you can see what I'm talking about:

Here is a shot taken from an upstairs window - it's most of the yard, but there is another section on the right of the pic that you can't see (sorry for the screen showing, didn't want to remove it):

Here's another shot taken out in the yard, same side showing but you just can't see as much of it:

Although you can see some green showing, it doesn't look like much when you get up close. Here are some close ups of a few different parts around the yard:


patch 2

patch 3

patch 4 - this area looks the greenest, but when you look close it's mostly weeds I think. It's kind of on the outside edge near the entrance to the vege garden, so we haven't really cared too much if that little area wasn't grass per se.

Pretty sad, huh?!!

It has looked better in the previous couple of years we've lived here - I don't have pics that I've taken of it, but I had gotten a google image of it in 2010 that I saved - it shows that it was at one time pretty much all green!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 8:24PM
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The only reason that we didn't do Buffalograss is that it's not so great for heavy traffic areas (if you have kids and dogs they'll tear it up pretty readily).

We installed the Reveille blend from Graff's Turf Farms six years ago and it's amazing. I cut the lawn down to a 15' x 60' 'pool' and planted up the rest of the yard with perennials, etc. The grass is tough as nails and looks amazing - we had them deliver the sod and installed it ourselves. They have a turf calculator on the site showing that 1000 sq. ft. of delivered turf would be around $600. (They also sell it as seed but I needed some instant gratification!) Plus, we are always at about half of the usage of our HOA-allotted water budget (yes, the front is all xeriscaped, but still!).

Here's a link:

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 12:09PM
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Marge, your grass looks better than mine, even with th2 2 days of rain. I dont have any shade, so it scorches all day. It looks great for a day or so in the spring, but then we go straight into hot weather. I dont water the grass so it looks like crap all the time. I only water the gardens. I too am thinking of getting rid of the grass.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 12:46PM
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mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)

That's so sweet of you to say so, Gloria - thank you! With this rain the last few days, it's looking a tiny bit better:
But I'm still only going to water it after the rains quit once a week at most, just to keep the roots alive. So you don't water your grass at all during the summer? And it makes it back ok the next spring - good to know it can survive that!

Amy - would love to see a pic of your lawn. Sounds like interesting grass choice and worth considering a smaller patch of something like that in our yard!

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 7:23PM
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david52 Zone 6

When you see those blotchy spots, check for sod webworms. You'd see little white moths flying around a few inches above the grass.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 11:41AM
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mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)

Thanks for that tip, David! I googled sod webworms, and found a site or two that explained/described them and had some suggestions for how to identify if you have them: http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/sodwebworm.html. I first went around and looked closely at the grass/soil, but could not find the signs they said to look for. I then did the soapy water test, but didn't see any of the caterpillars (larvae) come to the surface. I did see one adult moth, but they say that doesn't necessarily mean you have the caterpillars as the moths will fly quite some distance.

I then took my hand spade/fork and chopped into some various areas to look under the grass about an inch or so, to see if I saw any grubs, caterpillars, etc. that could be the cause. But only found some ants and earwigs. I don't think either of those could cause damage to the lawn. So I am still at a loss, but will continue to look for any signs of the webworms or grubs. Or I may try to find some of the biological bacteria the sites talk about for killing the larvae and treat it anyway. The sites also mention types of grasses that are more resistant to the webworms (types of ryegrass and fescue). So possibly overseeding this fall with these or other hardier grass(like the Reveille blend that Amester mentioned, or others in the thread you linked to David) may be an answer.

I am interested in the EZ Wet and Field Magic that Bob_In_Colorado has posted about and may try some of that - for a smaller sized area, though, as this much lawn area has proven to me to be too expensive to maintain (both with $$ on water, and time!).

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 8:46AM
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Marj - just to remove any doubt, call a nursery near you and see if they have a diagnostic/troubleshooting desk, many do. (Wilmore by us does - they snagged Mary Jane from Arapahoe Acres when it closed and she can figure out anything!) I'm actually going to take a sample in today, we have one small spot that is in the line of the sprinklers and totally brown (everything around it is green as green can be) and I want to make sure that it's not a disease or infestation before I just water the heck out of it.

I'll try to upload a photo of the pretty part - it's a great grass!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 1:04PM
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