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How to make water conservation part of your yard work plan

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

WEST JORDAN — With the arrival of warmer temperatures, plenty of Utahns have gardening and yard work on their minds for the weekend. But with the ongoing drought, conservations hope residents will consider taking measures to keep their yards water-wise.

The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District Conservation Gardens offer many creative and clever ideas for saving water while still maintaining a beautiful yard. That's critical because, collectively, Utahns will have less water to use this summer than last summer.

"I think we need to change the way we landscape so that it reflects where we live," said Linda Townes Cook, public information manager for the water district.

That means less outdoor watering.

The good news this spring is that soil moisture is high, and the snow water equivalent across the state is above 80%. But, until Utah has several years with above-average snow pack, reservoirs will keep dropping. Unfortunately, when the weather warms, many people start watering.

"They're like, 'I need to fire up the sprinkler system. I want to put plants in.' Wait ... it's a good time to wait," for as long as possible this spring, Cook cautioned.

On the Wasatch Front, gardeners typically need to wait until Mother's Day to plant, and they likely won't need to water until then either. That's six weeks away.

A low-tech way to find out if it's time to begin watering is simply by poking a screwdriver into the turf. If it goes in easily, there is plenty of moisture in the soil.

"See how easily a screwdriver goes in," Cook said, demonstrating the test in a section of drought-tolerant turf in the conservation gardens.

"This is really wet soil still. So, if you start watering now, it's just going to run off. This is like pouring water on a wet sponge," Cook said.

If the screwdriver still goes in easily in six weeks, hold off on watering. If there's a lot of resistance when you start to push the screwdriver in, it may be time to start watering.

But don't quench your lawn, Cook said. Keep it thirsty. When you water as little as possible, the grass roots grow deeper, making the grass more resilient.

"Instead of thinking of having a drought response, we want to become a drought-resilient state. We want to do things that will help us withstand drought in the long run, rather than just responding with a knee-jerk reaction every year," Cook said.

Tips for maintaining your lawn:

  • Rake and aerate your lawn occasionally to help it absorb air, water and nutrients.
  • Cool-season grass is green naturally in the spring and the fall, but it requires a lot of water to keep them green during the hot summer months.
  • Less thirsty warm-season species go dormant and turn golden brown in the winter.
  • Water early in the morning with the air is cool.
  • And, keep your grass at a healthy length 1 1/2 to 3 inches for cool-season turf one and a half to 4 inches for warm-season species.

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Jed Boal


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