Marianne Binetti

Your lawn might have a drinking problem

The beginning of August is when water worries start as the dry season is upon us. First, decide now whether you want to keep your lawn green all summer or allow it to “go golden” or dormant.

The good news is that if you conserve water, time and money and allow your lawn to dry out this summer, it will not die. When the fall rains return in September, your brown lawn will once again green up and look fine. The bad news is that you have to look at the brown lawn all month.

Here in Western Washington, most gardeners do not have the luxury of a built-in or underground sprinkler system, so keeping lawns and garden areas hydrated can mean dragging a hose or sprinkler all over the yard. Here are some watering tips to save money, time and your liquid assets.


The best way to water a lawn in our climate is to apply half inch of water, wait a couple of hours, then add another half inch of water. Your lawn will need less water to stay green because you’ll be wasting less water on runoff and forcing the grass roots to grow deeper where they can find moisture on their own.


All sprinklers and water pressures are different. You really have to measure the output from your sprinkler by placing an empty tuna can on the lawn and turning on the sprinkler. Tuna cans are about one inch deep. Use a ruler to mark the half-inch mark on the side of the can. When the sprinkler fills the can to the half-inch mark, note how long it took (say half an hour of watering) then turn off the sprinkler for two or three hours.

Then resume watering until the tuna can is filled to the one inch mark. Now you know you have given your lawn one inch of water and given it time to sink in down to the roots.

Most lawns only need one inch of water a week to stay green.


Most homeowners in Western Washington are enablers and they encourage their lawns to have a drinking problem by watering too often. Watering a lawn every day is a waste of water. The goal is to water once a week, but water deeply. Watering in the morning is best to avoid fungal infections. Here are two ways to determine if your lawn is really thirsty:

The footprint test: Walk across the lawn and see if your feet leave footprints. If the lawn springs back and hides your recent footprints, then it does not need water. A thirsty lawn will show foot prints.

The screwdriver test: Plunge a large screwdriver at least 8 inches into the soil. If it goes in all the way, your soil is most likely moist down deep and no water is needed.

Clay soils stay wet in the spring but dry out quickly in the summer. Clay soils need aeration and a topdressing of compost and lime to improve their drainage in the spring and hold more water in the summer. Sandy soils need aeration and a topdressing of compost to act as a sponge to hold more water.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website,