Choose a summer lawn: go golden or following these water tips

The end of July is when you may decide to stop watering the lawn and allow it to “go golden” or dormant for the summer. Conserving water by not watering the grass does not mean your lawn will die. Summer brown lawns are actually nature’s way of staying alive but not staying green during the dry days of summer. When the autumn rains return the grass will naturally green up again.

If you want to invest in a lawn that is green all summer then remember these tips for smart watering:

• Water deeply but less often. Soaking the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches means the grass roots will seek out moisture down deep in the ground rather than hang out near the surface waiting for a sip of water every few days. Depending on your soil, you can train the lawn to need water once a week and still stay green.

• Mow high and don’t remove more than one-third of the grass blade. In Western Washington letting the grass blades grow to 3 inches, then mowing off the top one-third, will help shade the soil and conserve moisture.

• Leave the clippings by using a mulching mower. The grass clippings will return up to one third of the nitrogen to the soil along with water holding organic matter. But if you mow a tall lawn and leave behind thick clumps of wet grass these clumps could smother patches of lawn. Bring out the rake if you return from a long vacation and a tall lawn.

• Learn to use a rain gauge so you won’t water as often. A rain gauge measures how much rain falls each week. You can make your own using a shallow can like an empty tuna can with inches marked to measure rainfall. Most lawns need one inch of water a week either from rainfall or sprinklers to stay green.

• Use the stop-and-go watering method. This means you turn on the sprinkler for a half session of maybe 10 minutes then turn off the water to let it soak down into the soil. Wait 30 or 40 minutes. Then turn the water back on to finish the watering session. This short interruption of water helps to stop runoff and pulls the second session of water deeper into the soil profile rather than pooling up on the surface.

Q. My hanging petunia basket is flowering but the blooms are mostly on the tips of the branches and the middle of the plant is rather bare. It does not look as full as the baskets I see downtown or as full as it did when I bought it. It is growing in full sun. Is it too late to fertilize a hanging basket? R., Enumclaw

A. It is not too late because hanging baskets need a constant supply of fertilizer. Sounds like you may have a hungry and thirsty hanging basket that really needs to be fed and watered more often. Try this extreme makeover and you may once again have the petunia profusion of your dreams. First, cut back the long limbs of the petunia plants so they extend just a few inches past the rim of the pot. You can enjoy the cut blooms in a vase as petunias last a surprisingly long time as a cut flower.

Next, invest in a water soluble plant food that you can add to your watering can every time you water. There are many brands of fertilizer to pick from but one made for flowering plants is best. Hanging baskets in the sun may need as much as one gallon of water every day. Do not let the soil dry out. Fertilize every time you water with a weak solution of plant food. Daily water and fertilizer is how professionals keep hanging baskets full of flowers all summer long. Your ugly duckling basket will be singing a swan song for the rest of the growing season.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

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