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Your Lawn

Lawns can vary in many ways, and each lawn has it's own special care requirements. Use this page to find out more about:

 
Turf Types
 
Although all grass is green, there are many different varieties of turf that will grow in Utah. These types can be placed in two main categories: Cool season and Warm season turf.

Cool Season Turf

Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is the most common type of grass used in Utah. Cool season grasses characteristically endure cooler weather better than other types of grass. For instance, a Kentucky bluegrass lawn will stay green later in the season when temperatures begin to cool off. However, cool season grasses do not tolerate the heat of summer very well. If left to their own devices, cool season grasses will go dormant during the hottest months of the year.

Warm Season Turf

Warm season turfs are most common in Southern Utah. These grasses include Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactlyon) and Zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica). These grasses can tolerate the extremely warm temperatures common in Southern Utah. Because these grasses are heat tolerant, they will not go dormant in the summer. However, because they are heat-loving grasses, warm season turfs have little tolerance for cold weather. A warm season grass will normally go dormant when temperatures begin to chill considerably.

One beneficial aspect of warm season grasses is that they generally use less water than cool season species.

Although Bermudagrass is a popular grass for Southern Utah, it is listed as a noxious weed in Utah, and is only allowed to be planted in Washington County.

Alternative Turf

There are several good alternatives to the standard warm and cool season turfs found in utah. These include:

  • Buffalograss
  • Tall Fescues
  • Groundcover
Buffalograss:
Buffalograss (Buchloë dactyloides). Is a warm season turf that can be planted in any area in Utah, and it has many positive attributes. For instance, its color is a rich gray/blue that compliments many landscape plants. It does not grow very tall, making mowing completely optional. When it goes to seed, a quaint little bell-shaped seed head hangs from many of the stalks, making a decorative statement in your landscape.
One drawback to Buffalograss - it’s not very cold tolerant. It takes longer in the spring to green up, and is among the first plants to go dormant in the fall. However, the dormant color of the Buffalograss is a uniform gold color- not the brown, dead looking color of dormant Kentucky bluegrass.

Tall Fescues:
Other alternative turfgrasses of note are the cool season turf-type Tall Fescues. This type of grass uses notably less water than conventional Kentucky bluegrass, and can tolerate as much wear. The texture of the grass is somewhat more course than other lawns, but the actual difference is negligible.

Groundcovers:
Of course, another ‘alternative turf’ is no turf at all! Using a low water use groundcover such as Wooly Thyme (Thymus psuedolanuginosdus) with its beautiful color and fragrance or Trailing Fleabane (Erigeron flagellaris) with its delicate white flowers is a great way to save water and keep your landscape green.

USU Extension Bulletin "Turfgrass Cultivars for Utah"

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Soils
 
There are many different types of soil in Utah, ranging from almost pure sand to hard packed clay. Understanding what type of soil YOU have is essential in scheduling a proper irrigation program.

Here are some simple options you can use to determine your soil type:

  1. Make an Educated Guess; or
  2. Conduct a "Feel Test" or
  3. Send a Soil Sample to be Analyzed
Make an Educated Guess

By using a soil probe or even a simple screwdriver and making some simple observations, you can assess the soil in your landscape and make an educated guess. Use one of these tools to get a sample of the soil in your landscape, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Ask Yourself: Does my soil drain water easily, or does it puddle? If your soil tends to puddle water easily, it’s probably more on the clay side of the soil spectrum.
  • Ask Yourself: Does my soil feel gritty or relatively smooth? If your soil is gritty, it’s probably leaning toward the sandy side of the spectrum.
Can’t decide? If you must make a guess, try to err on the side of a clay soil. Most plants respond well to watering methods designed for clay soils.

Conducting a "Feel Test"

1. Place approximately 2 tablespoons of soil in your hand. Add water and mix until the soil feels like wet putty.

Does the soil remain in a ball when you squeeze it in your palm?

NO = Your soil type is SAND

YES = Continue with test

2. Place the ball of soil between your thumb and forefinger. Gently push the soil with your thumb, squeezing it upward into a ribbon shape. Try to make the ribbon as uniform as possible. Let the soil continue to form a ribbon until it breaks.

Does the soil ribbon break before it is 1 inch long?

NO = Proceed to next question

YES = Does the soil feel gritty?

YES = Your soil type is SANDY LOAM

NO = Your soil type is LOAM or SILT LOAM

Does the soil ribbon break between 1 and 2 inches long?

NO = Proceed to next question

YES = Does the soil feel gritty?

YES = Your soil type is SANDY CLAY LOAM

NO = Your soil type is CLAY LOAM or SILTY CLAY LOAM

Does the soil ribbon get longer than 2 inches without seeming to break?

YES = Does the soil feel gritty?

YES = Your soil type is SANDY CLAY

NO = Your soil type is CLAY

Get it Analyzed!

If the feel test doesn’t work out for you, you can also contact Utah State University’s Soil Analysis Lab. If you send the lab a sample of your soil, they will determine the soil texture and even do a small nutrient analysis for you for a small fee! You can find more information at their website:

Utah State University’s Soil Analysis Lab

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Watering Your Lawn
 
Plants require water based on what is called "evapotranspiration". Evapotranspiration, or ET, is the total amount of water lost to the air through natural plant processes (called "transpiration") and through evaporation from the soil. This water loss changes throughout the year, following a bell-curve pattern.

ET = Soil Water Loss + Plant Water Loss

ET takes into account several climatic factors, including but not limited to temperature, wind speed, humidity and precipitation.

Calculating a watering schedule involves incorporating ET, plant water requirements, soil type, microclimates, system uniformity, precipitation rate, and other landscape characteristics.

To help you get started in calculating an efficient schedule for your landscape, please follow one of these links:

Level 1 - Monthly Watering Guide

Level 2 - Customized Watering Guide

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General Lawn Maintenance
 
Did you know that most lawn problems are a direct result of over watering? Maintaining your lawn properly will help you save time, money and water!

Mowing

Is your lawn shorter than your carpet? Mowing your lawn at such a short length hurts the grass, wastes water and produces more green waste.

By raising your lawn mower height another ½ to 1 inch, you are promoting the conservation of water in grass. Grass will shade itself as it grows longer, reducing its overall water need. This, in turn, reduces the growth rate of the grass meaning less frequent mowing! Experts recommend cutting grass to a total length of 3 inches, and removing no more than one-third of the leaf blade per mowing.

Stressing

Ever heard the expression "What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger"? In order to make your grass heartier, try stressing it out! By going an extra day without water here and there, you are promoting deeper root growth. The deeper the roots are allowed to penetrate the soil, the better overall health of your lawn. Roots will only grow as far as they need to in order to get water. If you are always giving them water up near the surface of the lawn, the plants have no incentive to grow deeper. You can easily check your rooting depth by using a soil probe or screwdriver.

Try waiting as long as possible in the spring before watering your grass. The longer you wait, the healthier your lawn will be in the summer months. And don’t worry. It’s virtually impossible to kill your lawn. The lawn may turn brown in areas, but it is just the plant going DORMANT, not dying. Adding water will make that spot spring back to life!

Fertilization

Fertilizing your lawn encourages healthy plant growth. In this case, however, MORE IS NOT BETTER! Fertilize sparingly, as you can actually over stimulate plant growth, making the lawn more susceptible to dry conditions and disease. Additionally, the more fertilizer applied to a lawn increases the likelihood of harmful chemicals running off into streams or seeping into groundwater. The combination of over-watering and over-fertilizing can be dangerous to plants and humans!

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Brown Spots
 
What Causes Brown Spots?

Brown spots can be caused by a number of factors. Lack of water is the most common, followed by disease. Because Utah’s climate is so arid, there aren’t that many disease problems in our lawns. The number one culprit of brown spots in your lawn is lack of water.

There are a number of reasons one area on your lawn may not be getting enough water. You may have sprinkler heads that are not functioning properly. Poor uniformity in your irrigation system can cause one area to get less water than the rest of the zone.

Check for broken sprinkler heads, heads that are misaligned (a good indicator is a wet sidewalk or street), or obstructions such as trees, shrubs or landscape rocks.

If there are several brown spots within one zone, you may have an overall design problem. Fixing a design problem is costly and labor intensive. If you must replace your system, please consult with a professional irrigation designer. However, if the system seemed to work at one point, you most likely have poor pressure in your system. Call an irrigation professional to help you correct this problem.

For a monthly maintenance check, print the following checklist of things to look for in your irrigation system. Print this list, turn on your zones, and mark the problems on the sheet. This way, you will have a record of system maintenance problems!

Download the Checklist

Coping with Brown Spots

No matter how much maintenance you do on your sprinkler system, no one’s irrigation system is perfect. It is impossible to design a sprinkler system that is 100% efficient. Don’t feel so bad.

After getting the system as uniform as possible, you may still have brown spots.

At this point, you have three choices:

  1. Over-water your lawn, thereby wasting a valuable resource,
  2. Hand-water the brown spots when needed, increasing your maintenance time, or
  3. Plant something else there that doesn't need as much water.

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Fall Maintenance
 
There are a number of things that you can do to prepare your lawn for the winter and to ensure that it comes back strong in the fall. The cool night temperatures we are currently experiencing are probably already strengthening your lawn after the hot and dry summer. You may be noticing improved grass color and density. Now is the perfect time to enhance the grass's recovery with a few simple steps.

After the summer, it is likely that your lawn needs some supplemental fertilization. Nitrogen will be needed in the largest quantity and you should apply 1 pound of slow-release nitrogen fertilizer per thousand square feet of lawn. This will help the lawn to recover from summer stresses and will further improve grass color and density.

As the cooler weather intensifies, you will also be able to stop irrigating your lawn. It's easy to forget that changes in the program of your irrigation controller are necessary at this time of the year. The grass does not need as much irrigation as it did during the heat of the summer and it's the perfect opportunity for conservation. A great deal of water can be wasted in the fall because irrigation controllers are not adjusted for the cooler temperatures.

As it gets even cooler and winter is just around the corner, you will notice that your lawn is growing much more slowly. At some point, you will perform your last mowing of the growing season. This is a critical time in the life and health of your lawn. Hopefully you have been mowing at a height of 2 1/2 -3 1/2 inches to promote root growth and stress tolerance. This is a good practice, but not a good one to follow with your final mowing of the season. This last mowing should be much shorter, from 1 to 1 1/2 inches. Mowing at this shorter height will not leave long grass blades over the winter that can lay over and increase humidity beneath snow cover. If the grass blades are very long, and there is lengthy snow cover, a disease called snow mold may occur.

After your final mowing is also the best time to apply your last fertilization of the growing season. Once again, nitrogen is of primary concern. Following your last mowing, you'll want to apply 1 pound of quick-release nitrogen fertilizer per thousand square feet of lawn. It's important that the nitrogen source be quick-release so that the grass can take it up before going dormant due to cold. This is probably the most critical fertilization of the entire growing season and should not be missed! Research has shown that this late fall fertilization provides the most benefit and drought tolerance to the lawn the FOLLOWING summer.

These simple steps will ensure that your lawn makes it not only through the winter, but into next summer healthy and stronger.

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Other Resources

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Conservation Tip

Perform an annual maintenance check on your evaporative (swamp) cooler. Check for and fix any leaks you find.

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