JoAnne Skelly: Water efficient landscapes to deal with the drought

Around Northern Nevada, we have been asked to reduce our water use by at least 10 percent to conserve water during the drought. In summer, we use 50 percent or more of our water irrigating our landscapes. With that in mind, here are a few tips on watering more efficiently and a few ideas on how to cut back on water use.

Although in an ideal landscape, the lawn is deep green, don’t be afraid to let the lawn be a lighter shade. Turf grasses can tolerate some drought. If your blue grass lawn is healthy, you might let it go dormant and brownish during the hottest days of summer and bring it back to green with cooler weather. Water it deeply once a week to three times a month and it will survive. Fescue grasses have deep roots when watered correctly. This allows them to go longer between irrigations. Save water and mowing by allowing your lawn to go semi-dormant. Another lawn tip is don’t fertilize lawns until late August, unless you use a slow release fertilizer. Traditional lawn fertilizers make lawns grow more quickly and faster-growing lawns need more water. A final tip for lawns is to mow high. Longer grass stays cooler and greener with a bit less water.

Reducing the square footage of your lawn area is another water-saving technique. Often lawns cover the ground under trees, grow right up into shrub areas or flower beds or grow next to a curb. Curb side areas of lawn generally are huge water wasters. Remove the lawn under trees and a 12-inch to 24-inch swath of lawn next to beds or curbs. Stop watering the swaths. Eliminating the lawn under the drip line of the tree allows it to receive the water rather than losing it to the grass. Mulching with organic material where you removed the lawn four inches to six inches deep will hold moisture in the soil. Lawn reduction can save water without ruining the overall appearance of the yard.

Irrigate trees separately from shrubs, flowers or lawn. With proper watering, tree roots go deep into the soil helping them resist drought stress. Trees should be watered all the way around the trunk out to the drip line to a depth of 15 inches to 18 inches. Mature trees can go a week or longer between irrigations depending on the soil.

If everybody saves a little now, it will help over the long term.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor & extension educator emerita at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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