Keith Fuller: In times of drought, learn from the bonsai

Brown patches are showing up in the lawns of many yards. These are most likely caused by our recent moderate drought.


It may be a good time to assess what areas of your lawn need grass and perhaps converting affected areas to landscaped beds, which require less water.

One certainty is, in the future, greater demands will be placed on limited water resources. Planning on ways to conserve water now would be prudent.

Approximately half of residential water usage is for landscape irrigation. If you are familiar with irrigation heads, those used to water grass put out many more gallons of water per hour than ones used in landscape beds. Reducing turf will help to reduce the volume of water needed to irrigate your landscape.

Long strips planted in grass that have concrete on either side, such as a sidewalk and a curb, are difficult to irrigate efficiently. These are ideal areas for planting drought-tolerant groundcovers.

Corners are areas where it is difficult to irrigate effectively. A quarter circle bed can be created and planted with a groundcover.

If you do not want to modify your landscape but don’t want areas of brown grass, there may be another option to consider. If you know we are in a drought, stop mowing your lawn.

Plants have a “root to shoot” ratio. The larger the top of the plant the greater its root system. By letting your lawn grow taller, you allow the roots to grow deeper, where they can tap into more soil moisture.

To illustrate this idea, I like to use the example of a bonsai.

How can a red maple or bald cypress tree grow over 40 feet tall in the wild but be maintained for decades to a height of 2 feet when bonsaied?

The answer is by trimming the top of the plant and limiting the size of its root system.

Once you understand this illustration, the light bulb may go off and you will realize that you should mow your lawn less often and let it grow taller during drought.