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How bad is this dry spell hurting your lawn?

You should have watered your lawn at least once over this last dry spell in the Denver area, experts say.

DENVER — The Front Range is in the midst of another long winter dry spell. It's been 26 days since the last measurable rain or snow. Since the beginning of meteorological winter on Dec 1, Denver has only received .30 inches of precipitation. 

Landscape experts say that will damage your lawn and your trees, especially if it has only been planted in the last two years. 9NEWS interviewed ISA certified arborist Matthew Ward with Environmental Designs to see what residents should be doing to care for their lawns. 

(Editor's note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.)

9NEWS: Are your customers asking about what to do about watering in this dry winter. 

Ward: I would say about 20% of them are asking about it. I wish it was more because it is important to know what to do. 

Why do grasses and trees even need water in the winter? They look dormant.

Ward: They are still metabolizing, so they still need water. They’re active. Their roots are, so watering pays big benefits.

Should we be watering our lawns right now?

Ward: I watered at my house last weekend. Yes, maybe that speaks for itself.

Is this nearly four-week-long dry spell enough to kill our lawns?

Ward: I don't think you will see any lawns die from it, but it will impact their health. If a plant loses 10 or 20% of its root structure because it’s dry, it is going to be less vigorous and less healthy in the summer.

How often should we be watering in the winter?

Ward: If it's been dry for a whole month, you should water two or three times.

Is it worth the time and money to water in the winter?

Ward: It's like any other investment. If a property owner invested in their landscape, then they kind of have a dollar figure of value. You're going to want to protect that investment. Maybe watering is like insurance for your landscape investment.

Besides unhealthy looking grass in the summer, what else can happen to my lawn if I don't water it in the winter?

Ward: There's these insects called lawn mites. They really like dry lawns, and they can really severely injure your lawn. We've already had reports of lawn mites and it's quite a bit early for that.

What is most vulnerable to drought stress?

Ward: Trees, shrubs or turf planted with in the last two years or so are much more vulnerable. They're young and tender and need more help and attention. 

Do you recommend turning on our sprinkler systems?

Ward: You could do that in a commercial setting where there is a large plot of land that needs to be watered. You may have to re-winterize them in the next month or two though. 

What about for the average homeowner?

Ward: For Mrs. Smith out there, I would send Mr. Smith out there on Sunday afternoon after church, and get the water hose out and just water everything. 

How much water should we use?

Ward: Think about it in inches. If you can visualize getting a quarter inch or half an inch of water on your lawn. That’s going to make a big difference.

If we get a tenth to a quarter-inch of water from the snow next week, how much time does that buy us?

Ward: That's enough to skip a couple of weeks of watering in the winter. After the snow melts into the grass, I wouldn't let it go more than another two weeks.

Does the direction your lawn face matter much?

Ward: South facing yards will dry out much faster because it gets the most sun exposure. That is also where you will likely find the lawn mites. They almost always attack lawns that are south facing.

How can you measure how dry your lawn is?

Ward: Just go outside and dig your shovel into the ground and see how the soil feels. That is subjective, but I think it's going to give you a good gauge about how your lawn is doing. 

My lawn is already turning green. Does that mean it needs more attention now?

Ward: I think that's a good sign for that stand of turf if you are seeing it green in the winter, but yes if it is green that means that it is more active and may need more water.

Do you recommend xeriscaping?

Ward: If a customer asks for that, then yes we will deliver that product, but what I recommend is a lot of variability in ground covers across the property. I like to see some mulches and rocks with some types of grasses.

What do you think about sustainability?

Ward: We are proactively seeking ways to save water. We have a customer in Westminster that has saved more than 30% t of their water bill over the last few years. Even though the water district went up 15% one year and 13% the next, they still reduced the cost to the homeowners in the HOA by installing new technologies. 

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