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Water restrictions are inconvenient at best. They challenge our ability to keep our lawns and gardens alive. There are some techniques that will help until be give our water system serious attention that it needs.While I will leave the how to our council and city government to determine how, we need to recognize that we have patched and patched for years. It is now time to bite the bullet. It will cost money but will be a great long-term investment. It will only become scarcer with drought and climate change.The good news is that Rawlins is lucky to own an abundance of water sources.We have springs, wells, reservoirs and Platte River water rights. They have been acquired over the years. One of the water sources has a wooden pipeline that has needed tender loving care to service us. It may need to be replaced. The filtering system is struggling. We owe a debt of gratitude to the old-timers who kept the whole system going for so long.Now, we need to conserve, while those issues are addressed.It is helpful to mulch gardens and beds to conserve moisture. Grass clippings, vegetation like weeds can be laid between rows. Weighted newspapers and cardboard cut to fit between rows will all serve to keep soils from drying out. Alfalfa pellets can be used as a mulch now while adding nutrients.Growing and maintaining a beautiful green lawn is a comprehensive process. It begins with soil preparation that enables it to retain moisture. If that hasn’t been done, it will be harder to keep your lawn green during hot dry weather. Gradually though, with effective techniques, you can create a sustainable lawn.But first, you need to rethink what a lawn is or can be. These days many people want a lawn to look like a golf course. While golf courses are pristine green oasis, they require lots of water and chemicals. It is much more sensible to have a lawn that is sustainable.Rawlins soils are woefully lacking in organic matter. The most important thing you can do is incorporate it into your lawns. Instead of chemical fertilizing, start spreading alfalfa pellets or well-aged manure a couple times a year. If using manure, make sure it is chopped up and aged before applying, so that it doesn’t burn your lawn. After applying these materials water well, so material breaks down for the worms and crawlers to use.White Dutch clover can be planted with the grass to fix nitrogen into the soil. When grass flourishes, clover recedes. When the grass needs nitrogen, clover, which is a legume, flourishes and feeds the grass. Ideally, they can be planted at the same time, but in established lawns, clover can be planted in the spring or early fall by raking seeds into the soil and watering well while the weather is cool.Encourage a healthy worm or night crawler population. Gardener’s best friends, they bring up nutrient minerals from the sub soil, aerate the soil and they convert clippings and thatch into nutritious castings to feed the soil. Their castings, while unsightly to many, are full of nutrients. Did you know that those mounds are rich in phosphorus, potassium and important micronutrients? A healthy population of worms and crawlers, within a 200-square-foot area, will evenly mix around 175 pounds of fertilizer a year throughout the top foot of the soil. Further, as those critters tunnel through the soil working their magic, they aerate it and turn clippings into compost. They condition your soil to more easily absorb oxygen and store water.Earthworms also secrete calcium carbonate, a compound that helps moderate soil pH. Since our water is excessively alkali, that is an important benefit.They find the ingredients for these by products from plant and grass debris and from the mineral rich subsoil. So, even if you don’t have a mulching lawn mower, leave your clippings for the worms and crawlers. If the clippings are too thick, let them dry for a bit and run the mower over them again. Heavy applications of chemicals kill worms and crawlers.Weeds have been demonized in our culture. Dandelions have been included in this classification, yet, they are one of the first sources of pollen for our endangered pollinators. If you have a healthy lawn, they will soon recede as the season progress. So, consider leaving them alone and watch the pollinators enjoy them.Dr. Shane Smith formerly of the Cheyenne Botanical Gardens recommended that blue grass receive 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week during the growing season depending on the temperature. An inch at a time is ideal. If you chose a hardier grass, you can water less.Determine how long it takes your sprinkling system or sprinklers to put 1 inch of water on your lawn by setting out flat bottomed containers to catch the water in the area you are watering. Put 1 inch on your grass and then don’t water again until the top inch or so of soil is dried out. This will encourage your grass to grow deep roots. Frequent, light watering encourages shallow roots.If you have been watering improperly and have a shallow root system, you probably can’t do that until you improve your soil.Don’t scalp your lawn. Never cut more than a third of the grass length. Blue grass should be cut to a height of 2 t0 3 inches. Set your lawn mower at the highest setting during drought and heat, which is about 3 inches. That is especially important right now. Higher grass protects the roots and keeps soil moist.Barbara Parsons is a longtime resident of Rawlins. She writes a gardening column and upon occasion an editorial column.
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