Waterwise Lawn Care

​While we receive our fair share of rain in Metro Vancouver, remember that summer and early fall are typically dry. Sprinkling restrictions are implemented to conserve water during these months. Even with less water, your lawn can still look great. By planning ahead and preparing healthy soil, choosing low-maintenance grasses, and adapting your watering routine, you can have a healthy lawn, using less water.

The waterwise lawn care information is also available as a printable brochure.


 


Plan Ahead

Before spring, consider your best choices for a lawn that will serve its purpose while thriving in the summer heat. Will your lawn receive more shade than sun? Is it a place for play that needs to hold up to heavy foot traffic, or could a low-maintenance clover blend lawn be the solution?

Plan when you will implement lawn care steps, and add them to your calendar. Make sure you consider regional sprinkling restrictions, which extend from May 15 to October 15. Growing seed requires keeping soil moist for two to three weeks, and should be started in mid-April, well in advance of the restrictions.

If you are interested in a yard that is less affected by weather or thrives in certain conditions, visit www.growgreenguide.ca for some tested alternatives to traditional grass lawns. You'll find growing guides for micro clover, moss lawns, and others.


Apply Lime

Most soil in our region is slightly acidic as a result of steady winter and spring rains that lower the soil pH. Acidic conditions leave grass less able to absorb nutrients and recover from heat and lack of water. You can remedy this by applying lime, which adjusts the soil back to a neutral pH and replenishes minerals.

Lime should be applied in the early spring and fall, at least a month before overseeding. Local garden centres will have kits to measure the pH of your soil as well as tools to help spread lime evenly over your lawn and advice on which type of lime to buy and how much to apply.


Aeration

Aeration is the removal of soil cores, which relieves compaction after our heavy winter and spring rains. It opens up the soil, improving drainage and increasing the flow of water, air and nutrients to your lawn's roots. Deeper roots are better insulated from summer heat and require less frequent watering.

Lawns should be aerated in the spring and fall. You can buy or rent manual or gas-powered aerators. After aerating, let the plugs dry for a few days before raking out or breaking up with a mower. Apply a thin layer of clean, coarse "builder's" sand and rake to help fill the holes. This will help maintain aeration and good drainage, and break up compacted soil.


Overseed

Overseeding gives new life to patchy lawns and adds thickness to healthy ones. Choose grass and/or micro clover that requires less water and maintenance. Low-maintenance lawns are hardier, more resilient in dry conditions, require less mowing and are more resistant to pests and disease. Your local garden centre can provide advice on a mix of species that can stand up to a dry summer, such as a drought-resistant blend of fine fescues and perennial rye grasses, as well as techniques for applying topdressing and sowing lawn seed.

Since grass seeds require water and a minimum of three weeks to establish, plan to overseed at least a month prior to the start of regional sprinkling restrictions on May 15. You may need to occasionally overseed your lawn in the early fall to help reduce weeds.


Remove Thatch

Thatch is a layer of undecomposed grass leaves, and other organic materials intermingled with a layer of dead and living roots and stems. A 1- to 2-centimetre-deep layer of thatch is beneficial for a lawn – it mulches the soil, reduces water loss, provides organic matter and protects grass from compaction by foot traffic. Thatch only becomes a problem if it builds up into a thick and compacted mat that prevents water and nutrients from reaching grass roots. Many landscapers advise a low mow in fall, winter and early spring to minimize thatch issues.

Remove thick thatch either in late spring or early fall, using a rake, a de-thatching attachment on your mower or a de-thatching machine. You may find thatch removal is best suited to a lawn care professional.


Be Waterwise

Your lawn needs as little as 2 cm of water a week to stay healthy. That's the equivalent of one hour a week of rainfall or sprinkling, and it's all that's required to maintain a strong root system. Using too much water leaches nutrients from your lawn, promotes shallow rooting, and contributes to build up of thatch. After a day of heavy rain, consider skipping sprinkling the following week.

Water in the early morning, before 9 a.m., to comply with sprinkling regulations and to reduce evaporation and scorching of leaves from the sun.

It's ok to let your lawn go golden brown as the summer progresses. This is a natural response to dry weather. Your lawn will quickly green up again in the fall when heavy dews and rain return.

For more information on Metro Vancouver's region-wide sprinkling regulations, and tips on how to reduce outdoor water use, visit the Metro Vancouver lawn sprinkling page.


Mowing

Set your mowing height to 5-6 cm. This height allows most lawns to develop deep roots and dense, healthy growth that crowds out weeds. Taller grass also keeps roots shaded and better able to hold water. Aim to remove one-third of the grass length at each mowing. Cutting too much at once stresses the grass and makes the clippings too long to leave on the lawn. Shorter clippings more effectively return nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

Cut the lawn at least once a week in the spring when growth is fastest and mow less often when growth slows. Be sure your blades are sharp and mow in alternating directions to keep your grass upright, preventing excessive thatch buildup.


Weeding

Keep harmful chemicals in pesticides and herbicides off your lawn and family. Hand pull or use simple gardening tools to remove weeds before they have a chance to flower and establish their roots. Top-dress damaged areas with sand or soil and overseed with an appropriate lawn mix before weeds can re‑establish. Mowing high will keep grass thicker and able to outcompete weeds for light and nutrients.

A little maintenance every week, or as needed, is better for your lawn (and you) than an exhausting yard care marathon.

Invasive species present different challenges than typical lawn weeds. Visit Grow Green Guide for invasive species resources and advice on removing them from your yard.

Lawn care schedule

Spring
(March to May)

  • Test pH of soil and apply lime at half the recommended rate (apply the remainder in fall)

  • Aerate compacted areas of lawns so air, water and nutrients can reach the roots

  • Top-dress with 1 cm of sand or a mix of soil and compost, on the advice of your garden centre

  • Overseed with a low-maintenance lawn seed mixture

  • Set the lawn mower blade height at about 5-6 cm

  • After mowing, leave clippings on the lawn – they break down and become a source of nitrogen for the grass, and help the soil retain moisture

  • Once the lawn shows vigorous growth, mow once a week, cutting not more than the top third of grass length with each mowing

  • Remove buildup of thatch; consider assistance from a lawn care professional

  • Follow sprinkling restrictions in effect May 15-October 15

Summer
(June to August)

  • Continue to mow often and high (about 5-6 cm) and leave the clippings on the lawn

  • Water your lawn for an hour, once a week – deep watering will help speed up recovery after dry summer months

  • Obtain a water exemption permit for natural pest control using nematodes

Fall
(September-November)

  • Aerate, rake and apply thin layer of sand

  • Improve thinned areas by overseeding

  • Apply lime

Winter
(December-February)

  • Try to minimize foot traffic on lawns while soil is soggy with winter rains

  • Rake lawns free of leaves and twigs

  • Sharpen mower blades

  • Plan lawn care goals and steps for the upcoming year


 
 
 
 

Lawn care resources

Metro Vancouver Lawn Sprinkling Regulations
Sprinkling regulations are in effect May 15 to October 15. Learn about the regional lawn sprinkling regulations, which are an effective way to help us use our drinking water wisely. Includes a calendar of residential sprinkling times and municipal contact information for enforcement and more information.

We Love Water
Tips and facts about indoor and outdoor water conservation and water quality in Metro Vancouver, to help residents be waterwise year round.

Grow Green Guide
In collaboration with UBC Botanical Garden, Grow Green is Metro Vancouver's guide to creating and maintaining a sustainable lawn or garden space. The Grow Green Guide includes climate-appropriate alternatives to grass lawns; tips on reducing water use, composting and tackling invasive species; and much more to help you create an outdoor space with a positive impact on our local environment.

Special thanks to the following contributors:

 

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