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It's the water: Get it right and lawns stay green

There are a lot of brown lawns around town this summer. It seems worse than usual. Many seem to be getting worse. The brown areas just seem to spread. My neighbors and I are wondering if it has anything to do with the unusually wet spring we had this year, affecting some kind of insect maybe? We have all treated our lawns with insecticide, have fertilized and watered diligently, all to no avail. Any ideas?

— Cathy M., Medford

Well, Cathy, getting to the root of all the dry lawns around town is no easy task, as multiple reasons could cause the brown-out.

But Marsha Waite, plant clinic coordinator for the Master Gardener program at the OSU Extension Service office in Central Point, says the vast majority of problems are due to poor watering practices in the severe heat of summer.

Some people water too often. "People will see a brown spot and water it every day," she said. Watering every day is too much because the water chokes the oxygen out of the soil and kills the healthy roots.

Some people put out too little water at one time. They leave their sprinklers on for five minutes during the heat of the day, the water evaporates and the grass gets no water at all.

Waite recommends watering only two to three times a week with the following watering regimen: water on for 5 minutes then off for five minutes; water on for 10 minutes then off for 10 minutes; water on for 15 minutes and then off. "That way you don't have so much runoff and the water will go deeper," she said.

The best way to determine if your soil is getting adequate water is to use a moisture meter, Waite said. That way you can test the moisture at different soil depths to check for adequate water absorption.

Since many reasons exist for brown lawns, Waite recommended calling the plant clinic at the Extension office, 541-776-7371, to chat with an expert about your specific problem. The expert may even suggest that you bring in a soil sample.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.