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Water-wise tips for a small patch of grass

Q: I have a small space, about 15 feet by 10 feet (150 square feet), butting up against my patio in the backyard. I really want to plant grass but don’t want to use gobs of water. My question: Can I have a small patch of lawn and still be “water-wise”? – M.T., West Side

A: With all the concerns about water use, or rather abuse, I believe that you can incorporate a wee patch of turf and still be a responsible water user! There are several “rules” that I really believe in that you will want to adhere to, but with proper planning and maintenance, yes, grow your oasis! In fact, having that wee patch of lawn will actually help cool the house. Especially if it’s located on a sunny western or southern exposure.

OK, first be sure the space you are going to plant is level. That way the water won’t pool or run off.

Next, decide how you are going to water the space. It’s a small space, but installing a sprinkler system could be advantageous down the road, especially if multiple valves are added to use as your landscaping expands. Watering by hand is more time-consuming but also a relaxing endeavor. You can easily find the perfect hose-end sprinkler that can water the space, so think about how you will tend the space.

Next, you get to amend the soil. If you’ve already done any digging in your yard you’ve discovered that it’s not ready to support much of a lawn. Purchase lots of premium amendments to work into the soil, such as organic compost, composted cotton burr, heat-treated manure, garden soil and milled bark. Mix in no less than 4 cubic feet of amendment per 50 square feet of area. Using this suggestion you’ll want to purchase at least 12 cubic feet of “stuff.” Whatever you purchase, be sure it doesn’t contain any sand. If you check packaging labels notice that most pre-packaged topsoils contain sand. Stay away from any product that contains extra sand. Then, too, know that more stuff is better. Don’t be shy; your soil needs lots of help. Then turn, turn, turn the soil several times to incorporate lots of oxygen as you work the amendments in. Dampen the area, rake it smooth, and on to the next decision: Grass type.

I’ll rank them as I think they should be considered: Hybrid Bermuda first, a fescue blend second and bluegrass last.

I know Bermuda grass has gotten a bad rap forever, but nowadays you can find a well-mannered hybrid that’ll use the least amount of water as a turf. Granted, it’ll be a dusky brown color throughout the winter months, but it’s sturdy and again, it has been taught to mind its manners. It isn’t as likely to creep and infiltrate to places you don’t want it to go.

The fescues available are going to be green for most of the year; they do stand up to quite a bit of traffic but do require weekly, sometimes twice-weekly, water during the growing season.

Then there is bluegrass. Bluegrass does make a lovely show lawn, but it requires the most water, can be finicky about living in hot spaces and sort of stops growing during the hottest times of the year, while still needing the water.

You can mix the fescue and the bluegrass to get a sturdy, lovely lawn, but the watering won’t lessen by any measurable factor. Don’t mix the Bermuda with the others since it doesn’t require nearly as much water and becomes unhealthy if overwatered. You do have a wee time constraint if you are going to grow the Bermuda successfully this season as it needs heat, especially warmed soil, to germinate and root in, whereas you still have months to grow the fescues or bluegrass by planting either seed or sod.

So that’s a bit to keep you busy for now, and I’ll discuss the final steps next week. Meanwhile, Happy Digging In!

Mark your calendars for a fun event coming soon! Next Sunday, Aug. 25, pop on in to the 2013 Tomato Fiesta happening at the Albuquerque Garden Center. It’s from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 292-7144 for info for this fun and tasty event!

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.