“Lawns get a bad rap,” said Alison O’Connor while I chatted with her about gardening at altitude. O’Connor is horticulture expert at Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Of course, much of the bad rap she laments comes from her fellow xeriscape advocates in Colorado and around the arid western U.S. However, O’Connor is becoming more comfortable with lawns, thanks in part to a sprinkler that earned her rare endorsement.
Cooperative extension agents typically represent state universities and offer honest expert advice on gardening and more. They value their integrity, and are reluctant to endorse products. During a recent 30-minute interview with Alison O’Connor, a horticulture expert at Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, she dropped only one brand name: the Hunter MP Rotator sprinkler head. The sprinkler has several ways of saving water while keeping your lawn healthy.
The manufacturer, Hunter Industries, claims the sprinkler can cut water use by up to 30 percent. To be sure, this still leaves a higher water bill than a xeriscape garden, but it is an improvement.
The MP Rotator fits standard spray heads and adaptors. It rotates a set of sprayers that shoot out a uniform and slow flow of large drops over a customized distance and arc (the portion of the full circle covered by the spray). The large drops mean less misting and less water loss to evaporation and wind. The slow flow means less runoff.
The MP Rotator also only has one moving part, which doesn’t necessarily cut water bills, but could save on repairs.
There are also other ways to save water while still maintaining a lawn. Set the sprinklers for the very early morning. There is less wind and heat to take away the water, and you can also avoid the diseases that evening watering cycles can encourage. Look for native buffalo grasses, Zoysia grasses and other varieties that require less water than the standard Kentucky bluegrass, which can require four feet of water every summer.
When fertilizing the lawn, focus on iron and potassium rather than nitrogen. Iron and potassium make the roots stronger and more drought-resistant. Nitrogen restricts root development and makes blades grow faster, requiring more water. Mow frequently but to medium-height blades. Tall grass needs more water, and short grass needs to be watered more often.