View Mobile Site

Ask the Expert

Signal Photos

Green vs. brown: Saving SCV lawns

Local water officials and garden experts offer garden survival tips

Posted: July 31, 2014 4:14 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2014 4:14 p.m.

Sprinklers water a lawn during the heat of the day Thursday in Saugus. Most garden experts recommend watering early in the morning, when less water will evaporate. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze

View More »

With restricted watering schedules for Santa Clarita Valley’s lawns and gardens looking likely, local water officials and garden experts have some recommendations for homeowners in need of a lawn survival guide.

A plan released this week would have homeowners allowed to water their yards only three days a week during the six warmer months of the year and just twice a week during the two cooler months.

While the plan hasn’t been formally adopted yet — that’s up to a vote of the individual water districts’ boards of directors — the plan was hammered out by a committee that represented all Santa Clarita Valley districts.

The big question that seems to be on residents’ minds is: Is watering every other day enough to maintain a healthy green lawn?

Some landscapers say no, some — along with water officials — say yes.

“Sadly, there is no way possible to have a healthy lawn if you water it only three times a week,” said Brent Green of Green Landscape Nursery on Thursday. “Watering three times a week is not even close to what you need — especially in this heat.

“If I give you a big glass of water, you wouldn’t last two days in this heat,” he said. “Your lawn is no different.”

Dirk Marks, water resources manager for the Castaic Lake Water Agency, disagrees.

“Yes, most of the lawns will survive” the limited watering schedule, he said Thursday. “If you have multiple (sprinkler) start times so that you avoid runoff, then yes.”

Most Santa Clarita Valley lawns sit on heavy clay soil, Marks said, and those lawns require about 60 minutes a week of watering. So watering only three days a week means watering 20 minutes for each day allowed.

The trick to maintaining a lawn on a tight water budget is to water a little several times a day — preferably five minutes of watering, four times a day, he said.

John Windsor, horticultural consultant for Green Thumb Nursery in Newhall, agreed with Marks.

“These are the same water restrictions the city of L.A. imposed, and the people there have done all right.”

His lawn survival tip: “Put small clear drinking cups on the lawn, water for 10 minutes and see how much water falls in the cups,” Windsor said. “It will tell you how many minutes to operate your sprinkler.”

Matching its advice, the Castaic Lake Water Agency offers a device that enables lawn owners to avoid possible water-wasting fines and to meet a three-day watering schedule — and it’s free.

Smart sprinkler
Unofficially, it’s called the smart sprinkler; officially, it’s the weather-based irrigation controller.

By providing Santa Clarita Valley residents with free smart irrigation controllers that automatically adjust watering times and take into account actual weather conditions, the device enables residents to typically save about 10 percent of their water over the course of a year, Marks said.

The sprinkler controllers save more than half an acre-foot of water per device over 10 years, he said.

During the past four years, the agency — through contract firm Specialized Landscape — has distributed more than 2,300 “weather-based irrigation controllers” throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. On average, that means a dozen water-wasting lawns have been transformed into water-saving lawns every week since 2010.

“The controller, a mini weather station, and modules retails for over $600,” Marks said. “It’s a great deal for Santa Clarita residents. And all SCV residents have to do is take an online course that explains the devices’ operation to qualify.”

For anyone thinking of avoiding possible water fines by cashing in on the agency’s other drought-driven promotion — the Lawn Replacement Program — residents are reminded they must already have a lawn to replace, not just a dirt lot.

Lawn replacement
The Lawn Replacement Program offers homeowners $2 for every square foot of lawn they remove from their home, Marks said. Participants stand to receive up to $5,000 per property under the program.

“The program is designed to encourage those that currently have lawns to reduce their water usage by making other landscaping choices,” Marks said Thursday.

To date, at least 25 homeowners have swapped lawns for cash since the program was launched in early July, he said.

For more information on the Lawn Replacement Program, smart sprinklers or other water-saving tips, visit the Castaic Lake Water Agency website at
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




zra: Posted: July 31, 2014 8:22 p.m.

This is nonsense. I figured out much output my sprinklers water. I water my lawn 1 inch which for my small lawn takes 24 minutes.

I get evapotranspiration data from here: which tells me approximately how much water evaporates from my lawn on a daily basis.

I wait until 1 inch has evaporated and then I run the sprinklers for 24 minutes. In the last month the sprinklers are running about once every 3 to 4 days and my grass is nice, green, and healthy.

ohhyaa: Posted: July 31, 2014 8:42 p.m.

What???? Put a small clear cup on your lawn and water for 10 minutes. It will tell you how many minutes to water? A lot missing: 1 minute of watering ia equal to what 1/8" in the cup? 1/2"? And how often to water? 5 times daily? Every two weeks? Did I miss the key? The advise is terrible.

No wonder we are in a drought. #1 amend your soil then it won't consist of a large % of clay. # 2. 60 minutes of watering per week? I water 2 minutes (with automatics sprinklers) at 6:00 a.m. And 2 more minutes at 3:30 pm, daily, and my lawn looks healthy with a total of 28 minutes per week. I have a couple of special areas in my yard that I hand water for less than 1 minute every few days and most of my trees only require about 4 minutes of water each, per week. By the way, my yard is stunning. I'm not killing off my yard to make up for Bozos (aka all the water the city wastes on the sidewalks EVERYWHERE around town).

djrobx: Posted: August 1, 2014 11:25 a.m.

Instead of trying to dictate on what days we water our lawns, why not go after water wasters? The water company went through the exercise of looking at satellite photos to determine landscape area, so they could calculate efficient vs. wasteful usage. It seems like it should be easy to go after people who are using more than they ought to be.

Zra - that sounds like a very clever solution. I have computer-controlled sprinklers also, but I'm not happy with the run-length duration calculations. I will look into using your method.

Make12: Posted: August 1, 2014 1:53 p.m.

I have been watering my lawn every other day for the entire summer for far less time than the experts quoted in this article suggest, and my lawn is still one of the greenest on the block. I've had my timer set to skip a day, meaning it's running an average of 3.5 days per week, with two start times (2am and 3:30am), 5 minutes per start (35 minutes per week). I'll have to adjust slightly for the new program, so I will change to 3 cycles of 4 minutes, 3 days a week (36 minutes per week). I also adjusted my lawn mower to leave the grass slightly longer to shade the soil and keep the water at the roots of from evaporating so quickly. It can be done. --edited.

tgiprize: Posted: August 1, 2014 8:48 p.m.

I ask myself every time I see the sprinklers on in the medians at HIGH NOON, hottest part of the day, everyday, How in the world can the city press people to water their lawns less? Makes no sense to me.

You need to be a registered user to post a comment. Please click here to register.

The Signal encourages readers to interact with one another, following the guidelines outlined in our Comment/Moderation Policy. Click here to read it.

To report offensive or inappropriate comments, e-mail The content posted from readers of does not necessarily represent the views of The Signal or Morris Multimedia. By submitting this form you agree to the terms and conditions listed above. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.


Powered By
Morris Technology
Please wait ...