Escape the High-Desert Heat with Cool, Relaxing Landscapes

Summer is off to a hot start; temperatures have already hit the triple digits. When temperatures skyrocket like this, everyone seeks a cool, shady spot to escape the heat. Lawn-covered, tree-filled parks are popular during the summer, though many of us want to create that environment at home.

One of the most important factors in creating a cool, relaxing environment at home is a healthy lawn, though keeping the lawn green and lush can be a challenge.

One challenge is the type of grass we plant. Due to our high-desert climate, we like to plant cool-season grasses. They prefer temperatures to stay below 85 degrees. When we have triple-digit temperatures, cool-season grasses begin to go dormant.

Another challenge is moisture. If our lawns don’t get the water they need, they show stress very quickly. To keep turf thriving and green, we need to provide adequate moisture. To do that, monitoring our irrigation systems and knowing how much water we apply is a must.

To keep turf thriving and green, water deeply and infrequently. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet.

As temperatures rise, many homeowners fall into the trap of turning the irrigation clock to the on position, increasing the percentage button and forgetting to check how much water is actually being applied. Before your lawn starts to show brown patches, perform two simple tests. Grab a screwdriver to find out how deep the water penetrates into the soil, and 2 or 3 straight-sided coffee cups and a metal tape measure to see how much water your sprinkler system puts out.

The screwdriver test should be tried before your irrigation comes on and then again a few hours later after the water has had time to soak in. Push the screwdriver into the soil to see how deep it will easily go. If the screwdriver easily penetrates less than 3 inches into the soil after you irrigate, you are not watering deeply enough to create a strong grass root system.

For the next test, place the coffee cups in different areas of your lawn. Then, run your sprinkler system for a full cycle. Measure the water in each cup, add those measurements together and divide the result by the number of cups. This is how many inches of water your turf gets per cycle.

You may find different areas of your lawn receive different amounts of water. Areas getting too little water may turn into brown spots.

Watering times and amounts vary, depending on soil composition, drainage, exposure and surrounding plants. Watering deeply and infrequently is best for promoting healthy root growth.

For a starting point on how much water to apply, visit the Washoe Evapotranspiration website at The site uses data from a network of weather stations in the Reno-Sparks area to estimate lawn water needs and run times for various sprinkler heads. The site’s suggestions, in combination with your own investigation, will help you to decide the appropriate amount of water for your lawn.

Watering properly, mowing high and not fertilizing when temperatures are high will create a healthy lawn and a relaxing refuge from the heat.


Wendy Hanson Mazet is a certified arborist and horticulturist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. For information about gardening and landscaping in Nevada, contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or, or visit