The Yellowing of the Scalzi Compound

We have a five acre lawn, and occasionally people from generally drier climes who think upon the lawn ask, aghastedly, how we water the thing — I think they imagine a complex set of sprinklers that suck the water table dry bringing us all that much closer to the water apocalypse. The answer to “how does it get watered” question, however, is “from the sky,” meaning that during those times when rain is not forthcoming, the grass goes dormant until it is. We’re in one of those times at the moment; there’s been rain in the last few weeks, but not a lot of it, so the lawn has gone yellow.

Which is fine. I like having a large lawn, but not so much that I’m going to be a control freak about it. When it doesn’t rain, you get a yellow lawn. It’s water math. This is not unusual for August around here anyway; typically more rain will come in September and October and it will get green again before it gets covered in snow. We’ve been here 15 years, we know the drill by now.

That said, the forecast is for thunderstorms, starting tomorrow and lasting literally all the next week. It might get greener sooner than later. We’ll see.

50 thoughts on “The Yellowing of the Scalzi Compound

  1. and it does solve the problem of having to mow often…. plus think of the lack of pollen….

  2. Every time I see your yard, I think “that would be a great place for a reenactment of Waterloo.”

  3. Living in East Tennessee as I do, I tend to look forward to the times when the lawn turns yellow; that means it doesn’t need to be mowed as often.

    Considering our yard is about two mows away from “jungle” that’s a thing to bear in mind.

  4. This is the first year my yard has gone yellow. I’m also at the same place, the yard gets watered from the sky. Our gardens on the other hand get a generous dose when needed. This is the first year I haven’t installed the rain barrels, so this drought is my fault. Unfortunately there are still patches of my yard that are growing wildly and those still need mowing. Oddly, given my mixed growth lawn (hey, it looks green from the street) it’s the grass that is still growing while the moss, clover and plantain are drying out.

  5. John, you can come here to SC and borrow some rain. For the first time in several years we are back to our typical sub-tropical summer weather. Hot and humid with a possibility of late afternoon or early evening thunderstorms. Yesterday saw a temp around 92 with a heat index that made it up to 107 at one point. Them there is rainin’ conditions. And ooooooooooooooooo did it rain. LOL. So, bring a couple of buckets on down and load up.

  6. What is this water-from-the-sky concept you mention? Please do elaborate. Inquiring minds in Phoenix wish to know how we too could get this novel sky-water technology…..

  7. Oh, bugger, I hadn’t looked at this week’s forecasts. I’d best get in a good long bike ride today…

  8. In the southwest (me) water is our precious. Xeriscape is way to do it. When rain comes, in comes in buckets, and it’s pretty dry in between. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lawn as much as the next guy. Just doesn’t make sense in a desert.

  9. Cat Faber, same here. No rain? Bad for the water table and the farmers, and if it goes on too long, wells start to rn dry. But lack of rain is good for me because the grass doesn’t grow and I don’t have to mow. Not that I have much grass, except in parts of the front yard. I have a nicely varied ecosystem of grass and various weeds, which I prefer to monoculture lawns. When I don’t get around to mowing, it goes from flat to shaggy to “abandoned house look” to meadow. None of these bother me, but I am sensitive to my neighbors’ distress when it gets much past shaggy. I don’t understand why people water their lawns. That only encourages the stuff to grow and need mowing. Grass turns brown? Don’t worry. It’s not dead, just dormant.

  10. Glad to see your use of “Dormant.” I am constantly correcting people who say their lawns are dead.

  11. There are two kinds of green lawns in Ohio in August. The evenly green mostly to the edges type that typically belong to people with more money than sense and the ones with a green border around the mudhole the kids have made around the sprinkler. I know which I prefer. My parents motto was always, you can raise grass or you can raise kids, you can’t have both. I think they overstated their case a bit, but we didn’t care, it meant games of yardball could continue without getting yelled at.

  12. As a midwestern suburbanite in an upscale development I take perverse pleasure in letting my un-irrigated lawn go dormant in August while my neighbors spray money away with their automatic, timered, in-ground sprinklers. The self-satisfaction I get from practicing classic Iowa common sense and thrift more than outweighs the dirty looks I get from the other homeowners on the cul de sac.

  13. My back yard is just about as yellow, yet in the beds back there, the weeds are flourishing. I’m thinking about calling the weeds the lawn and the lawn the weeds…

  14. I’m not crying cause our lawn is dormant, I’m crying because I’m having to tote buckets of water out to our garden. Hose isn’t long enough to reach it. This is the dryest summer in mid-Michigan that I can recall. It looks like we’ll have a full 12-14 days without rain, with heat in the 90s/upper 80s. Not cool, man, not cool.

  15. The park where I walk my two dogs, which was completed in 1937 on WPA money from FDR, has reduced watering, and put up signs that say:
    .
    GOLD IS THE NEW GREEN.
    .
    Which is a Jedi mind trick spinning brown patches of straw into Rumpelstiltskin gold, pretending that we are oh so sustainable, when it was really a budget cut.
    .
    GOLD IS THE NEW GREEN.
    WAR IS THE NEW PEACE
    IGNORANCE IS THE NEW BLISS
    UP IS THE NEW DOWN
    SH*T IS THE NEW SHINOLA.

  16. I think the last time I ran water to any part of the yard that wasn’t the vegetable garden was about four years ago, when our river birches were in danger of dying during a hellacious hot/dry spell. The grass in the area around the birch clump greened up while the rest of the yard stayed brown and crunchy, but that was purely a side effect of saving my beautiful trees.

    This year, we’ve had so much rain that the tomatoes have developed early blight, despite using ground cloth and copious amounts of mulch. On the other hand, the farmers in our state are happy, and that’s ultimately what matters most.

  17. As soon as we bought our house (20+ years ago) my husband insisted on putting in a zoysia lawn. We also don’t water, and we only mow 2 or 3 times a year (NJ). The grass is dormant when the neighboring lawns are green but, we are enjoying ourselves so much every weekend, we don’t notice.

  18. My lawn is both straw-colored and needing to be mowed, because weeds. Fortunately, my lawn could probably fit in Scalzi’s living room (or certainly his garage.)

  19. WRT FAQ #7: Note to self: Research details of deal-breaking demands before issuing them, to make sure they really are impossible….”

    FAQ #3: Pssst! Athena! See if any of your neighbors have sheep they want to rent out.

  20. If you don’t cut it quite so short it’ll root deeper and stay greener for slightly longer.

    (thinks about suggesting stitching in low maintenance wild-flower mix but reads FAQ first and thinks better of it)… What’s wrong with dandelions anyway?

  21. We’re in drought too (though visitors from dry states might not believe it, as most things are still vibrant green – it’s all relative), and portions of my lawn have gone yellowish. Watering isn’t something I’ve ever seriously considered.

    And as others say, when things are dry the growth rate slows/stops so I don’t have to mow every week. So there’s that.

  22. We just finished converting automatic sprinklered lawn to drought tolerant plants on drip and a lot of mulch. Since guilt left out lawns unwatered last year (CA), the whole neighborhood is happy with the new look.

  23. One of the trees off to the right seems to have dropped most of its leaves, which I wouldn’t expect until October. Either that, or the leaves are sufficiently sparse I can’t make them out.

    We are in xeriscape territory; I have a short rock wall in the front yard with several types of cacti and succulents cheerfully draped over and around it, including what I hope will become a respectable saguaro someday. If I can’t water it with the gray water from the washing machine, or it can’t survive with benign neglect, it can suffer. A lawn would be nice but impractical.

  24. Ever since reading your short in the Black Tide Rising, I see pic’s of your yard and my mind wanders.
    Do you have a stash of chicken fencing or rolls of concertina fence you can quickly roll out to protect the compound?
    And one other question, once you have the wire in place, would the Scalzi women let you have a gun on watch?

  25. My California neighborhood has finally turned the corner on attitudes to “dormant” lawns. You do’t get the fisheye from your houseproud neighbors anymore, and I think it might now be illegal for HOAs to require watering. Anyway, five years ago I heard the second annual below-normal snow report in a row, and turned off the sprinklers. A year later, we sheet-mulched the dead lawn and planted a xeri-friendly flower garden, which beats the lawn hands down. My husband doesn’t have to mow anymore, and it’s much more fun to pull a few weeds when you’re breathing in lavender, rosemary, and gardenia – yum!

  26. Yellow lawns are a pretty typical thing here in Perth, Western Australia. Means it’s summer, and the water restrictions have kicked in. A lush green lawn means one of three things: 1) you have a bore well and use bore water to reticulate your lawn (which means you get three watering days per week rather than two); 2) you have money to burn on your water bills and don’t care about the neighbours dobbing you in for using too much water; or 3) you’ve replaced the entire lawn with artificial turf (this last is getting to be a Thing over here as people realise that artificial turf, while it may cost more money initially, actually saves them money in water, weeding, mowing and so on over the long term).

    At present the lawns are lovely and green over here, because it’s the middle of a rather cold and rainy winter. The lawn of the place my partner and I have recently moved to is green and yellow, because instead of lawn, what we have is about 90% soursob (oxalis) and the blasted stuff is in bloom. Fortunately, my father is a kind and loving man, who offered to come and spray a fair whack of the stuff with glyphosate in order to hasten its demise (otherwise I would have been reduced to the poor man’s glyphosate: boiling water poured on the weeds).

    (PS: from the descriptions people are giving of the US this year, it sounds as though my brother, who is visiting for his long service leave, won’t actually notice any the difference in the climate. Droughts and flooding rains, both at the same time? Yup, sounds like Australia.)

  27. It struck me the last time I visited my parents in Santa Barbara, CA how even many of the 1% who live in drought country have finally given up on lawns. A whole lot of multimillion-dollar homes which until recently had giant lawns in front of them now have attractive landscapes of native plants and stones.

    Meanwhile here on the opposite side of the Ohio from you one of the things that attracted me to my current house was its very small front yard. Kentucky is technically part of The South, and the last thing I wanted was to be roped into the cult of Lawn Care. Fortunately I live in an, um, “transitional” neighborhood, so as long as I keep my little front postage stamp of miscellaneous grass, clover, dandelions and whatever else mowed once a week, I’m one of the good ones.

  28. I notice the low spots seem greener — it’s water that runs downhill, isn’t it? or is it shinola that does that? Does gravity play favorites?

  29. I miss mowing lawns and having an actual dirt garden of my own instead of pots on a balcony, but that’s the tradeoff for living in a 2nd-and-3rd-floor condo instead of a ground-level unit or an actual house. The courtyard has trees, shrubs, and some scraggly grass; the outer area mostly has ivy-like ground cover. And it’s California, which means that it doesn’t rain for 6-8 months in a row, so the brown part of your lawn looks somewhat similar to the hillsides around here.

  30. One way to reduce mowing, increase biodiversity and enable yourself to water the lawn is dig a pond. Although an acre of pond might be bordering on a small lake!

  31. I’ve got a lot of “lawn” but it’s mostly “weeds”. The weeds do much better than the grasses when it gets dry, and they have pretty flowers.

  32. The word “grin” was supposed to appear between those chevrons. I gotta get over the days of Usenet News… Not derogating (derogatorying?) your lawn, it just absorbs rain, which would flow down the Mississippi gathering fertilizer to be deposited in the Gulf of Mexico later.

  33. I wish our lawn was that dormant. Our area’s also in drought but the grass stubbornly keeps growing.

  34. I’m with Outer Space Guy, coming from SoCal Space myself. What is this water from the sky thing?

    There are legends from our ancestors that the oceans would rise up and give water to the land. Sounds really dangerous. It’s probably how the dinosaurs got wiped out.

    Is this Middle West you live in that far behind the times?

  35. Thanks for this. Same up in SE Michigan. Every time I see someone watering their lawn, here, I think of all the effort the water treatment plant did to purify the water, and how people are just dumping it in the ground.

  36. That is one of the things that sucks where I used to live and their HOA. Even small yellow spots and you would immediately begin getting nasty letters from management, all the way to fines and liens against your house. For yellow spots on your lawn.*
    Glad the HOA I live in now is very realistic about the nature of plants and water conservation.

    *Before folks chime in on “then don’t live in a HOA”. That was very difficult where I lived to avoid them. A vast majority of houses were under at least one HOA (sometimes more than one). Those that were not were apartments, condos or places where bars on the windows was a requirement.

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