It is 6:15 a.m., and I am standing in my front yard with a cup of coffee in one hand and a garden hose in the other.
The sun is just up. It’s cool still, though the day promises 90 degrees, and quiet.
I turn the hose on the two squares of grass, divided by a red-brick walkway. My landscaping isn’t fancy, a single tree planted almost dead center of each square and three bushes under the big front window.
I don’t have a fancy nozzle either; it’s all thumb work. If I hold my thumb in just the right spot, a half-umbrella of spray catches the sunlight.
The water hits the ground, and I inhale the smell of the wet grass. Lizards flee, scurrying up a low wall that wraps the porch. Birds come down out of the trees across the street and flutter around me like I’m Snow White.
Everything feels new, not just the day.
I sip my coffee and then raise my cup to the neighbor leaving early for work. Another neighbor pulls into his driveway, just off his overnight shift.
I remember my dad doing this, though in the evenings; he stood in the front yard with the garden hose, smoking a cigarette and talking to neighbors.
I do this, even though I have automatic sprinklers.
The water splatters on the brick as I move from one side of the yard to the other, soaking my bare feet.
I like having grass, even though I know it’s not the best choice because we live in a desert. It made great cushion for kicking a ball around with my son and soft landings out of the tree fort.
I mow it myself. (Yes, I have a teenage son, but he has asthma.) I look forward to it turning to green each year after a winter sitting brown and dormant. Earlier this month, I scattered some weed-and-feed across it to speed up the results.
Promptly, half the lawn died. Oh, I guess those were weeds.
More water! Out came the hose.
This year, with spring days already so warm, I started my morning-hose routine early. I told my editor about it. No, no, he said, you’re watering all wrong. An office debate ensued — hose the grass down every day, or no?
So I consulted an expert.
Kelly Young is an assistant agent for the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Cooperative Extension. She’s an expert on entomology and soil science. I’m a columnist with a weed-whacker. I figured this would go well.
“Right now,” she says, “it’s like you’re giving them a little sip of water every day, so their root system won’t be deep.”
I want deep roots.
You should water, she told me, only if you’re going to let the water seep in about foot deep each time. (I can test that by running my sprinklers until I can easily insert a screwdriver 12 inches into the ground. It will stop when it hits dry soil.)
A few minutes with the hose each morning probably wasn’t getting the water anywhere near a foot deep. “As the day goes on, it is absorbed back into the air,” she told me.
Young suggested I look at a watering guide put out by Arizona’s Water — Use it Wisely campaign. I opened it in my browser as we spoke on the phone, and my head exploded. It involves math.
OK, Young said, laughing, just stick to the 1-2-3 Rule. Water small plants such as groundcover and annuals to a depth of 1 foot, medium plants such as shrubs to 2 feet and large plants, like trees, to 3 feet.
Then instead of watering every day, I should water only every three days or four days, maybe even once a week, until it gets hotter.
OK. I can probably just let the automatic sprinklers take care of that.
After our conversation, I went outside in the mornings. I watered the plants and cactuses in pots by the front door but left the yard alone.
The grass was already wet from the sprinklers, which came on hours earlier, and ran for 30 minutes, the time I figured (math!) it would take to give the lawn a good watering. I reprogrammed the sprinklers to run every three days, then backed them off to once a week.
I pushed a screwdriver into the ground, and it sank in about 8 inches. Not bad.
I found I still like these 15 minutes alone in the front yard, the birds singing, the stillness of the morning before the chaos of the day.
But … I missed the water. I love beaches, lakes, the swimming pool — and garden hoses. I had whined to Young about what, exactly, I was going to do with myself during those few minutes every day.
She had replied, helpfully: “You could pull weeds instead.”
From time to time, Water – Use It Wisely features guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. Karina Bland is a longtime, award-winning reporter and columnist for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. Her column, “My So-called Midlife,” runs in the paper on Sundays. Find her blog at karinabland.azcentral.com. She’ll be on stage for Arizona Storytellers: Stories of “School’s Out” at 7 p.m. Monday, May 11, at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. See Karina’s original post on AZCentral here.