Colorado State University Extension Offers Horticulture Tips During Colorado Drought

With most of the state of Colorado experiencing drought, Colorado State University Extension agents and specialists are available to provide information about maintaining lawns and gardens.

“This year, the mountains didn’t get their normal precipitation,” said Andrea Cummins, CSU extension agent for Douglas County. “The mountain snow melted earlier and faster than normal due to warmer weather conditions, so we are going into the summer with dryer than normal conditions in the lower elevations. Plants under drought stress will often have more insects, develop dieback where the top stems of trees and shrubs don’t leaf out, and show premature fall color.”

Extension agents suggest Coloradans take special care this season to protect and maintain lawns, gardens, plants and trees and offer tips to help them thrive in drought conditions.

Efficient watering

Water lawn and planting beds according to their needs. Check soil moisture before watering. Insert a 6-inch screwdriver into the soil; if it can be easily inserted, you don’t need to water.

Water at night. Water at night between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., but not during the heat of the day or when the wind is blowing.

Look for footprints. Water when footprints or mower tracks become easily visible on the turf or when large areas of the lawn take on a bluish-gray color.

Check your sprinkler system. Check to see how long each zone is scheduled to run and adjust the timer. A shaded zone will require less water than a hot, sunny area, and cooler seasons require less water than hot summer months.


Aerate. Aeration is an important part of lawn maintenance because it relieves soil compaction and allows better water, air and fertilizer penetration. The result is less water run-off and better plant health. Aerate in the spring and fall under moderate moisture conditions for best results.

Mow efficiently. Set your mower at the highest level possible and make sure the blade is sharp. Leave your lawn clippings on the turf and use a mulching mower to recycle moisture and nutrients back into the yard.

Brown spots? Respond to brown spots by hand watering.

Fertilize. Consider applying iron fertilizers moderately. Fertilize in summer with a slow-release fertilizer and in fall at the rate suggested on the product label.


Know flower tolerance. Select and plant flowers by their specific water and sunlight needs. Many low water-using flowers are available.

Improve the soil. Prepare your flowerbeds by mixing in soil amendments like peat moss, compost or other organic material for maximum water efficiency and growth.

Newly planted flowers. Check and water flowers daily for a short time during the first two weeks after planting to help them get established, and then gradually reduce water. To determine if the flowers need water, insert a 6-inch screwdriver into the soil; if it can be easily inserted, you don’t need to water.

Mulch. Apply mulch to reduce evaporation, retain moisture in the soil and control weeds.


Established trees. Roots extend out from the tree three to five times the height of the tree. Soaking the tree next to the trunk is not adequate. Normal, general landscape irrigation provides water for the established areas.

Newly planted trees. Apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch at a minimum of 2 feet wide around the trunk. Keep mulch 2 inches away from the trunk. Check moisture in the root ball weekly and water to maintain adequate moisture.

About Extension

The mission of Extension is to provide information and education and encourage the application of research-based knowledge in response to local, state and national issues affecting individuals, youth, families, agricultural enterprises and communities of Colorado.

For questions, additional tips or more information, visit the Colorado State University Extension website at