How can Manitoba care for its lawns when there’s ‘virtually no moisture’?

It’s only May, but this year is already unlike any in recent memory for Beth Connery.

The lack of moisture this year is particularly concerning for the owner of Connery’s Riverdale Farms, near Portage la Prairie, who relies on water pumped from the Assiniboine River for her strawberries, carrots, squash, and other produce.

“Really, incredibly low,” Connery says about the river level.

“We looked for rain last fall (and) snow all winter, and had bare fields in some cases, and this spring there was no spring runoff. No water in the ditches, and there’s no water in the river, really.”

Read more: Morden residents, businesses asked to restrict water use due to severe drought

Since the farm is constantly seeding new plants to keep up supply for the market, Connery says the need for water never diminishes.

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“Our pumps are right down at the river, so that’s helping us, but it’s dicey on wondering how long that water supply is going to be steady for us this year,” says Connery, adding they might need to extend the pumps farther into the river if conditions don’t improve.

The situation isn’t much better in Winnipeg, where there’s been “virtually no moisture whatsoever,” according to David Hinton, president of Weed Man Winnipeg.

Hinton says most lawns in the city are looking pretty thirsty, but if there can be a bright side, he notes the lack of moisture is also keeping weeds at bay for now.

Read more: Manitoba’s fire situation could be Canada’s most significant weather disaster of 2021, says climatologist

In order to stay in prime condition, Hinton says lawns typically need up to an inch and a half of water a week, which can be measured by placing an empty tuna can outside.

“Whether you’re getting rain from the heavens or you’re putting it on with the sprinkler system, when that tuna can fills up with water, that should be pretty much all you need for the week,” Hinton says.

Unfortunately, with the exception of an April snowstorm, one would be hard pressed to have found a tuna can’s worth of rain all year.

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Typically, Hinton says homeowners can tell when the lawn needs a drink, since it leaves behind silvery footprints as you walk through it.

However, given this year’s drought, some yards are already past this point, and are beginning to turn brown.

Read more: Crews battle wildfire in Manitoba’s Whiteshell

To prevent this, he suggests cutting grass at the highest possible setting, since the height of the plant is proportional to the length of the roots.

“If you cut taller, like three inches, it means their roots are down three inches, and you don’t have to water as much. Those plants can reach deeper down into the soil,” Hinton says.

“If you cut the lawn short, like an inch, it means their roots are only down an inch, and the top part of the lawn dries out that much faster.”

The latest drought assessment by the Canadian Drought Monitor shows a region of extreme drought in southern Manitoba expanded through April, now stretching from Russell to Gimli and the Interlake, south to the U.S. border and west into Saskatchewan.

The assessment’s authors point out nearly 93 per cent of the Prairie region’s agricultural landscape is experiencing abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions.

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