Water is an essential part of a happy, healthy lawn. It’s important, though, to make sure you water it properly. If you run a sprinkler at night, for example, it sets up the perfect conditions for disease to take hold. If you water too lightly, the grass roots will not grow deeply enough, setting your lawn up for trouble when hot weather hits.
One of the biggest and more common lawn care issues is overwatering. It’s safe to say there’s a large portion of homeowners who have no control over their sprinkler system or how to use it effectively. The sprinkler runtimes are likely set by their irrigation service upon start-up and never adjusted or monitored. This “set it and forget it” approach is convenient but not efficient. Often, sprinklers can be seen operating before, during, and after rainstorms.
in addition to the unfortunate waste of water, over-watering is bad for the lawn and will make it susceptible to outside pressures like drought, insects, weeds, and diseases.
Proper watering is knowing how to use your sprinkler system efficiently. When used properly, your sprinkler system will save you money while keeping your lawn beautiful and healthy. Most lawn sprinkler systems are not that complicated and should be fairly easy to figure out. From there, it is important that your system is equipped with rain sensors to turn the system off in the event of a rainstorm during scheduled watering, Knowing how to pause your system from its normal routine is important when rain is imminent and after periods of rain when the soil has enough moisture. Fine-tuning the system and knowing how it operates will benefit the lawn and save money.
The rule of thumb for watering turf has generally been one inch of water per week. This number more or less refers to the standard Kentucky bluegrass lawn which is the quintessential lawn of the American suburb. Unfortunately, that grass type and its water requirements are not suitable, desirable, or even legal in many parts of the country. One inch of water per week is a decent average for the spring and fall months, but it’s the hot, dry months of summer when one inch of rain per week is only achievable with supplemental watering either with an automatic sprinkler system or a hose/sprinkler set-up.
Lawns consisting of modern varieties of fescues, ryegrasses, and even Kentucky bluegrass are able to withstand somewhat lesser amounts of water, especially when managed with drought in mind. Improvements are continuously being made to grass cultivars, including drought tolerance and insect/disease resistance. A well-managed lawn, even a notoriously thirsty lawn of Kentucky bluegrass, made up of newer varieties of turf will survive on much less than one inch of water per week, making it possible to grow a lawn in areas with water restrictions or drought conditions.
An over-watered lawn is likely to be plagued by a host of negative results with the outcome being an unhealthy lawn susceptible to weeds, diseases, and insect damage. An over-watered lawn is often a gateway to a loop of turf problems and expensive chemical treatments that will not go away unless the underlying issue (over-watering) is managed.
A healthy lawn should be a little on the thirsty side, always sending roots deeper into the soil. The deeper the root system, the healthier and more resilient the turf. This is why an ideal watering is deep and infrequent (mimicking natural rainfall) rather than shallow and often. An overwatered lawn will likely have a shallow root system since there is no need for the roots to travel for water—it is always there, close to the surface. A shallow root system is more susceptible to insect damage and even heat stress since there is less water holding capacity within the root system.
An automatic sprinkler system would best be used sparingly by a homeowner, only to supplement rainfall during the hot months of summer. It should not be operated before anticipated rainstorms, during rainstorms, or after rainstorms. This is a waste of water (money), time, and will contribute to an unhealthy lawn. Sprinklers operate most efficiently when used at night. The ideal time to water is in the pre-dawn hours when there is less wind, it’s cooler, the water has a chance to penetrate to the root zone, and the moisture doesn’t sit on the plant for too long and create disease conditions.
Anyone who does not apply supplemental water to their lawns knows that a hot, dry summer can turn a lawn brown over time. Grass that is stressed from lack of water will go dormant, not die. When cooler temperatures and more frequent rains return, a well-managed lawn will make a complete recovery.
During times of drought, stresses on the lawn can be lessened by mowing less frequently, mowing at a higher height of cut, and staying off the lawn. The key to riding out periods of drought is proper cultural practices and sticking to a good lawn care program.
Keep these tips in mind when watering a cool-season grass type:
- Tall fescue has a deep root system and the highest drought tolerance of all the cool-season grass types.
- Lawns that are a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fine fescues will go dormant during drought if not watered, but will revive (re-green) when rain returns.
When watering a warm-season grass type, keep these tips in mind:
- Zoysia, St. Augustine, bermuda and centipede grasses develop deep root systems, making them better able to withstand drought.
- In general, warm-season grass types require less water than cool-season grasses. Where you live determines how frequently you need to water because of differences in rainfall and summer weather conditions. Grass requires the most water in conditions of heat, drought, low humidity, and high winds.The type of soil you have also plays a part: Clay soil holds water longer and can be watered less frequently than sandy soil, which drains very quickly (and therefore needs to be watered more often).
There are tons of ways to water your lawn, from sprinklers to smart watering solutions. Each has their own sets of benefits, so choose the solution that works best for you and your lawn. Below are a few methods to consider.
Pulsating sprinklers (water guzzlers): These shoot water horizontally at a high velocity so the water isn’t affected by wind.
Hose-end sprinklers: Great for small- to medium-size lawns. There are many different types, so you can choose the one that fits your lawn best.
In-ground sprinklers: These can deliver water in the most efficient pattern. Choose sprinklers that are low to the ground and use a horizontal spray pattern for best results.
Smart watering systems: There are many different types of smart watering systems, and most systems integrate with in-ground sprinkler systems. Many have controllers that allow you to schedule watering using your smartphone and also use real-time weather data to automate watering so you don’t have to think about it. Uses real-time weather data to ensure sprinklers only turn on when they need to, and can be controlled via smartphone or tablet.
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