Maintaining a lush, green lawn requires more than just regular mowing and fertilizing. One of the most important aspects of lawn care is proper watering. Watering your lawn properly helps to minimize fungal disease, ensure healthy roots, and promote a vibrant appearance. By following some simple tips for watering your lawn properly, you can keep your lawn looking its best year-round.
How to Properly Water Your Lawn
Water deeply and infrequently. Unless you are seeding your lawn, you should not be watering your lawn every day. When you water your lawn, water it deeply so that the water reaches the roots of the grass (longer run times for irrigation) and less often (1-3 times per week). This will help the grass to grow strong and healthy because it promotes deeper rooting of the turf and decreases the amount of time the grass blades are moist. Prolonged periods of leaf wetness promote fungal diseases like Leaf Spot, Blight, Melting Out, and Red Thread.
Key Takeaway: Water deeply, with long cycles, and infrequently, only 1-3 times per week.
Water according to your soil type. The United States Department of Agriculture defines twelve major soil texture classifications, commonly represented as a soil texture triangle. Sands will retain water for less time than loam, clay, and organic matter-dense soils, meaning sandy soil needs to be irrigated more often to recharge the turf's root zone with water. Water will infiltrate sands much quicker than compacted and clay soil, which in their case can promote surface water runoff if watered the same. This means compacted and clay soils require the need for shorter and more frequent watering cycles.
If that sounds like a lot to take in, rest assured that for most lawns in our part of New England, you can often expect sandy loam and loam soils. If you are curious to learn more about your lawn's soil texture, a quick and fun home science project you can do is a jar test.
Key Takeaway: Compacted and clay soils require shorter and more frequent watering cycles.
When to water in the morning. Watering your lawn in the morning will help to prevent water from evaporating too quickly from the afternoon heat and will utilize the resource more efficiently. By comparison, watering in the evening or overnight allows moisture to sit on the grass for long periods of time, which will increase the likelihood of fungal diseases developing. Watering between the hours of 4-8 AM is recommended.
Key Takeaway: With few exceptions, always water in the morning between 4-8 AM.
When to water in the afternoon. In limited cases, you should adjust from morning watering to afternoon watering. This is recommended when disease reduction is in mind, say from a lawn that is currently infected. Fungi reproduce by spores that need water to germinate and infect turf. By reducing the duration of time that your lawn is wet from irrigation and dew, you can help keep fungi in check and prevent it from spreading and becoming worse (don't forget to bag any clippings of infected grass). Watering between the hours of 11 AM and 4 PM is recommended in this situation.
Key Takeaway: Only water in the afternoon if your lawn is infected with fungi, and be sure to bag the clippings when mowing.
How much and how long to water. Cool-season turf will go brown and dormant to protect itself from injury when it is not getting enough water, and a long, sustained absence of water will eventually kill it. Specific watering recommendations should be based on your soil type and composition, but as a general rule of thumb, 1-1.5" of water per week from either irrigation or rain is needed.
What exactly does 1-1.5" of water look like in terms of minutes? It varies according to your irrigation system and water pressure, but a good place to start would be 45-60 minutes per zone to get to .5" in one cycle. Ultimately, the best way to get an accurate picture of your water output is by doing a Catch Cup Test, which is fairly simple and provides extremely valuable information. It is best to do the test with catch cups, but you can also use rain gauges or household items like tuna or cat food cans.
Key Takeaway: Usually 45-60 minutes of watering will equal .5" of water, but doing a Catch Cup Test is the best way to know for sure.
Water your entire lawn. When you water your lawn, make sure to water the entire lawn evenly. This will help to prevent localized dry spot (LDS) and the grass from becoming patchy.
Key Takeaway: Even watering will help give you an even appearance.
Check the soil moisture. The best way to determine if your lawn needs to be watered is to check the soil moisture. Stick your finger into the soil about 2 inches deep. If the soil is dry to the touch, it's time to water your lawn. Another sign your lawn needs watering is wilting. Some signs of wilting grass include a change in color from green to blue-gray, blades of grass that are folded in half, and footprints that remain visible for a long time after being made. Allowing your lawn to go as close to wilting as possible in between watering events will help promote deeper rooting in your turf.
Key Takeaway: Check for dry soil and grass wilting to see if watering is needed.
Check your irrigation system. It's important to regularly check the performance of your irrigation system. A faulty or inefficient system can lead to overwatering, underwatering, or uneven watering. To check the performance of your system, start by inspecting your sprinkler heads to ensure they are working properly and covering the entire lawn evenly. You should also check for leaks, clogs, or other signs of damage.
Key Takeaway: Something as simple as a faulty irrigation system can cause major issues - check it regularly.
If you don't have an irrigation system, you can water by hand with a hose or set up sprinklers in your lawn. You can also create a makeshift irrigation system by getting a timer with multiple zones that attaches to a water spigot and running a sprinkler on each zone to compensate for the lack of water pressure that a professional irrigation system has. Don't forget to move your hoses occasionally to prevent them from suffocating and killing the turf they are placed on.
If you are unable to irrigate your lawn or wish to cut back on watering, consider introducing drought-resistant cultivars of turf to your lawn through aeration and overseeding. Having the right type of turf for your lawn's environment is important to consider. A fine fescue lawn is going to burn out easily in a full-sun environment, whereas Kentucky Bluegrass can be difficult to grow in shady locations.
Consider aerating your lawn each season. This is especially important for compact soils. Aerating helps to improve the drainage of your soil and allows the water to reach the roots of the grass more easily. Treatments like Moisture Managers will also help aid in water retention in your soil's root zone.
By watering your lawn deeply and infrequently, according to your soil type, and during the recommended hours, you can minimize fungal diseases and promote strong roots for lush green grass all year round. Checking your irrigation system and soil moisture is an important routine to get in. By following these tips, you can achieve a healthy and vibrant lawn that will be the envy of your neighborhood.
For more tips on lawn care and maintenance, stay tuned to our blog!