How to Get the Most Out of Watering Your Lawn

April 22, 2020

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How to Get the Most Out of Watering Your Lawn

Watering your lawn seems like a simple enough task. Turn on the sprinkler, go do something else, and come back in a little while to turn it off again. But like most things about caring for your lawn, the simplicity can be deceptive. While basic watering doesn’t take much thought or consideration, getting the most out of watering your lawn means paying a little more attention. If you want your lawn to look its very best all season long, you need to pay attention to your watering. It isn’t rocket science, but a little planning can make a huge difference.

How to Get the Most Out of Watering Your Lawn [infographic]

How Often Should I Water My Lawn?

One of the most common questions we get about lawn care is how often to water. Some lawn care specialists are content to tell you to water once a week and leave it at that. But we’re interested in great lawns, not just good lawns. And to get the best out of your lawn, you need to determine what your lawn needs.

Not all turf is the same, and not every lawn is the same. Many factors affect how often you should water your lawn. Of course, the current weather is one of the most significant factors. When it rains, you can water your lawn less, or skip watering altogether. There’s no need to irrigate beyond what mother nature provides. The temperature is also significant. In hotter weather, your soil dries out more quickly, and your lawn needs more water. Other factors include the type of soil you have, the amounts of sun and shade in your lawn, and even the slope of your lawn.

The most generic answer to how often to water your lawn is one inch a week. That can come from rain or irrigation. However, in hot weather, you may need to water twice a week. For sandy soil, a single soak every week is sufficient—for soil with more clay in it, water in two sessions. First, water for about 30 minutes, then let the water soak in. Then water for another 30 minutes. Soil with a high clay content doesn’t absorb water as quickly as sandier soil. Watering all at once will just result in lots of runoff and reduced water penetration.

How Much Water Does My Turf Need?

Most turf needs one to one-and-a-half inches a week. But to be more specific, you need to do a soil test. With warm-weather grasses like zoysia grass and bermudagrass, root systems grow up to six inches deep. They do best with less frequent, deeper watering.

Once a week, you should water until the top six inches of soil are moist. The easiest way to test for moisture is to stick a long-blade screwdriver into the ground. The screwdriver should easily slide six inches into the soil. If the soil becomes hard to pierce at less than six inches deep, you need more water. In drought conditions or during very hot, dry periods, you can water twice a week. Again, water until the soil is moist to six inches.

The most accurate way to determine how long to water is to perform the soil test and time how long it takes the water to penetrate six inches. Do this a few times and average out the time it takes. However, there are some other tricks, too.

One of the simplest ways to measure how much water your turf is getting it the tuna can method. Place a few clean, empty tuna cans around your lawn. Try to reach different areas that may not receive the same amount of water. Time how long it takes the tuna cans to fill with one inch of water.

If you want to be sophisticated, you can use a flow meter attached to your sprinkler system. Calculate the area of your lawn and multiply the square feet by 0.62 gallons. That’s one-inch depth per square foot. Then watch your meter to determine how long it takes to spray the necessary volume of water.

How to Water Your Lawn

The best way to water your lawn depends on several factors. The size and shape of your lawn will have a significant effect on the best method of watering. You should also consider soil conditions since some lawns will absorb water at different rates. If your lawn includes differently-shaded areas or different slopes, you may need to account for different watering times. Shaded areas take less time to moisten the soil. Sloping areas of your lawn need more water since more water ends up as runoff.

When watering your lawn, you need to consider watering efficiency. It doesn’t pay—literally—to use water that isn’t going to water your turf’s roots. Evaporation and runoff are the two most common sources of water waste. Overwatering is another way that you can end up using more water than you need to keep your turf healthy.

To avoid losing water to evaporation, you need to consider both the time of day and the type of irrigation system.

In general, watering at the hottest times of day leads to the most water loss from evaporation. The best time to water your lawn is in the early morning, before the heat of the day. Cooler temperatures mean less evaporation. If cooler temperatures are best, you might consider watering in the evening or even at night. However, we never recommend watering any later than late afternoon. While you don’t want to lose water to evaporation, you don’t want to leave your lawn wet for too long. Watering in the morning gives your grass time to dry during the day. Watering in the evening or after dark leaves your lawn moist all night. And a damp lawn is susceptible to fungus. If you notice mushrooms on your lawn, you are watering too much or too late.

The Best Type of Sprinkler for Watering Your Lawn

The sprinkler you choose to water your lawn can make or break your irrigation regimen. Different types of soil and sod conditions require different types of watering. In general, the best kind of sprinkler system will reach all parts of your lawn uniformly and minimize evaporation.

Pulsating or impact sprinklers are ideal for mature lawns. The high-velocity horizontal stream covers a broad area with minimal evaporation. Impact sprinklers are commonly used for in-ground sprinkler systems. However, they are also available as movable systems that can be attached to the end of a hose.

For even more coverage, you can use an impact sprinkler mounted on a tripod. You can buy them online or in many home improvement and gardening stores. Their height means a little more water lost to evaporation. But for a large lawn, there’s no beating the long-distance coverage.

While pulsating or impact sprinklers are great for mature lawns, new sod or newly seeded areas need a more gentle touch. One way to gently water new turf is to water by hand with a hose with a sprinkler attachment. For a less hands-on approach, you can use an oscillating sprinkler attached to the end of a hose. An oscillating sprinkler shoots water high up in the air, so it loses more water to evaporation than other sprinklers, but the water lands more gently than other sprinklers, making it ideal for new sod.

The Right Type of Sod

When you’re watering your lawn, it is crucial to take into account your turf type. Different types of turf will respond best to different watering regimens. TifTuf Bermudagrass needs about one inch of water a week. That can come from rain or irrigation. Just don’t overwater. TifTuf Bermudagrass stands up well to drought conditions, too. But when it is especially hot and dry, twice-weekly waterings can help keep the turf healthy. If you’re ready for a standout lawn, start with standout turf. You can find a grower for any of our varieties here.

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