Watering Lawns

Source(s): Gil Landry, PhD., Coordinator – UGA Center for Urban Agriculture, The University of Georgia.

Proper watering of turfgrasses is essential to producing an attractive, healthy lawn.

Many factors influence the amount and frequency of water needed for a home lawn. Soil type, type of grass, management level, frequency of rain, temperatures, wind and humidity all affect the amount of water needed. High level maintenance and hot, windy days tend to increase the demand for water, while low level maintenance and cool, cloudy days tend to decrease the demand for water.

The best time to apply water is just before wilt occurs. Most grasses appear a dull bluish green, the leaf blades begin to fold or roll, and footprints remain after walking over the area when the grass is under water stress. If dry conditions continue, the grass wilts. Begin irrigation on that portion of the lawn which first exhibits these signs.

Apply enough water to soak the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. This is usually equivalent to about one inch of rainfall. For most sprinklers, this means leaving the sprinkler in one spot for 2 to 3 hours. Do not apply until runoff occurs. If water is being applied faster than the soil can absorb it, either move the sprinkler to a new location or turn it off and allow the existing moisture to soak into the soil. To test your sprinkler output, place seven open-top tin cans under the sprinkler.

Prior to sunrise is considered the best time to water because of less wind and lower temperature. Research indicates water losses at night through irrigation are 50 percent less than during midday irrigation. Studies also indicate that irrigating after dew develops on a turf will not increase disease problems. However, irrigating prior to dew formation or after the dew has dried from the morning sun and/or wind extends the period of free surface moisture and may enhance disease development.

Irrigation is one maintenance practice often done wrong. Light, frequent waterings produce shallow, weak root systems. The shallow root system prevents efficient use of plant nutrients and soil moisture. Roots grow only where the soil is moist; they do not seek out water.

The key to success in irrigating home lawns is to condition the grass to get by on as little extra water as possible. The best way to do this is to develop a deep rooted grass. Listed below are several simple rules which will help develop a deep rooted turfgrass which is more able to withstand drought conditions.

  • Select a grass which is well adapted to your locations.
  • Water as infrequently as possible. At the first sign of wilt, irrigate, not before.
  • Apply enough moisture to drench the soil 6 to 8 inches deep.
  • If the soil becomes compacted or crusted, loosen it so that water can penetrate to the proper depth.
  • Raise the height of cut during stress periods, and mow more frequently.
  • Use a sprinkler that gives a good even distribution of water at about 1/4 to 1/3 inch per hour.
  • Fertilize lightly in the summer months.

For more information refer to Cooperative Extension Leaflet No. 399, Turfgrass Water Management.

Lawns in Georgia

Center Publication Number: 133

Gil Landry
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