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Watering best practices

Are you fertilizing your lawn regularly? Does your property have nutritious, deep loam? Are you mowing at the proper height? And is your yard still struggling to survive? You might need to analyze your watering practices.

Watering is one of the most important aspects of growing a beautiful lawn. But unfortunately, many people don’t water correctly, and it adversely affects the health and beauty of their grass.

Below are a few best-watering practices to always abide by.

Length of time to water

In general, it’s best to ensure your lawn receives at least one inch of water per week. However, it may need more or less depending on environmental conditions. For example, during the hot, dry summer, you’ll likely need to water your lawn more than you do in the spring and fall when rainfall is more plentiful.

If you’re not sure how to tell if your lawn is receiving enough water, Ben Erickson, web editor for Today’s Homeowner, gives some excellent advice on how to figure out whether your entire lawn is equally receiving at least one inch of water.

Before watering, scatter several containers around your yard. After watering, use a ruler to measure the water’s depth in each container. This will tell you how much water areas of your lawn are receiving.

Now get ready to do some math. It takes about 0.623 gallons of water per square foot (just over a half gallon) to cover your lawn with one inch of water. To figure out how much water you need to use to reach that one-inch mark, multiply the length of your yard by its width. This is called its square footage. Next, multiply the square footage by 0.623. The answer is the number of gallons you need to put on your lawn each week to ensure your property is receiving one inch of water.

As an example, let’s say the length of your lawn is 100 feet and the width is 100 feet. The total square footage is 100 x 100 or 10,000 square feet. Multiply 10,000 square feet by 0.623 and you get 6,230. That means, in many areas of the U.S., homeowners need to distribute over 6,000 gallons of water a week to their properties, and this doesn’t take into consideration summer drought.

sprinkler watering grass

Water infrequently but deeply

Ensuring your sprinklers are delivering one inch of water per week is fruitless if you’re not watering correctly. The general rule of the thumb is to water well-established lawns deeply but not often. (It’s the opposite for newly seeded ones, which we’ll delve more into in a bit.) Purdue University’s Turfgrass Science Program recommends ensuring the soil is wet all the way to the deepest root.

The reason for this practice has everything to do with the lawn’s roots. When you water deeply and infrequently, water sinks deep into the soil, ensuring the root system stays well below —ideally six inches or more— the soil’s surface. When you fail to apply enough water, it sits close to the lawn’s surface, and roots rise in search of that water. Because the top of the soil is susceptible to drying out, the roots will do the same.

So remember, it’s best to spread out your watering and make sure you do so long enough that it has time to penetrate far beneath the soil’s surface.

The sprinkler system effect

The reason why your lawn isn’t receiving the correct amount of water is because of your sprinkler system. Unfortunately the hose-end sprinklers you pick up at your local hardware store rarely distribute enough water volume per square foot. Because of this, for you to reach the one-inch mark or more of water per week, you may have to leave that type of sprinkler system in one area of your lawn for hours at a time. Using the water calculation technique we described earlier will not only help you figure out how much you’re dispersing and how much money you need to spend to reach that mark, but how long it takes to do so.

To make life easier, install an irrigation system if you can, and it’s even better if this is hooked up to a well. These systems can more evenly distribute a larger amount of water over a much greater area in less time. If you do opt to install an irrigation system, remember to have the heads adjusted properly so it releases the needed amount of water. Often irrigation companies will set the system heads to a default setting.

When to water

The ideal time to water your lawn is in the early morning. While the time likely varies across the U.S., those residing in Massachusetts should water between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. While this isn’t the most convenient time to water —people are heading to work— it gives the grass enough time to dry out before the sun reaches the highest point in the sky. During the high point, loss of water from evaporation is high and wet grass is more inclined to burn because it acts like a magnifying glass.

We don’t recommend watering at night unless needed because it promotes disease.

If your lawn is beginning to burn — you’ll notice it turning a shiny deep blue — watering at dusk is acceptable. This can cool down the grass and keep the soil moist. However, take the same approach as we mentioned before: water deeply.

Watering on compacted areas and slopes

If your lawn is dry despite consistently watering it and using proper procedures, check your soil’s compaction. You can do this by sticking a trowel into different areas of your yard. The entire blade should easily sink into the earth. If it only descends a few inches, your soil is too compact.

What is compact soil?

While soil looks like one giant mass of dirt, it actually contains thousands of tiny particles that each have spaces between them containing water and air. We compact soil by continuously walking or driving over it, and this reduces large pores between particles. In turn, water and air have difficulty filtering through the particles and plant growth recedes.

Soil compaction can happen due to rain, footsteps, and wheel traffic. The best way to improve compact soil is by aerating once a year. This loosens the soil and allows better gas exchange and water drainage. While aerating should work, the last resort is by measuring the soil’s bulk density. As pore space decreases and compaction increases, the bulk density increases.

Are there benefits to compact soil?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “everything in moderation?” The same can be said when talking about compact soil. When soil is too loose, water actually evaporates and leaches easier. This is why homeowners who have properties with sandy soil tend to have to water more often.

Figuring out how to water your lawn can take a bit of trial and error, but it’s critical not to get frustrated with it. Once you’ve figured out a good, default watering pattern, you’ll be able to adjust your watering practices and sprinkler heads accordingly.

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