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How to Water a Lawn

If you're a new homeowner or you've just started taking an interest in caring for your lawn and garden, you're sure to have a million questions. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a lot of conflicting information. Something as seemingly simple as how to water a lawn can open up a can of worms every time someone new enters the conversation. There are a few different camps out there. Some, like the in-ground sprinkler crowd, expect a serious financial commitment. Others don't seem to really buy their own stories. So what's the best way to give the average lawn the water it needs?

The Hands-On Approach

Assuming most people aren't caring for the sweeping greens of a golf course, taking care of the average urban lawn isn't a huge time commitment. To keep the green in your grass, all you need is a good hose that will reach all over your yard and a nozzle for the end that will spread and soften the flow of water. Hand watering is the most effective way to see that your grass is really getting the water it needs. Sprinkler methods lose a lot of water to evaporation as water is sprayed through the air and can cause runoff if you don't move a portable sprinkler regularly. This can be a waste of money if you're using city water, and it certainly isn't ecologically sensitive to run water down the storm drain for no good reason.

It really won't take that long to water your grass, and when you hand water, you'll learn more about what your lawn needs. Work slowly and move evenly over your lawn, paying attention to the results as you go. Does water pool in a particular place? Is another area always dry because there are large feature plantings nearby? Have you had a lot of rain lately, or has it been dry? When you take a hands-on approach to watering, you'll be able to adapt your watering routine to maintain that lush green summer lawn that others only dream about.

How Much Water Does My Grass Need?

The average lawn needs between an inch and 2 inches of water a week. Now, that doesn't mean you'll be applying that whole amount every week. Those who live in moderate climates that receive a lot of rain will not need to water nearly as much as those who live in a more arid place. In general, you'll want to water so that the moisture reaches a depth of roughly 6 inches. There are a couple of different ways to measure how much moisture your grass is getting when you water regardless of your irrigation method.

  1. Probe the ground with a thin but stout stick or a screwdriver. You should be able to reach a depth of 6 inches fairly easily, but the ground shouldn't be spongy. If it's too squishy, you're overwatering. If you can't get the stick in more than a couple inches (avoiding rocks), your ground is still too dry, so water on!
  2. The can/pan method. Sprinkler guys love this. Place a shallow pan or a series of tuna or cat food cans in the area you're watering. To see how much water you've applied to the area, simply check the depth in the cans. Unfortunately, this method won't take into account the water Mother Nature has provided, so overwatering is easy. This method also leaves a bit to be desired where trees and shrubs are taking more than their fair share from the lawn area.

When Is the Best Time to Water?

In general, the best time to water is early in the morning, before the sun gets too intense and when temperatures are cooler. When it gets warmer later in the day, evaporation will take away more of the water you apply, so watering early in the day allows more water to soak in for a greater watering depth. Likewise, areas that have a lot of wind will be calmer early in the day, and more of your water will stay where it needs to be. Some prefer to water at night, and that can work if you really don't have time to water in the morning, but be aware that the longer the grass surface remains wet, the more risk there is for disease to develop on damp grass. Morning watering really is ideal. It allows the water time to soak in yet doesn't allow time for nasties to develop on wet foliage.

How Often Should I Water?

It is really best to give your grass a good soaking once or twice a week to be sure you achieve a good irrigation depth. If your schedule allows you to water every three or four days, you can take advantage of the water that nature gives your grass, probably run less risk of overwatering and still be able to give a little extra moisture when it is needed. Avoid frequent shallow watering. When you water too frequently and don't allow the water to penetrate deeply, you discourage your grass from building a good, deep root mass. Without strong, deep roots, your lawn is extremely susceptible to drought, and a weekend away during a hot spell could mean you come back to dehydrated, burned grass. This can be especially important if you live in an area where watering restrictions are a reality. Watering deeply when you can will help your lawn survive the times when you can't irrigate.

Enjoy the Green

If you take a little time and pay attention to the process, you'll find that keeping your lawn lush and green is a simple matter. You may even find the time with hose in hand meditative. It can be especially rewarding to spend some time tending your lawn when you're feeling stressed.