Ah, May – it’s that time of year that our gardens explode and those of us itching to get out and get dirty are in gardening heaven. First things, first, though: that lawn needs your attention.
Sure, this is the time to apply the first dose of fertilizer to warm-season grasses and the time to withhold food from their cool-season cousins. We may also start mowing in May and it’s definitely time to apply weed control to stop those broadleaf nasties.
Watering the lawn is essential – either too much water or too little can be detrimental to the lawn’s health and beauty. As a general rule of thumb, a lawn requires 1 inch of water a week. Now this advice doesn’t hold when the weather is hot and/or windy – grass needs more water during these periods.
So, how can you be sure that your lawn is getting its weekly dose of water without wasting the liquid in the process?
It’s common sense that the lawn needs less help from you when it rains. And, if you truly want to harness the power of rain to tend to the grass, turn the downspouts toward the lawn during rainy periods.
When there’s not enough rainfall, you’ll need to step in. To determine if it’s time, walk across the lawn and if your footprints don’t spring back but remain visible, it’s time to water.
When to water your lawn
Deeply and infrequently are the two most important words to remember when you’re considering when and how often to water your lawn. In addition to the footprint test mentioned earlier, you can check the soil to determine if it’s time to water by sticking a screwdriver or other long, sharp object into it. If it comes out damp, don’t water and try the test again in a day or two.
Then, avoid watering during the hottest part of the day, or, when the lawn gets the highest amount of direct sunlight, typically between noon and 3 p.m. Water is wasted by evaporation during this period. Water instead early in the morning, before it gets hot.
That 1-inch of water rule per week? Split it in half and apply it twice a week.
Don’t waste even one drop of water
So, you know when to water – and about how much water the lawn needs per week. Determining how long to run the sprinkler, drip system or other irrigation system to deliver one-half inch of water twice a week will require some testing.
Grab a half-dozen or more empty cat food or tuna cans and place them, evenly spaced, around the area to be watered. Turn on the irrigation system and allow it to run for 20 minutes. Then, measure the amount of water in each can and add up those numbers. Divide the result by the number of cans you used and then multiply that number by three. You now know how much water your lawn gets in one hour. You can then adjust the timer to ensure the lawn receives the required amount of water on irrigation days.
Two additional things to keep an eye on include avoiding puddling in the lawn. If the water puddles, the system is applying too much water, too quickly, and the soil can’t absorb it. Then, check the area that the sprinklers are hitting. You may need to adjust them to avoid wasting water on hardscape surfaces. Restrict the irrigation area only to the lawn.
Maintain the irrigation system
A hose-end sprinkler may be fine for a small lawn but it isn’t efficient for larger areas. The ideal system is low-volume with low angle sprinklers, according to the experts at Bayer Advanced. They recommend that you “Angle heads as low as possible to minimize evaporation.”
Inspect the system at the beginning of spring. Check the valve boxes for water (a clue there’s a leak) and the sprinklers themselves for clogs and leaks.
During the hot months of summer, water conservation is key to not only a healthy lawn but a healthy planet and pocketbook as well.