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Irrigation Best Practices: Get the Most out of Watering Your Lawn

Who doesn’t enjoy a good, healthy looking lawn? We expect our lawns to be full, green and thriving.


Without proper maintenance, even the most beautiful landscape can quickly turn into a disaster scene. Some ask if we can install a maintenance free yard; this would likely include poured concrete over the entirety of the space. While this may be maintenance free, it wouldn’t look too great and the city would never allow this to be installed. So, no matter what, you will likely need to do some level of maintenance. How much you’ll need to do will depend upon the size, layout and look of your property.


To give yourself a better understanding of what it takes to properly maintain your beautiful landscape, it’s a good idea to spend a little of your time reading through our maintenance articles. After reading our guides, you will then be able to decide for yourself how much maintenance you can handle or should expect from your new space. In order to keep your space looking good, you may need to attend to a lot of it yourself or hire a competent service company. With the information we have compiled, you’ll be able to use your better judgment on what will be the best fit for you and your space.


Maintenance for your lawn is concerned primarily with four main areas: Irrigation, Feeding, Weeding and Mowing. In this article we will focus on proper irrigation techniques.


Lawn Irrigation

Properly watering your lawn is key to maintaining a healthy condition, most lawn problems are related to improper irrigation. Failing to apply enough water will result in dry patches, which will then turn brown and ultimately die if left too long. But on the other hand, excess watering can lead to disease.


Watering New Sod

Watering new sod uses a different schedule and technique than established sod. When new sod is installed, the roots have not yet established in the soil. So, for it to get water, it must have plenty of moisture available near the top surface. As the roots start to develop and go further into the soil, less moisture is needed near the surface and no longer needs to be kept as wet.


At first the roots of your lawn will be very shallow and cannot access the deeper water. To keep the lawn hydrated you will need to water it three times a day for short periods of time. In the second week the roots will have begun to penetrate deeper into the soil, so you can begin watering less often, about twice a day. In the third week the roots are even deeper, and you can water once per day. Ultimately your lawn will be established, and you should be able to water every other day if you increase the time appropriately.

Think of the roots as straws through which your lawn drinks water and the soil as the glass. Imagine your lawn drinking with a straw (new roots) that will only reach ½ inch deep. Once it has sucked up the first ½ inch of water, it can no longer get any more. If your lawn is still thirsty, you must keep refilling the top ½ inch (turning on the irrigation) until your lawn has gotten a proper drink. As time passes the straw (roots) get longer and can then access water from deeper in the grass (soil). The longer the straw, the less often you need to fill the glass. Ultimately, the straw can reach the bottom and you only have to fill your glass every once in a while.

NEW SOD WATERING SCHEDULE


Week 1: 7:00AM | 11:00AM | 2:00PM


Week 2: 7:00AM | 2:00PM


Week 3: 7:00AM

Watering Time

After we install your lawn, we will set the irrigation controller to the proper number of minutes. The amount of time will depend on the weather conditions and some variables with the yard conditions. If we install a lawn during the summer or during very windy conditions, we will have to set a little more time due to evaporation; in the winter, especially if installed when raining, we will adjust for less time.

Be sure to look out for signs of wilting from lack of water. If you observe wilting, water immediately and increase the irrigation time on your clock.

Watering Established Sod

Once your lawn has been well established, approximately 6 to 8 weeks, water according to the following guidelines:

  • Water as infrequently as possible. In the cooler months, this would be once or twice a week; while in the warmer months it could be up to three or more times a week.

  • Water for as long as possible in order to deeply penetrate the soil, up to 30 minutes. You might have to have more than one irrigation time for the day if runoff occurs within a short time, think of slopes. In this case, add a second short timer within a couple of hours.

  • Water as early in the day as you can, preferably first thing in the morning. Do not water your lawn in the evening between 4PM to 2AM. Watering in full sun is acceptable and will not burn the blades of grass. And be sure not to water shaded areas of your lawn as frequently as areas that receive full sun light.

Technical Stuff for Lawn Sprinklers

To really understand the correct amount of time to run your sprinklers, you must first determine your sprinkler’s uniformity and watering rate.


How to Measure Uniformity and Watering Rate

To measure your uniformity and watering rate, you will need to place a grid of equal sized containers on your lawn to check how much water is falling onto the different sections. The best container to use will have vertical sides, like a straight edged plastic cup. You should also take measurements during the same time of day your sprinklers normally operate; this will reduce errors from variation in water pressure throughout the day. Measurements should also be taken during a calm, windless day.

  • Evenly place measuring containers on your lawn, using a minimum spacing of 10ft.

  • Turn on your sprinkler system and leave it on for about 15 minutes.

  • Once you turn off the sprinkler system, do not move the measuring containers.

  • Measure and record the inches of water in each container.

  • Note down the containers with the lowest and greatest amounts of water.

Uniformity

If the amount of water varies, especially by a lot, then sprinkler adjustments or an additional sprinkler may be necessary. As mentioned before, sloped areas will require shorter, more frequent irrigation cycles. Be sure full sun areas should not be on the same zone as larger shady areas.


If the difference between the lowest and greatest amount in the containers is more than twenty percent, it indicates an inconsistency in your irrigation pattern. This will need to be adjusted, if we installed your lawn, we will have made all the initial adjustments. However, this doesn’t mean it can’t change over time. Sprinkler clogging changes in water pressure, etc. and can affect this. This means if you notice something later, you may need to do this uniformity check. If you do find there is an issue with uniformity, you will need to adjust wet areas to receive less water and dry areas to receive more water until your lawn is provided with a consistent pattern of irrigation.


Watering Rate

Rain is nature’s sprinkler system; it waters all our plants and lawns. A sprinkler system should mimic the rain, a little more infrequent but deeper is better.


The watering rate is how much water falls in an hour from the sprinklers onto the lawn. This is similar to what the weatherman tells us on the news about the rain. When he says we had 2 inches of rain, it means a container, just like the one you placed on your lawn for the uniformity test, filled up 2 inches in one day. The difference with your sprinkler rate is that it’s how much falls in an hour not a day. So, we want to know how much water will fall onto the lawn in an hour by using the amount collected in the containers from the uniformity test.


Take the average measurement from the containers and multiply by four (15 minutes x 4 = 1 hour). For example, if you filled ½ an inch of the container in the 15 minutes you watered, you would multiply it by 4 so you would get the total for an hour.

An established average lawn needs about 1 inch a week depending upon weather conditions, you can increase or reduce time accordingly. Double check if the 1-inch rate is right by checking the soil; the top 6-8 inches of soil should be moist.

Overwatering and Under-watering Your Lawn

Knowing how to recognize whether a lawn is under-watered or overwatered will help you understand and adjust your irrigation accordingly.


Wilting is a big sign your lawn could be dry. When lawns wilt, it changes its color from typical green to a slightly blue-grey tint. Closer inspection of the lawn will show it is limp and will not bounce back if stepped on. Testing for lack of water can be done by probing the soil with a knife or screwdriver into the wilted areas and into a green area. Difficulty penetrating the wilted area is confirmation of the lack of water.


Dry Wilted Lawn vs Healthy Lawn (blades standing up with a full green color)

A large percentage of homeowners and commercial buildings tend to overwater their lawns, which is actually worse than under-watering because it does more damage. There are specific signs that will tell you your lawn is being overwatered. An under-watered lawn will struggle and die, while an overwatered lawn will not only kill off your lawn but can also ruin the soil underneath. The soil that your lawn grows from needs to have a good balance of good things (microbes) to fight off the "bad things." Overwatering kills off the microbes in the soil and allows anything bad to take over and kill your lawn. To find out if you're overwatering your lawn, check out our article here.

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