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How to water your grass

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

I once heard that opinions are like noses, everybody has one. Actually the version I heard was different but I will spare you. Below is my opinion on how to water grass. Or better yet, this is the opinion I have come to after 15 years of caring for other people's yards, and its the way I have seen the most success. This isn't my way versus your way, but just so we are clear, if you don't agree with me you're an ignorant slut.

The key to healthy grass is a deep root system that allows access to nutrients and moisture deeper in the soil. Grass is a perennial plant and you need to think about it in the long term.  Grass doesn't need to be replanted every year, so you treat it differently once its established. When you're starting with grass seed or new sod you need to keep it moist until the roots get established.  Once you establish the roots you have to transition and start training it for long term health.  

One of the biggest struggles for grass in our area is the long hot summer months.  A lot of the grass varieties in our area are not native. In order for grass to thrive in these hot summer months, you have to have your roots deep in the soil.  To achieve this, use spring and fall as a training time to water deeply and infrequently.  Frequent watering every day, or worse multiple times a day, encourages shallow roots that cannot withstand 100 degree temperatures. When you water deeply and infrequently, you make the roots search for water. They will find this water deeper in the soil where the sun hasn't baked it out.  The root will take the easiest route to water possible, if there's water always available in the upper layer of the soil, they will stay there.  The roots have no need to seek out water deeper if it's constantly wet in the shallow layer of soil from constant watering. Problems arise when summer hits and 100 degree temps bake out the top layer of soil very quickly.  If your roots aren't deep in the soil, they will no longer have access to water, unless you water multiple times a day which will eventually lead to fungus and disease in your grass.  Your grass will now be under extreme stress in the hardest part of the year for it to thrive.  

You have to use the cool seasons to water as infrequently as possible, to encourage deeper root growth, while the turf isn't being stressed by hot temps.  Waiting to train when the 100 degree temps arrive will be a lost cause.  When watering, run your sprinklers until you have applied atleast a half inch. Keep in mind some common grass varieties like blue grass need 2 inches of water a week in the hot summer months. Depending on your sprinklers, this could vary from 30 minutes, to hours if you have full spinning rotors.  Soils can only retain so much water at a time so be careful to not water too much at one time which will waste water and flood your neighbor. The more days you can go in between watering the better, but  don't wait so long that your soil turns hard like concrete before you water again.  If you can't push your fingers down into the soil or its difficult to stick a screw driver in, you have waited too long.  If you can't go more than a day before this happens you need to aerate your soil.  

Never water more frequent than every other day.  Mushrooms are mother natures way of telling you, that you're watering too frequently. Frequent watering also constantly invites new weeds to germinate in your grass as well as fungus and disease.  Remember grass is a perennial plant with existing roots that return year after year, and can go longer without watering than new germinating weeds.  Its important to let the turf canopy and blades dry out completely in between waterings. Drying the turf out will keep new weed seeds from taking root, and will reduce your chances of a fungus developing.  

Deeper roots will also allow the grass longer access to nutrients from fertilizer applications. Shallow roots will have a limited amount of time to absorb nutrients before they move to a depth deeper than the roots have penetrated. Training your grass could take multiple seasons to accomplish, so be patient.  It will be worth it in the end.

If all this sounds like a lot of work and attention for your yard, there is an easier way. Set your sprinklers to every other day and run your pop ups atleast 30 min and your rotors atleast 50 min. Use your seasonal adjustment percentage to increase or decrease the run times. Somewhere between flooding your neighbor and making your grass bone dry is your magical run time number. You will need to adjust it throughout the season. Longer run times in summer and shorter run times in spring and fall.


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