Turf Grass Watering – the Right Way
Tips from our Turf Tech David!
Everybody loves a beautiful green lawn, but keeping it green during a mid summer heat wave here in Southwestern Illinois can be challenging. So we asked our turf techs: How much should we be watering the lawn to keep our turf grasses looking great even during the worst days of summer?
Like many Midwest plants, turf grass goes dormant during the extreme cold of winter, living off food reserves stored up in their roots. This dormant state (or slower growth rate) is a survival response to the excessive cold – but did you know that cool season turf has the same response to intense heat? That’s why we see so many brown lawns in mid summer here in the Midwest.
While brown turf isn’t as attractive as green, these dormant periods are a natural response in which the turf converts all available energy to it’s roots, preserving itself and preparing for when conditions are better.
Breaking the natural dormancy of turf grass by watering too much or too little in the pursuit of green lawn, can be harmful and puts your turf at risk if not done well. Some of the biggest concerns here are of roots rotting from excessive moisture and of creating ideal conditions for pests and diseases to take over.
The proper amount of water that a SW Illinois lawn needs to be at its best is about 1 inch per week, all at one time. We use the word ‘about’ because lawns are like snowflakes – no two are the same, or have identical growing conditions. The exact needs of your turf grass may vary depending on the soil type, height of the turf, pests or disease, local weather, and micro-climates. Each lawn has its own small special needs which can be discovered through thoughtful observation, but in the meantime 1 inch is a good starting point that’s a well accepted standard in our region. Just be sure to water thoroughly!
Top Tip: The best way to measure the amount of water being applied in an area is by doing a Tuna Tin test. It’s simple and only requires a sprinkler and 4 empty tuna cans that are 1” deep. To perform this test spread the tins (lids completely removed) around in the area you’re watering. Turn the water on and record the time it takes for the tins to collect an inch. This will show you how long the sprinkler needs to stay in an area for the proper application rate.
Many homeowners think that if high temperatures are normal and their turf grass looks like it is browning or dying that their lawn needs to be watered more often. However, allowing nature to take it’s course by letting the lawn grow slowly and/or go somewhat dormant can be a good thing. Breaking dormancy tends to weaken the turfs durability against the elements and it also drains important food reserves. As the homeowner the choice is yours:
Maintain Your Regular Watering Practice: It’s important to remember that dormancy is a natural turf response to stressful conditions, like excessive heat, and a few weeks of brown doesn’t necessarily mean dead. Have a little faith, maintain your regular watering practice, and stay consistent. Consistency is key.
Go for the Green: If you’re determined to avoid brown turf grass this summer, then you’ll need to increase the amount of watering you do – but not too much. Otherwise, you may over water and create ideal conditions for pests, diseases, and root rot to take hold in your lawn.
Irrigation System & When to Water
The best time of day to water turf grass is early morning when the dew is still on the turf grass or right after it dries. Irrigation systems are convenient for this because they can be set up on a schedule using a timer. However, you do need to be careful with these systems because many people forget that they need to be reset regularly throughout the year to reflect seasonal changes throughout the year. They may also need to be reset or turned off depending on the amount of rain you are having in your area.
The Takeaway: Green lawns are beautiful, but brown lawns happen and aren’t necessarily a bad thing – implement a thoughtful watering regimen to support a healthy lawn, regardless of what color it happens to be at the moment!
Check out our blog on Aeration and Overseeding to learn more about caring for your lawn!