Irrigation for a Healthy Lawn
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Irrigating the lawn is something that is often either done too frequently or not at all. Studies have shown that a healthy lawn needs about 1 inch of water every week to maintain healthy, vigorous growth. We also know that if we water every day the plant adapts to having water every day at the surface of the soil so it has no need to send roots down deep in search of water. We have seen that when the irrigation system breaks the grass under daily irrigation wilts quickly.
For our loose, sandy soils that don’t hold a lot of water the best way to make sure they get plenty of water is to irrigate twice a week with about a half an inch of water being applied with each irrigation episode. This way the water stays in the rooting zone and the lawn gets the water it needs each week.
The question often asked is how do you know when you have applied half an inch of water? How much time does that take? To answer both of these questions, you need to find a rigid sided can like tuna or a soup can, actually several of them would be ideal, and place them around the yard to collect water while the irrigation system is running. Every so often go around to the cans and see how much water has accumulated in each can. When you measure half an inch in each can or the majority of them, you know you have delivered the right amount of water. You can then note how long it took and now you know how long to set your irrigation to run. With different types of irrigation heads that may mean different run times, so it’s good to do this for each type of irrigation head you have.
A rain gauge is a great addition to any automated irrigation system. The rain gauge will stop the system from running if there is enough water in it. This saves money and water by not running the system when the ground is already wet.
For those without an irrigation system or those who don’t want to run the irrigation quite as often, water needs to be applied when the grass blades begin to curl and there is a little bit of a dry crunch when you walk across the lawn. These are signs that the grass is going dormant. It can go dormant in the summer without water for three to four weeks without any permanent damage. If we go much more than about 6 weeks without rain, it’s a good idea to drag the hose and at least give the lawn enough water to keep it growing through the summer.