How to Water your Lawn…and almost everything else!
Whether or not you believe in God, someone made grass, plants, trees and flowers incredibly independent and self-sufficient. My Personal Gardener has been providing horticulture services to the Atlanta / Buckhead area for over 15 years. We are called in to solve more problems caused by “over-care” than not enough care. We have found that plants die more often from over-fertilization, over-watering and over-reaction to insects and fungus than from drought.
When is Enough Enough?
In this article we will focus on watering, or if you’re a fancy-pants, irrigation. Here’s a safe bet: No matter how much water you think your plant needs, chances are it needs half that (and yes, grass is technically a plant). And chances are even better that it needs water at half the frequency you think it needs. Simply put, plants are incredibly resilient and are much better off with not enough than too much.
A lot of factors influence watering schedules, including soil conditions, grass type, temperatures, clouds vs. sun and sprinkler type. As a general rule, plants need about 1” of water per week during the growing season. To get a good idea of how much water your sprinkler system puts out, put an empty soup can in the path of the sprinkler and see how long it takes to fill it 1” high. This is a pain in the neck, but it’s very important information to have.
Again, one-inch is a good rule of thumb. If you’re a Yardie, we suggest simply watching for signs of drought stress, and then watering. As long as you don’t wait until the grass is brown as an Oak leaf in December, it will recover as soon as it gets some water.
Cardinal Sins #8 and #9
The two most damaging habits are watering too frequently and not watering long enough to saturate the soil to a beneficial depth.
Watering too frequently (e.g 4 days a week) leaves the plant perpetually damp, which causes Fungus Nirvana – yes, I made up the term, but it is a real thing. This can be a huge problem with Fescue lawns, Roses, Phlox, Hydrangeas, and on and on. Plants need time to dry out a bit. It encourages them to stretch their roots out, which makes them healthier and more tolerant to drought.
Your goal should be to water about once a week, assuming no rainfall. This may not be possible in your region, but plants can be trained just like people and pets. You can “train” your lawn and garden to survive on less frequency. This, like Fungus Nirvana, is a real thing – you can absolutely train your entire landscape to live on less.
An Important Note on Frequency: this applies to almost everything, and off the top of my head the only two things it does not apply to are grass seeds (in the Atlanta / Buckhead area that means Fescue and Rye grass) and anything newly planted. Newly planted trees and shrubs (and grass and grass seed) will need more frequent water until they are established.
If you water for a short time, and only saturate the top one inch of soil, you are encouraging shallow roots that will grow close to the surface. You are also wasting water, because the water at the surface evaporates faster. Plants with shallow root systems are less resilient to drought and less tolerant to extreme cold. In general, plants with shallow roots are not as healthy as deeply rooted plants.
So, back to our rule of thumb and our old soup can. Your target is about one inch of water per week, using a soup can for a rough measurement. An inch of rain / irrigation water will penetrate Georgia’s red clay to a depth of about 4-6”, which is perfect. If your grass has roots that reach 6” deep, that’s an accomplishment and life is good.
Fun Fact: Believe it not, one of the most important times to water is just before a hard freeze. A thirsty plant will suffer far more damage during a hard freeze than a plant that has had plenty of water.
The Bottom Line
Water as infrequently as possible, with the goal of giving your lawn one inch of water per week.
Pay attention – your grass will tell you how much water it needs.
If you have questions, call us. We can help