Watering is a crucial element to growing the perfect lawn. Learn about sprinklers, slopes and soils, plus how to measure water levels.
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If you're trying to grow the "perfect" lawn, there are several things to consider – grass seed, soil type, soil fertility, soil compaction, gardening climate, and the list goes on and on. Watering is a key, and perhaps the most crucial, element in successfully growing beautiful grass. Here's how to get good, even water coverage on any lawn.
Monitoring Water Levels
Regardless of whether you're watering turfgrass with portable sprinklers or a timed irrigation system, you need to know how long it takes to deliver this amount of water to your lawn. Turf grasses use about 1/10" of water per day. Some types of grasses, such as tall fescue, use more.
You don't need to be high-tech to measure the amount of water that's getting to your lawn. An easy and inexpensive way to monitor water levels is to set empty tuna cans in various spots on the lawn. Unlike a rain gauge that sits up above the turf, the tuna cans are right down where the water is being applied. Once the cans are in place, take note of the amount of time it takes to deliver 1/2" of water, or fill up half the tuna can.
Lawn Sprinkler Types
A turf irrigation system has stationary heads that pop up to water as part of one of several watering zones. These zones are connected to an irrigation clock that has an internal timer which is programmed to turn on at specified days and times. The stationary heads offer a watering radius of one-quarter, one-half, three-quarter or 360 degrees; they can also be adjusted to spray an oddly shaped area, such as at 65-degree angle.
An oscillating sprinkler has an oscillating curved tube with several small holes through which tiny streams of water come out; this portable sprinkler attaches to the end of a garden hose. Its coverage is in a rectangular pattern and is used to water medium- to large-sized areas. It may take a long time to deliver the required 1/2" of water. Measure the amount, using the tuna-can method. An oscillating sprinkler should deliver the same amount of water at the top of the arc as at the outside limit of the spray.
A rotary sprinkler has two to three spray arms that rotate in a circular pattern as it waters. It's also a portable sprinkler that attaches to a garden hose. It delivers water over a small- to medium-sized area.
Keep in mind that if you use a manifold, or hose splitter, you may have to water longer or turn off one sprinkler to deliver the required amount of water to your lawn. Make sure to provide enough water so that the sprinkler head can work properly.
The Best Time to Water a Lawn
The prime time to water the lawn is between 5 a.m. and no later than 10 a.m. Unless you want to become a slave to the process, an automatic system is best. Such a system can be programmed to deliver water at predetermined times and for specific intervals.
Even if you don't have an irrigation system installed in your yard, there are programmable timers that can be hooked up to a spigot that's attached to sprinklers on garden hoses; these timers are readily available at most garden centers or home improvement stores.
Sloped. vs. Flat Terrain
Consider your lawn for a moment. There are probably areas that are sloped and areas that are flat. Each of these areas needs a different type of watering practice for the lawn to do its best. Water runs downhill, and where the lawn slopes, water doesn't have time to soak in and reach the roots before it begins to run off. The solution is to irrigate lightly, then irrigate another area of the lawn, then return to the sloped area and apply more water. This gives water time to soak in.
Clay vs. Sandy Soils
Clay-based soils take up water more slowly than sandy soils. If you're not sure what type of soil you have, have a soil test done. Not only can you find out your soil type, the test results will have recommendations on fertilizer to use on your turf and other similar information.
It's a good idea to periodically dig into your turf with a trowel to see how deeply water is penetrating; this may also be a good time to test soil compaction to see if the soil needs to be aerated. Depending on your soil, you may need to water for longer or shorter intervals.