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May 24, 2018  |  Login
Watering Your Lawn -- Down to the Roots
By Bill Marken & The National Gardening Association

Proper watering is the most important aspect of caring for your lawn. This section tells you everything you need to know about watering your lawn properly. You’re about to become a turf-grass irrigation specialist.

Healthy roots are the key to a healthy lawn. Grass roots grow only in soil that is moist and well aerated (has plenty of oxygen). Root growth doesn’t move from dry soil to wet soil in search of water. If you water your lawn deeply, then the roots grow deep. (Most grass roots are concentrated in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil, but some may go much deeper.)

As the roots grow deeper, the soil reservoir of water they can draw from increases — and you need to water less frequently. However, if you water too often and keep the soil waterlogged and void of air, roots don’t grow deeply and can drown.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you apply just enough water to wet the top few inches of soil, that’s the only place the roots grow. Shallow roots translate to a lawn that dries out quickly and needs help. (See the image below for examples of various root states.)

Various Root States.

Well-aerated soil and deep watering result in deep, healthy roots (A); too much water or poorly aerated soil results in shallow roots (B). Too little of incorrect watering results in weak roots and damages leaves (C,D).

Follow these tips when watering, and your lawn will shine:

  • Water to the proper depth. Moisture should penetrate to about 6 to 8 inches deep. Watering less deeply results in a shallow-rooted lawn that dries out quickly; watering more is wasteful because most grass roots don’t grow longer than that. Check how deep the water penetrates by probing the ground with a stiff metal rod or long screwdriver. The rod moves easily through wet soil and then stops, or becomes difficult to push, when it reaches dry soil. You can also buy a soil probe at a local nursery or irrigation supply store. The probe removes small cores of soil that you can feel to find out how wet they are.
  • Allow the lawn to partially dry out between waterings. Doing so creates the good moisture-air relationship that is essential for healthy roots. The lawn shows you when it’s getting dry and needs water: When you walk on the grass, you can look back and see your footprints.
  • Avoid runoff. If you apply water faster than the lawn can absorb it, which happens with many types of sprinklers, the water runs off into street gutters and into oblivion. Instead, water in short intervals of about 10 to 15 minutes, turn off the water (or move the sprinkler) to let the water soak in, and then turn the sprinkler back on for another 10 to 15 minutes until you get the water down to about 6 to 8 inches deep.
  • Water in the morning. Early morning is the best time to water because the weather is usually cool and calm, humidity is usually high, and water evaporates less. more


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