The Norman Transcript

July 26, 2013

Be water wise in caring for lawns, especially during summer

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — This time of year, there seems to be some confusion on the frequency and amount of water we should apply to our lawns. With water shortage concerns on the rise, water use and consumption is a lively issue in many communities.

I always get questions on how to appropriately water in the landscape. This is no surprise, as lawns are the most chronically over-watered plant in the landscape. So, how should you water the lawn?

First and foremost, if you live in an area that will allow warm-season lawns like Bermudagrass to go dormant, that is ideal. It will be just fine and regreen when normal rainfall occurs.

However, some homeowners and homeowners associations won’t tolerate brown grass in the summer.

The best, most efficient time to water grass is early morning, say between 3 and 8 a.m. During this time, there is more available water pressure and typically less wind to interfere with the direction of the water.

Early morning is better than late evening, as the leaves have time to dry out. This can decrease the chance of fungus and disease occurring. The longer that the plant stays wet, the more likely a disease problem will arise.

How much should you water? Only one inch of water per week, applied all at once. Watering more than this is a waste, as one inch is all that is needed to wet six to eight inches of soil — where the grass roots are located. If runoff occurs into the street or other paved areas, reduce the amount of water applied or create a short break time between watering times.

If you have a sprinkler system, it is easy to measure one inch by using a tuna can and timing how long it takes to fill up. Watering deeply, yet infrequently, like described above, will lead to a more drought tolerant and resilient lawn.

In addition to watering practices, adjusting the mowing height can help conserve water. As the summer gets hotter, gradually increase your mowing height to leave more growth on the plant. This practice helps conserve moisture by shading the soil and acts as a “living” mulch.

Several misconceptions are floating around about watering. One is concerning watering the lawn during the heat of the day. Since the middle of the day is when a lawn is most stressed, common sense tells us replenishing the turf with a cool drink will help prevent heat stress. While this isn’t harmful to the grass, it is the most inefficient time to water.

During this time, the soil is losing water to evaporation and the plant is losing moisture through evapotranspiration. Basically, you are wasting at least 20 percent of the water applied. If the grass blades are beginning to fold or roll, look dull in color or if the turf doesn’t spring back after walking on it, then watering may be necessary.

Make sure the water actually reaches the soil; plants do not absorb water through the leaf surface.

Another reason to avoid watering midday is because that is when the greatest amount of water is being consumed in a community, which in turn will affect the amount of water pressure.

Water pressure is essential if you have a sprinkler system designed to cover a specific area of lawn. If adequate pressure is not available, certain areas of the grass could be missed.

It is great to take pride in your home landscape. It is also necessary to be smart and efficient about the practices we use.

If you have more questions about becoming a water-wise gardener, contact a Master Gardener at 321-4774.

Tracey Payton Miller is Cleveland County’s horticulture extension educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension.