A Simple Guide to Using Lawn Sprinkler Systems

Does the grass look greener on the other side? Itís probably because your neighbor knows how much water their lawn needs to keep it green and lush in the summer heat, without running up a huge water bill. Want to learn how to water your lawn properly too? Read on!

While automatic sprinkler systems are incredibly convenient, many people use them improperly, damaging their lawn in the process. Watering your lawn perfectly is easy if you can figure out three things:

  • What time of the day to water
  • If your lawn needs to be watered
  • How long to water

When do I water?

The best time to water your lawn is in the early morning hours, just before dawn. Watering in the morning means that when the sun rises and warms the grass, any excess water will evaporate. If you water in the late evening/night, the wetness of the grass will invite fungus, spore growth, and other problems. †

Does my lawn need watering?

Watering your lawn too often and too much can be just as detrimental as watering too little. Is your grass yellow, even though you water it daily? Youíre probably watering too much.

Watering too often develops weak, shallow roots that will require you to keep watering constantly. What you want to develop is a deep root base, so that the lawn will need watering only when the rainfall isnít quite enough to satisfy the grass.

Learn the signs of a thirsty lawn. Your grass needs watering if:

  • The blades turn a grayish-blue instead of a dark green.
  • Walking across the lawn leaves footprints. Grass that doesnít spring up after walking across it is thirsty. †
  • The blades are rolling or starting to fold. †
  • A screwdriver wonít go into the soil with gentle pressure. †

Water your lawn deeply, then keep an eye on it until you see signs that your lawn is getting thirsty. This will tell you how many days to go between watering sessions.

How long do I leave the water on?

How much water your lawn needs depends on the type of soil you have, how dry your grass is, how much thatch the water has to soak through, and your sprinkler systemís efficiency. †

For good root development, you need to water enough to penetrate 4-6 inches deep in the soil.

  • Sandy or less compacted soils need less water because water sinks in quickly. One half inch of water is enough to seep down 4-6 inches.
  • Compacted and clay soils need more water. It takes an inch of water to penetrate to the proper depth in heavier soils.

Remove thatch and aerate your lawn to get the best watering results. Then, find out how much water your sprinklers are putting down to get an idea of the amount of time youíll need to water for building deep root systems.

How do I check my sprinkler system output?

Too little water is bad, but too much water is hard on your wallet and your grass. Hereís a good way to check your sprinkler system so you can decide how long you need to water: †

  • Place some empty cans (coffee cans work well) on your lawn in random places.
  • Water the lawn for 15 minutes, then evaluate how much water is in the cans. If the depth of water in one can is significantly lower than the others, you know the sprinkler in that area isnít doing its job and needs to be replaced.
  • Combine the water from all cans into one, measure the water depth, then divide by the number of cans you used. This gives you a water production average.
  • If your average is .33 inches produced in 15 minutes of watering, and you have clay soil, then you know youíll need to water for 45 minutes in order to produce the inch of water needed to deeply soak your lawn. For sandy soils, you would need to water for about 25 minutes to produce the half-inch of water needed to properly water your lawn.

Tips for Setting up Sprinklers

Here are a few other things to look for to help save you money and time when watering:

  • If you have an automatic sprinkler system, manually turn it on and off when the lawn needs it, or set it to water according to how many days it takes for the lawn to look thirsty, rather than watering daily.
  • If you havenít considered an automatic system, think about it. You can control so many options of watering that it makes it easy to have a green lawn.
  • Manual sprinklers, those attached to a hose, work well if you are careful to monitor how much water is absorbed. You may need to set your sprinklers for less time and allow the water to soak in on slopes or areas that tend to pool up quickly.
  • Use the can method to see what areas of the lawn are receiving more or less water than other areas due to over-lapping patterns.
  • Check for signs of wasted water, such as run-off, or pooling water, which could drown the grass.
  • Check hoses for leaks and drips as well. This will save you money and be more beneficial to your lawn.

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