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How Much Should I Water?

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Obviously, this depends on the season, the grass type, and the soil type. A general rule of thumb is that your lawn should receive at least 1 inch of water per week. However, how often you water also depends on how you want you lawn to look. Many people simply do not water their lawn enough.
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On the other hand, you can also water your lawn to much. Basically, your lawn needs moisture (water), nutrients, and air to grow. By watering to much, you can continuously saturate your soil to the point were the grass roots lack air and cannot grow deep enough roots. On the flip side, by not watering enough, you can dry-out the grass, soil, and root system, and your lawn may either go dormant or ultimately die during hot summer months! That's when Tim the "Yard God" next door starts giving you a hard time - if you know what I mean. Here are a few tips to keep that from happening to you:
  1. The best way to gauge if your lawn is not receiving enough water is to probe the soil to see how moist or dry it is. Soil probes usually either take a sample out of the ground or use electronic sensors to test the moisture. If you're not interested in buying one of these instruments, you can simply take a narrow screw driver or stiff wire and push it into ground in several places. If you are able to penetrate to the suggested root depth (usually 6-8 inches), then your soil is properly saturated. If not, then your watering is not reaching the desired depth and you may need to water for longer periods of time (see: How Does the Soil Effect My Watering).
  2. You may want to perform a sprinkler test if you find that you're not getting enough water in the soil but do not know how much your sprinkler produces in a given time. A sprinkler test can be carried out by simply placing equal sized old coffee cans or containers around the area that you run your sprinkler and let it run for 20 minutes. Once completed, take a measurement of the water that has accumulated in each container. This will show you two things: One, if you are getting an equal distribution of water in the area. If not, make the necessary adjustments to your sprinkler or sprinkler heads and test again. Two, it will tell you how much water is sprayed in twenty minutes. For example, if you have accumulated 1 inch of water in your container, then you are spraying 3 inches (20 minutes X 3 = 60 minutes) of water per hour. As discussed in the soil section, the desired water amount can depend on the soil and its ability to absorb. As a rule of thumb, to reach the desired root depth (usually 6-8 inches) it generally can take sandy soils 1 hour per inch of water, clay soils 4-5 hours per inch of water, and Loam Soils up to 2 hours per one inch of water. However, this is only a general guide and it will vary for each lawn. In many cases, to reach the desired depths, clay soils will take 1 1/2 inches of water, loam soils can take 1 inch of water, and sand soils can take 1/2 an inch of water. So, depending on your soil type, make your adjustments accordingly.
  3. The ideal situation is to have your lawn develop a deep, healthy root system (usually 6-8 inches deep) by watering just enough (especially during the summer months) to keep your lawn nice and green. If you're unclear as to how much water is needed for your grass, your soil, or what the best time to water is, then click on each to learn more. As a general rule of thumb, you want to water more in times of high heat, lots of sunlight, high winds, dry air, and drought. Alternately, you may want to water less in times of cooler temperatures, lots of clouds or shade, low winds, humidity, and high rainfall

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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