In the Garden:
Lower South
July, 2003
Regional Report

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Turf benefits most from a good deep soaking on an infrequent basis. This develops a deep, resilient root system.

Lawn Watering Wisdom

In hot weather our lawns transpire large amounts of water. Just as our bodies perspire to stay cool, a plant transpires water out of its leaves. Transpiration releases heat and keeps the flow of water and nutrients moving throughout its roots, stems, and leaves. When a plant lacks water, its system shuts down and in the case of severe or extended drought, serious stress damage can occur.

In small cities where industrial demand for water is low, landscape watering may account for 50 percent of all water used during summer months. Even in larger cities, landscapes may account for 30 to 40 percent of all the water used.

Making the Most of Water
Proper lawn care can help moderate the high water bills of summer. Most homeowners do not water their lawns properly. The most common mistake is to water too often, which wastes water and causes turf to develop shallow roots, making it a prime target for insects, diseases, and temperature extremes. Proper watering results in a deeply rooted turf that is more drought tolerant and better able to utilize available soil moisture.

Many automatic systems are set to run for a short time every day or two. A 20-minute sprinkling does little more than wet the leaves and thatch, soaking only into the top 1/2-inch or so of the soil. This brief, frequent wetting results in a shallow-rooted turf and encourages disease development. A shallow root system is very dependent on its daily drink and has little resiliency to the stresses of drought and disease.

If the system is left on longer, the additional water will be more efficiently utilized, running over the already wet grass blades and thatch, and down into the soil for deeper soaking. It is better to water once every 5 to 7 days, wetting the soil to a depth of 6 to 10 inches. This takes 1/2 to 1 inch of water. Deep soaking encourages deep rooting. By allowing the soil to dry for a few days between waterings, air moves down into the soil, further promoting deep rooting and a strong grass plant.

Measuring How Much You Apply
To gauge how much water you're applying, set rain gauges or some straight-sided containers, such as coffee cans, around the lawn in various places and note how much time it takes for them to collect an inch of water. Lawn rain gauges also are available from some retailers. This is a good way to also test the uniformity of your irrigation system.

Some folks like their turf to be a deep dark green color, and really "push" it with fertilizer to attain this look. Fertilizing during the summer may green-up your lawn, but it also will make it grow faster, develop shallower roots, and thus require more water.

So water wisely and maintain a healthy lawn without running up the water bills!


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