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Shakespeare may have had nobler intentions for his famous line in Hamlet, but without proper watering techniques, you will find your lawn and landscape wondering if it is to be, or not be, especially during the summer heat.

Proper watering isn’t really a mystery, but it does require more effort than just throwing out the hose or setting and forgetting your irrigation system.

“How long should I let my sprinklers run?”

In a world where all things are equal, we would be able to give a blanket answer.  But since lawns are different, soil types vary, and different kinds of plants have different water needs, there really isn’t a one-size fits all answer.  There are however a few guidelines that can help.

  • Don’t rely on a set schedule. It doesn’t rain every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 4:30 in the morning (though it would be awesome if it did).  Instead, rain is sporadic, which is how your sprinkler should be.  The best method is to pay attention to your plants and turf, looking for signs of drought stress and only watering when those appear.  In turf, the grass blades will curl and have a blue-gray appearance.  The leaves on trees and shrubs will curl and start to lose some color.  When these signs begin to appear, it is time to water.
  • Water deeply and infrequently. When things turn hot, we tend to water more often, but usually, the amount of water applied is just enough to wet the top layer of soil.  The problem with light, frequent irrigation is that it trains the roots of the plant to stay closer to the surface of the ground.  The top layer of soil is the first layer to dry out as the moisture moves through the soil profile causing the plant to dry out faster even though you may be watering more often.  Watering deeply and on an irregular schedule will encourage root growth to go deeper and in turn help your plants survive in hot, dry conditions better.
  • Don’t assume all areas are getting the same amount of water. It is essential to evaluate your sprinkler system periodically.  Small rain gauges spaced out over the lawn are a great tool to see how much water is being delivered with each irrigation cycle.  As you move the gauges around you may find that you are delivering too much or not enough water and can adjust accordingly.
  • Group plants together that have similar moisture needs. Summer annuals will usually require more water than an established lawn or more mature shrubs.  Having annuals on a sprinkler zone of their own will allow you to water at a different rate without unnecessary watering occurring in areas that need less.  Also don’t be afraid of using the garden hose or a watering can for areas that might need a little extra attention between the rain or irrigation cycles.
  • Use mulch to maintain soil moisture. Bare dirt will dry out much faster than soil that is covered.  Mulch helps to provide that cover in beds.  The same benefit can be accomplished in turf by mowing taller in the summer.  The canopy of the taller grass will help to shade the soil and reduce the amount of moisture evaporating back into the atmosphere.
  • Schedule watering for the early morning. This is undoubtedly easier if you do have an irrigation system.  Even if you don’t, you can connect your manual sprinklers to a small timer that can be found at most home improvement stores. Watering early in the morning is beneficial because usually the temperatures are lower and there is less wind.  This keeps the water from blowing off target or evaporating before being absorbed, ensuring you get the best use of the moisture you provided.  If you do have to water later in the day, don’t do it during the hottest part of the afternoon, but you will want to water early enough in the evening to allow the grass to dry out before nightfall.  Wet grass overnight is the perfect breeding ground for fungus and will ultimately end up causing more damage than not watering at all.

Proper watering along with consistent mowing will help your lawn survive and even thrive in the heat of summer.  By following the techniques above, not only will your lawn perform well, but chances are you’ll actually reduce your water bill.  I don’t know about you, but I love it when I can save on my water bill, and my wife does too!

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