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Proper Irrigation Practices

What makes a healthy lawn? Naturally, we here at Deans recognize the need for a regular fertilization program; but as important as such a program is, it’s definitely not the only factor when it comes to gaining that plush, enviable lawn we all strive for. In fact, one of the most important aspects may also be one of the most overlooked…irrigation.

While it’s true that almost everyone waters their lawn, the key here is proper watering— as without it, your lawn is far less likely to reach its full potential. Proper watering simply means that your irrigation system is set to deliver the right amount of water at the right time. That may sound easy, but when you consider variables like soil type, grass species, weather patterns, and irrigation equipment, it’s easy to see how maintaining a balanced watering schedule year-round can be tricky. Let’s review a few watering basics and then tackle some of the most frequently asked questions.

How Much to Water

While everyone knows watering too little can cause your grass to lose color, overwatering can be just as bad, with problems like nutrient leaching, pest infestation, fungi growth, and of course, water waste. So how do you maintain a balance? The Florida Lawn Handbook (FLH) 3rd Edition states: “For most Florida soils, no more than ¾ inch of water is necessary to rewet the upper 8-12 inches of the soil profile, which is where the majority of the roots are. The length of the irrigation period needed to apply this ¾ inch of water can stay constant year-round; only the frequency between irrigations should change (pg. 42).” Typical sprinkler heads apply this optimal 3/4” inch precipitation in either 45-60 minutes or 80-90 minutes depending on whether you have PGP or MP style nozzles (we’ll discuss these in the ‘Watering FAQs’ article to follow). Because nozzle size and water pressure affect time requirements, it’s best to calibrate your sprinkler system to ensure your output is appropriate (see Customer Questions for details on how this can be done).

When to Water

Watering in the afternoon is wasteful due to rapid evaporation, but nighttime watering can result in too much water, which can lead to fungus and disease. To avoid both extremes, irrigate in the early morning hours, with your last zone shutting off just after sunrise. This ensures that the root zone gets plenty of water, while any extra is safely evaporated.

How Often to Water

Another common irrigation mistake is watering too often. Light, frequent waterings “train” your turf’s root system to stay near the top of the soil— not good, since shallow roots are far more susceptible to heat, drought, and pests. Instead, water less frequently, but with enough water to penetrate the first 8-12” of soil. The deeper your roots go, the more resilient your turf will be. FLH states that “Florida soils are typically sandy and hold 1 inch of water in the top 12 inches of soil. If the roots are in the top 12 inches of soil and the soil is dry, then 1/2-3/4 inch of water is required to wet the area thoroughly.” (pg. 92)

Adjusting for Weather

To avoid disease and water waste, run-times should be skipped after a sufficient rain. If you don’t have a rain sensor, you’ll have to do this manually (just be sure to check your rain gauge first to be sure the rain was sufficient). Regarding lack of rain, the FHL reminds us that “although droughts are usually thought of as lasting for long periods, such as months or years, sandy Florida soils can experience drought conditions after only a few days without rain.” (pg. 153) The authors also mention that occasionally, “watering Zoysia grass every other day may be necessary.” (pg. 52) Remember, a finely-tuned watering program is essential for a beautiful lawn. Attention to application rates and timer settings combined with proper fertilization will produce a healthier lawn; and with more than 30 years of experience in turf grass maintenance & fertilization, pest management, irrigation maintenance, and landscape
installation…Deans is prepared to provide you with nothing less! For any irrigation-related concerns, call today and we’ll be happy to dispatch one of our highly trained turf or irrigation specialists to assist you.