Many consumers harbor the misconception that lawns are water guzzlers needing daily irrigation to be healthy. As a result, homeowners tend to overwater. This practice wastes water, obviously, but it can also damage grass over the long term.
As landscapers and lawn care specialists know, turfgrass is a highly resilient plant, and most cool-season grasses need only about an inch of water a week, including rainfall, during the summer (and drought-tolerant species, such as tall fescue, need less). But what does this mean to consumers? How do they know when to water, and how much? Even if you’ve installed an irrigation system and programmed the controller for them, homeowners still need to know how and when to adjust the irrigation schedules or settings based on changing conditions.
Following are a few tips you can share with your clients—whether or not they have irrigation systems—to help them optimize their summer lawn watering and keep their grass healthy.
First and most importantly, emphasize that watering deeply once or twice a week is better than watering lightly every day. When water penetrates further into the root zone, the grass plants grow deeper and stronger roots, helping the lawn become more drought tolerant. The soil also needs air space, and irrigating more infrequently allows the soil to dry out between waterings. Continuous saturation can encourage the growth of disease pathogens.
If clients are unsure about whether their lawn needs to be watered or not, here’s an easy trick: Try sticking a screwdriver into the soil. If the screwdriver enters the ground easily, the lawn doesn’t need to be watered. If the ground is so hard that the screwdriver goes in only with difficulty, it’s time to turn the sprinklers on.
Second, suggest ways to make sure most of the water goes into the ground rather than being lost to evaporation. Water during the cooler hours of the early morning and evening, and use an appropriate sprinkler setting. A sprinkler that delivers large drops close to the ground, rather than releasing a fine mist into the air, will give the lawn a better drink—and save water and money. Another way to reduce water loss to evaporation, whether clients are mowing their own lawns or you’re doing it for them, is to keep the grass a bit taller (2 to 2½ inches) during the summer. Longer grass blades will create more shade over the roots and soil surface, giving the water more opportunity to soak into the ground.
Finally, recommend establishing a regular watering routine and sticking with it unless rainfall eliminates the need for irrigation. Grass prefers consistency, and starting and stopping a watering pattern can stunt a lawn’s growth, especially right after fertilizing.
These suggestions may seem obvious, but many consumers need simple advice from professionals. Educating your clients about proper summer lawn irrigation will also help you in your efforts to keep their lawns looking their best—and thus boost client satisfaction.
Based in Salem, Oregon, Bryan Ostlund serves as administrator of the Oregon Ryegrass, Tall Fescue and Fine Fescue Commissions.