When is the Best Time to Water Your Lawn?

When is the Best Time to Water Your Lawn?

There’s nothing like the rush of sinking into a blanket of fresh, green grass. The scent, texture and cooling sensation is Mother Nature’s own treat for the senses. The reward can be yours if you nurture your lawn with proper feeding and care.

A critical component for maintaining a beautiful bed of grass is adequate watering. Watering your lawn can be simple, and there are many ways to do it; but, did you know when you do it is just as important as how?

“I like to do the footstep test. If I walk across my lawn, then turn around and see the footsteps of my path, it means the blades of grass are not recovering. This is a strong indicator that the lawn needs more water. “

When is the best time to water your grass?

If your grass looks dull instead of bright and fresh, that’s an indication something is amiss. It could be the soil, the nutrients your lawn is receiving, the climate in which you live in, and it most definitely could be a symptom of a lack of water.

I like to do the “footstep test.” If I walk across my lawn, then turn around and see the footsteps of my path, it means the blades of grass are not recovering. This is a strong indicator that the lawn needs more water.

With today’s emphasis on water conservation, I strongly suggest you focus more on when you water than you focus on adding more. Timing is everything. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, this is a no-brainer. All you need to do is schedule your sprinkler for optimal absorption.

If you are watering by hand or with a manual sprinkler, you might have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat drought and disease. It is best to water your lawn early in the morning.

Mornings tend to be cooler than afternoons. Grass blades dry slowly, and roots have a chance to suck up some of that delicious water. There’s less wind in the morning. Wind will dry grass too fast, and you could be wasting those precious drops. Try to have your watering done before 10 a.m. If you do have to water in the evening (I get it, the needs of your grass don’t determine your work schedule) try to do it between 4 and 6 p.m.

I am often asked, “Can I water my lawn at night?” You may be tempted; however, doing so can greatly increase the chances of disease because it takes too long for the water to absorb. That can create a nesting and breeding ground for lawn-murdering pests and infection. Lawns watered at night welcome fungus.

If your work schedule does not allow you for watering from 6 to 8 a.m. or early in the evening, consider watering on your days off or better yet, installing a timed sprinkler system so you can sleep in! So, when you ask me, “Can I water my lawn at night?” I’ll reply, “Only if you like spiders, fungus and snakes.”

When is the best time to water the lawn in hot weather?

If your lawn turns brown in the dead of summer, don’t sweat it. It could be protecting itself from the heat by going dormant. You will likely see a marked improvement when the weather cools. Dormant lawns still need water. Do your best to water between 6 and 8 a.m. Summer thunderstorms are common but don’t count on them to keep your vegetation lush.

Lawns need water regularly during hot weather seasons. Check with your local agriculture specialist (for example, a university extension service) if you are in doubt, but a good rule is three times a week during those early morning hours when it’s hot.

One of the most common questions I get is how long to water a lawn. Let’s be clear here; more is not always better. Over-watering under-works your lawn. When roots don’t have to search for water, they tend to linger on the surface rather than drilling their skinny little legs into the earth. This prevents them from creating a strong root system.

Surface roots are easily damaged, and that is detrimental to the health of your would-be green grass. Take my word for it.  A little tough-love is just what any good lawn doctor orders for a healthy green. Deep roots help make your grass resilient when the weather changes (and, it always does change). Give your lawn a good foundation of deep roots.

The average lawn needs to be watered three times a week providing a total of about one inch of water per week. Most people don’t know off-hand how much their sprinkler distributes over any given period.

You can quickly test your manual sprinkler or automatic sprinkler with simple tin cans. You use empty tuna cans, coffee cans (be sure to use one with straight sides an not the newfangled plastic containers with curved edges). Soup cans work too. Rain gauges are also a worthwhile investment if you want to be even more precise.

To best determine the output of your sprinkler, place one container near the sprinkler, one at the very end of the spray, and one somewhere in the middle. Turn the sprinkler on and let it rain! Give it 15 minutes. When the time is up, use a ruler to measure how much water is in each container. We can safely assume the amounts will be different in each area. Add the total water in each container and divide it by three. This will give you the average output.

If you’re shooting for one-third of an inch three times a week, adjust accordingly. So, if your sprinkler puts out an average of 1/4 inch in 15 minutes (you need it to put out 1/3 of an inch because we’re watering three times a week), try watering a little longer. If it puts out 1/2 of an inch in 15 minutes, shorten the time. You get the idea. If you have a larger lawn, do this at each station, so one area of the grass doesn’t get more water than another. Consider overlap and take it into account when deciding just how long your sprinkler should run.

If you plan to water your grass twice a week, establish the time it takes to lay down 1 inch of water, timing is everything. There is no quick answer to the question of how long to water your lawn.

When you conduct this test, try to do it during the time you plan to water regularly. If you do it when the temperature is hot, evaporation will take place, and you might not get an accurate measurement. Remember, 6-8 a.m. is the best time to water lawn in hot weather.

Help your Lawn Conserve Water

Even if you have the optimal amount of water feeding your luscious lawn two or three times a week, there are plenty of things you can do to help your lawn make the best use of that precious element. One of them is aeration.

Aeration is the practice of pulling small cores of lawn out to allow the water to sink deep under the surface. Over time, roots can bind up, soil gets hard, rocks can impede absorption, and it’s a good practice to treat your lawn to absorb that water and the nutrients it washes down to the roots. Lawn thatch is excellent for maintaining moisture, but without aeration, it can contribute to slow starvation.

Basically what we are doing here is perforating the lawn to cut through all of that. We want the roots to work hard (that’s why we don’t over water); but, roots have their limitations too. There are a few indicators that your lawn is ready for a good old, cleansing aeration.

Dry and spongy: If your lawn seems dry all the time (sometimes it might feel spongy when you walk on it), that can be an indication that lawn thatch has become difficult for water droplets to permeate and reach the roots at a necessary depth. More water is not the answer. Aeration is a much better solution.

Sub-par topsoil: If your lawn is new, or if your home recently constructed, topsoil can get tramped down or “compacted” by those big, heavy boots construction workers wear to trample back and forth across the soil. That compaction slows water drainage, and it really can help to open it up with aeration.

I know, I know, it seems if you build a new home the landscaping should be pristine too; but, that isn’t always the case. If you’re going to be the lawn whisperer, you will just have to trust me on this. Pay close attention to the topsoil spread for the lawn, but don’t abandon it there! Watch for signs of excessive thirst.

Sod Soil Fraternizing with Course Soil: Sod is a wonderful invention. Instant lawn! An afternoon of cold drinks and good friends willing to roll out that sod is the perfect way to create instant landscaping.

It is important to note, if you pick up a piece of sod and turn it over, you will see fine, rich soil used to start green seedlings. That’s good, but when it is laid over course soil, it can fill in all those meaty gaps created by the course clumps and seal the soil to inhibit drainage. That’s when you need aeration.

Pets, kids, adults – oh my! Heavy traffic can challenge even the greenest of lawns. Think of all those feet and paws trampling across your backyard day in and day out. Again, soil compaction occurs, and soil drainage can become minimized. Aerate.

Lawn Length Does Matter

The length of your grass does matter, and I’ll tell you why. When your lawn is too long, you are in for a ton of work. It’s harder to manipulate the lawn mower. Clean-up is even harder. Those grass-clippings left behind can build up and could require you to aerate more often.

More importantly, long grass is the stuff mosquitoes’ dreams are made of – long cover, warm moisture. It’s a perfect combination to create a breeding ground for all kinds of insects. Also, if you’re trying to attract snakes and mice, let it grow! So, cut your lawn super short, right? Wrong.

Some subscribe to the idea that cutting your lawn extra short will give them more time in the hammock and less time pushing the mow-monster around. It’s not worth it. Weeds will wiggle their way up through that gaunt lawn toward the light. Your lawn will be more susceptible to drought and don’t even get me started on sun damage. Exposing your lawn’s roots to the hot sun of summer is nothing short of grass abuse.

Different grasses have different requirements. Again, I recommend you reach out to your local extension service for specific advice about your climate and type of grass. However, as a rule, you should never cut more than 1/3 of the blades of grass at one time. So, if local guidelines call for 1-inch blades, cut it when it grows to 1 1/3-inches. Set your lawn mower to the proper height and enjoy. The hammock will still be there when you are finished!

To summarize, water your grass two to three times per week. In general, your lawn will need 1 inch of water per week. Take time to measure sprinkler output and adjust your watering time accordingly.

When is the best time to water your grass? Strive for 6-8 a.m. Aerate if your lawn appears too thirsty and don’t cut it short to save yourself a few mows a year! When you sink slowly into that fresh, green, healthy lawn, you’ll thank me!

Sara Butler

Sara Butler has written scores of articles for Lawn Love -- everything from how to revive your dead lawn to how to start to lawn care tools every homeowner should have.