When to Stop Watering Your Lawn

close-up of wet grass

Regular irrigation is undeniably vital for maintaining a healthy lawn, but knowing when to stop watering your lawn is just as important. Stop watering your lawn when it’s raining, you have pest or fungal issues, there are watering restrictions, or temps drop.

Going overboard with your watering or watering at inappropriate times can be detrimental to your grass, reducing its visual appeal and interfering with its natural growth cycle.

Key times to stop watering your lawn

sprinkler on and sitting in a yard
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Knowing when to decrease or altogether stop irrigating your lawn will benefit your grass in the long run. Here are a few key instances when it’s best to stop watering your lawn:

If it’s rainy season (or you’re just getting a lot of rain)

If you live in a rainy area, you’ll want to shut off your irrigation system once it starts raining regularly. Combining irrigation with rainfall can drown your lawn, attract weeds, diseases, and pests, and make your soil soft and spongy. 

That said, you should monitor the amount of rainfall you’re getting. You can do this by purchasing a rain gauge or building your own if you enjoy more hands-on projects. Alternatively, check a reliable weather app. 

If you are getting brief storms, you may still need to use your sprinklers (check your gauge or weather app). Rain tends to be sporadic, which means it alone won’t give your grass the hydration it needs to thrive. In contrast, your gauge may indicate that your grass is getting its recommended dose of moisture just from rainfall.

During longer periods of rain, take a break and resume watering once the ground has dried. Use your gauge to measure the amount of water your grass is getting. It may be that no additional irrigation is necessary throughout the week.

If you’re struggling with a fungal or pest problem

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At some point, you may encounter diseases or pests in your lawn. If that happens, watering your grass may exacerbate the problem rather than solve it. Why?

Fungi thrive and spread in moist environments. If your lawn is overrun by disease, a better idea is to reduce watering frequency or eliminate it altogether until you solve the problem. Another step you can take is to ensure proper drainage to eliminate excessive moisture. This can be done by:

  • Improving your soil’s structure by incorporating organic matter such as compost or mulch.
  • Using core or spike aeration to reduce soil compaction and improve nutrient, air, and water flow.
  • Install French drains to direct excess water away from your lawn.
  • Avoid overwatering and water your lawn deeply but infrequently. This encourages healthy root growth and reduces soil surface moisture, which can cause fungal growth.
  • Keep your yard free of debris, dense vegetation, and overhanging branches to boost air circulation.

Similarly, moist soil can attract a wide range of pests you just don’t want in your lawn. These include:

  • Grubs
  • Mosquitoes
  • Fleas
  • Termites
  • Carpenter ants
  • Cutworms
  • Sod webworms
  • Chinch bugs
  • Mole crickets

To tackle the problem, irrigate less frequently or stop altogether until you can employ appropriate pest control measures. Ensure you accurately identify the problem pest and assess the extent of the infestation. You may even have to contact a professional pest control company for guidance or services.

If you have local watering restrictions

In the scorching summer months, local watering regulations can throw a wrench in your well-established lawn care routine. To conserve water, prevent water shortages, and keep things as eco-friendly as possible, municipal authorities may activate the following watering measures:

  • Frequency restrictions
  • Time of day restrictions
  • Duration restrictions
  • Complete bans for a set period of time in extreme cases
  • Required compliance with smart irrigation systems that use weather and soil conditions to determine the perfect amount of water your lawn needs. They can be programmed to turn on and off as needed to optimize water usage.

During this time, there are steps you can take to do your part and support the environment:

  • Follow the regulations set by your local authorities.
  • When watering is allowed, make the most of it and water efficiently. A good idea is to invest in a drip irrigation system that directs water directly to the grass root zone to limit water waste.
  • Introduce native plants or drought-tolerant grass in your landscape as a way to conserve water and do your part in protecting the environment. This type of vegetation is adapted to the local climate and requires less water to survive and thrive.
  • Collect rainwater in a barrel or any other container that can provide access to water during restrictive periods.
  • If you have limited access to water, focus on priority areas such as new grass, trees, or shrubs. These require more moisture to establish healthy roots and grow strong.

When the seasons change, and temperatures drop

frozen grass lawn
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As colder weather sets in and temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you can think about putting away your garden hose or winterizing your sprinkler system — just take it slowly. 

As the days get shorter and there’s less sunlight, your grass will hold onto more moisture due to less evaporation. Continue to water a few times a week until temperatures drop and stay low consistently. Once the ground freezes, stop watering your lawn as the barrier formed by the ice will prevent moisture from reaching the grassroots anymore. 

If you live in an area with mild or temperate weather, you may have to continue watering your lawn throughout the year without substantial breaks. Your grass will continue to grow and skip dormancy, which means that watering will remain just as important despite the season.

When is watering necessary?

Many core lawn care tasks require water to be carried out successfully. Make sure to consider the needs of your grass and changing weather conditions as you check these chores off your list:

Water before aeration

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

If you’re struggling with soil compaction, poor drainage, or too much thatch, core or spike aeration can help alleviate the problem. For the most success, wait to aerate when the soil is moist, either from rainfall the day before or irrigation. Don’t aerate overly dry soil, as it will be difficult to penetrate. The same goes for soaked soil. When the ground is too wet, any holes you make will collapse, causing further compaction.

Fertilization

Fertilizer should be applied to moist soil, so wait for rainfall and fertilize as soon as the grass is dry. You can also water your lawn a day or two before fertilizing. Once you’re done, provide more water for better nutrient absorption. Try to time it so there’s no rain right after fertilizing, or you risk washing everything away before it can sink into the soil.

Water after overseeding (or reseeding)

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Seeds need water to germinate and establish. Whether overseeding to thicken up an existing lawn or reseeding to reset your lawn, water your new grass every day until it’s established. After that, gradually reduce the frequency as the seedlings mature and grow into full-blown grass.

Water after applying herbicides

If weeds are popping up and ruining your lawn, it may be time to pull out the herbicide. Whether you apply a post-emergent herbicide to treat weeds that have already germinated and emerged or a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent weeds from ever sprouting, post-application watering is a step you can’t skip.

Follow the directions on the label, as the timeframe for watering can vary depending on the product. For example, you may have to wait between 30 minutes and 8 hours to water your herbicide. It’s also important to follow the recommended application rates.

Water after treating pests and diseases

In many cases, pest and disease control goes hand in hand with lawn watering. Some treatments may require immediate watering to activate the product and ensure soil penetration, while others recommend waiting for a set period (mentioned on the product label). 

Water the recommended amount, not more. Overwatering can cause runoff into nearby bodies of water and exacerbate the environmental impact if you’re using chemical-based treatments.

How much should you water your lawn?

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For a healthy lawn, water established grass two to three times a week for 30 minutes each time. Remember: cool-season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, perennial ryegrass) require about 1.5 inches of water, whereas if you have warm-season grass (Zoysiagrass, St. Augustinegrass, Bermudagrass), you can get away with providing between .5 to 1 inch of water per week.

In a newly seeded lawn, the top 1.5 inches of soil should be kept moist for between 5 and 10 days, which is how long the germination period typically lasts. Water your new grass seeds once or twice daily with a gentle spray or mist to prevent displacing the seeds and flooding your lawn. Use a light touch and stay consistent in your watering.

It’s essential to water your lawn less often but for longer periods. This method encourages the grassroots to search for moisture, resulting in a robust and deep root system. In contrast, watering too often for short periods promotes weak, shallow roots that can’t withstand drought.

Pro tip: The best time to water your grass is between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. This is when wind and evaporation are less likely, allowing the water to penetrate the soil and reach the roots. It also gives the excess water left on the foliage time to dry quickly, which reduces the risk of fungal disease.

FAQ about when to stop watering your lawn

What sprinkler system is best to water your grass?

Sprinklers are not a one-size-fits-all solution. The sprinkler that is best for your yard depends on the size and shape of your yard, your water pressure, and your soil type. See our article on how to choose the right type of sprinkler for your lawn.

How do I winterize my irrigation system?

If you don’t properly winterize your irrigation system before winter, you’ll likely end up with cracked pipes and broken sprinkler heads come springtime.

Here’s what you need to do to prevent that:

  • Shut off the main valve that supplies the system with water.
  • Adjust the program controls. Sprinkler systems can have digital readouts or manual dials. Digital systems can be turned to “rain mode” to shut off signals to valves, while manual systems must be turned off completely and reprogrammed in spring.
  • Drain the system itself using one of three methods: manual drain, auto drain, or blowout method. The safest route is the blowout method, which uses compressed air to drain irrigation systems. The first two are recommended for more experienced homeowners.

How does my soil type impact irrigation?

Soil types fall into four main categories: loam, clay, sand, and silt. Each retains and drains water differently. If you don’t know your soil type, get a soil test with your local extension office. It will tell you the texture of your soil and what amendments could be used to improve it. 

Clay soils are known to hold water well – almost too well. This is because clay particles are tiny and form a compact layer that doesn’t allow water to escape. To avoid runoff and pooling, watering sessions should be shorter – around 15 minutes – and more frequent until the desired amount of 1 to 1.5 inches of water is reached. This gives the soil more time to absorb the water. 

Sandy soils absorb water well but drain quickly, thanks to the large size of the particles. Give soil high in sand ⅓ inch of water three times a week. 

Silty soils are prone to erosion, so you must be careful not to overwater. In terms of water retention, they tend to drain better than clay soils but less quickly than sandy soils. Water silty soils twice a week with ½ inch of water each time. 

Loamy soil combines sand’s drainage qualities with clay’s water retention qualities. Lawns with loamy soil need about ½ inch of water twice a week. This soil type is considered the healthiest, most fertile and is a balanced mixture of all the other types.

Chalky and peat soils are less common. They rarely occur in residential settings and cannot foster healthy plant and grass growth. Peat soil is encountered in wetland areas, while chalky soil predominates in limestone bedrock- and chalk-heavy areas (hence the name).

Ultimately, your soil type directly impacts how much water your grass needs. Healthy soil fosters healthy grass, which is why keeping a close eye on both will determine the type of lawn you have. Some guidelines to consider:

  • Occasionally probe your soil with a screwdriver to assess moisture levels. This is a good way to determine when it’s time to water.
  • Monitor the condition of your grass throughout the year and adjust the watering frequency according to weather conditions in your area.

How can I tell if my lawn is underwatered or overwatered?

Underwatering or overwatering the lawn are two of the top lawn care mistakes homeowners make in their quest for that green, lush, shiny lawn. If you suspect you’re in that same boat, here are some telltale signs that something’s wrong with your grass:

Underwatered lawns display the following symptoms:

  • Yellow, brown, or grey grass. Even though this symptom doesn’t always mean your grass isn’t sufficiently hydrated, most of the time, it’s a sign of underwatering.
  • Footprints that remain on the grass long after someone walked on it. This is due to the grass being unable to spring back as quickly.
  • Dry, crispy texture to the grass.
  • Slow growth or no growth, which can be temporary or permanent, depending on how long the grass was deprived of water.

Overwatered lawns display the following symptoms:

  • Puddles on your lawn that persist long after you’ve finished watering your grass. When the soil isn’t absorbing water, it’s either compacted or overly saturated. As soon as you notice runoff, you should take a closer look.
  • Fungi and mushrooms in your grass.
  • Grass that feels squishy when you step on it.
  • Slow growth or no growth, evidenced by sparse areas and bare patches on your lawn.
  • Yellow grass, as a result of oxygen deprivation (which stems from overwatering).
  • Weeds and pests in your grass. These nuisances thrive in damp conditions, and if you’re not careful, they can easily overrun your lawn.
  • Thatch buildup, as a result of shallow roots that don’t burrow deep into the soil (also a result of overwatering). These roots decompose and stay on top of the lawn as thatch, smothering the grass and blocking its access to nutrients, air, and sunlight.

Get help from a pro 

Whether you’re a skilled gardener or trying DIY for the first time, watering the right way is one of the main keys to a healthy lawn. But if you’re just not inclined to do your own yard work, a local pro can address your every need. With their help, you can have an impressive lawn and plenty of time to do what you love.

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Andie Ioó

In my free time, I enjoy traveling with my husband, sports, trying out new recipes, reading, and watching reruns of '90s TV shows. As a way to relax and decompress, I enjoy landscaping around my little yard and DIY home projects.