Lawn irrigation tips

Light, frequent irrigation during this hot, dry weather will help your lawn survive and thrive.

In-ground sprinklers
Photo by Scott Denny (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The choice of whether or not to irrigate a lawn is complicated. Some homeowners aren’t concerned with having a green lawn throughout the entire summer as temperatures soar and rain disappears. Other’s desire a green lawn throughout the summer and will use in-ground irrigation systems to achieve this objective. If you choose to irrigate your lawn to maintain a green, actively growing turf, you need to consider many factors to devise a schedule that works for you and your lawn.

Is the lawn shady or sunny? Is the soil type clay or sand? Is the turfgrass Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue? Does your community have watering restrictions? Michigan State University Extension has been advocating for several years now to think outside the box and apply irrigation on a more frequent basis than the often recommended once weekly soaking of several inches of water.

For those with an in-ground irrigation system, MSU research has shown that light (0.10 inch of water), frequent (daily) water applications reduce damage from certain diseases, such as Necrotic ring spot, and insects, such as European chafer grubs. Daily irrigation in July was found to reduce survival of European chafer grubs by roughly 60%. Sure, not everyone has these problems, but if you’ve suffered through the feeding of European chafer grubs, you’re probably willing to give anything a try.

If turf has a shallow root system, it can be argued that the majority of a heavy, deep irrigation application would move past the root system and not be available for the plant. If you want to give the daily or maybe every other day irrigation scheme a try, here’s what you need to do. It will take some tweaking based on what soil type you have—shady or sunny site—and turf species. The research project at MSU applied 0.1 inch of water daily at about 1 p.m. This application cooled the turf in the heat of the day and also applied just enough water to get it through the day. In some areas, water restrictions may prevent this type of irrigation scheme both based on frequency and afternoon timing. If that’s the case, consider irrigating every second or third day with slightly higher amounts (0.25 inch per application) in the early morning, prior to peak watering rates. The idea is to give the turf what it needs and move away from the idea that a heavy irrigation once a week is the only way to irrigate.

There’s not one simple irrigation recommendation that is going to work for everyone’s lawn. The key to irrigating successfully is to understand the site, measure your expectations and recognize your limitations, whether it’s watering restrictions or maybe the lack of an irrigation system.

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