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'Water by Inch' is Trusty Rule of Thumb for Lawns

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Photo: Dan Rahn

Drought conditions are resulting in water restrictions in many counties across Georgia. When you're only allowed a few hours for outdoor watering, knowing how much water to give your lawn is important.

University of Georgia experts say homeowners normally water their lawns too much and too often. This year, the drought and water restrictions are keeping them from making this mistake.

The Rule of Thumb

"People think the more water they give their turf, the better it will perform," said Gil Landry, an extension turf scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "But if your turf gets too much water, you create a catalyst for disease. An inch of water a week is the rule of thumb."

So do you know when you've applied an inch of water to your lawn? Most sprinkler systems apply about one-fourth inch of water per hour.

"So you'd need to run your system for four hours to apply one inch of water," Landry said. "But all sprinklers are different. They all have different nozzles, so you should test your system's output."

Test Your System

To test your sprinkling system, Landry said, place open-top containers of the same size, such as margarine tubs, randomly on your lawn. After an hour, measure the amount of water in each container.

"The difference in the amounts will give you an estimate of the water distribution and application rate," he said. "When you have an inch of water in your containers, you know you've applied enough water."

Landry says homeowners should also keep in mind how fast the soil can absorb the water. "Apply enough water to soak the soil 6 to 8 inches deep," he said. "If your system is applying water too fast, you're just watering the curb and sidewalk, because the water is running off."

Water Right

To make the most of your efforts, Landry said, water between sundown and sunrise.

Watering turf more often than recommended will actually hurt its performance. "Light, frequent irrigation produces shallow and weak root systems," Landry said. "A shallow root system prevents efficient use of plant nutrients and water in the soil."

Mowing your lawn regularly is important, too, especially during a drought. "Mow often enough that no more than one-third of the leaf tissue is removed during a cutting," Landry said. "And raise the mowing height. This helps the grass maintain a deep root system, which helps it find more water."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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