Recently imposed statewide outdoor-water-use restrictions have many homeowners wondering if their lawns will survive. But watering restrictions, coupled with wisely watering when you're allowed, can actually help make your lawn healthier.
"People think the more water they give their turf, the better it will perform," said Gil Landry, an Extension Service turf scientist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"But if your turf gets too much water, you create a catalyst for disease," Landry said. "An inch of water a week is the rule of thumb."
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."
When watering lawns, the only water that matters is that which makes it to the roots. A thorough soaking once or twice a week helps roots grow deeper. Deeper roots lead to healthier grass.
But do your homework first. Timing is everything, said Kerry Harrison, a CAES engineer. Too little water or too much at the wrong time may hurt your lawn while raising your water bill.
It's crucial to know how much water gets to the grass roots, Harrison said. "Not knowing your irrigation's application rate, whether it's a sprinkler on a hose or a permanent system, is like driving a car with no speedometer," he said.
Different systems apply water at different rates. Hose-end combinations vary the most in rate and uniformity. Space several rain gauges evenly in the watering area to learn your system's application rate.
Watering at the right time is critical, too. Luckily, the time that virtually all watering restrictions allow watering is precisely the best time to do it.
"We have research, numbers and all the evidence we need to know that you can lose as much as half the water if it's put out during daylight," Harrison said.
Direct sunlight, high temperatures and a light wind can evaporate water or blow it away from the target. "That means you have to put out twice as much," he said. But your grass won't get twice the benefit.
Watering during the day increases the time the grass is wet and makes disease problems more likely, too. At night, the grass is wet from dew already, so more water won't hurt.
Landry said 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," he said.
"And raise the mowing height. This helps the grass maintain a deep root system," he said, "which helps it find more water."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)