With the new water restrictions in California, I think now is a great time to revisit the proper way to irrigate your lawn. We have some say they will be taking out their lawns due to the water restrictions, but before you do so I think it is important to take everything into consideration.

We often see every issue in society as black and white, but there is always a grey area. We all take our own individual sides of an issue, but we need to take the time to find a middle ground. Just as is the case in the political spectrum one answer isn’t always correct. Two sides need to work together to come up with a way of solving our problems. Over the next week I will be writing a two part series on how to conserve water and have a great lawn at the same time.

You will always have some that see turfgrass as an unnecessary, but they fail to realize all the positive impacts it has on our environment. The first step to cutting back our water use is to educate ourselves. Turfgrass exists in nature because it has adapted to its environment. Whether you’re in the desert of California or up along the ocean coasts, grass has the ability to adapt. Some grasses will take more water than others, some can tolerate salt–and others can live with virtually no water at all–but the only way to know this is to educate ourselves.

Technology has come full circle over the last few years, and so has the turfgrass industry. It would not be plausible to exist today without staying on top of current research. Over the past week I have read many articles bashing the golf industry for their use of water. What these articles fail to tell the reader is that most golf course superintendents are stewards of the land, and take great pride in conserving our natural resources. The golf industry has long had the reputation as a major source of water consumption but the truth is most have already dramatically cut back water use, changed to turfgrass varieties that are more drought tolerant, and about a 1/3 or more use reclaimed or waste water.

For those not familiar with reclaimed or waste water it is water used by homes, industries, and businesses that must be treated before being released back into the environment. Waste water is used water that includes human waste, chemicals, soaps, dishwasher water, etc. All of this water needs to be treated prior to being to being put back into use. If it is not treated it would need to be sprayed all over large fields so the ground can filter it. Golf courses act as large filters to help dispose of the waste water. The turfgrass acts as a large filter for the lesser quality water. Turfgrass will typically have a 3 to 4 foot depth of soil which is enough to purify, and clean the waste water.

Did you know that the front lawn of eight homes has the cooling effect in hot weather of about 70 tons of air conditioning? A home lawn will be 30 degrees cooler than asphalt, and 15 degrees cooler than bare soil. Some people will gladly take the heat over using water for a lawn, but would they make the same choice if they saw their bill drop dramatically when they watered properly? Do you have any idea how much water we could save if people used water responsibly? It is easy to pick on agriculture, but we all need to pay attention to our daily water consumption. Turning the water off on your lawn may help, but not much if you still take extra long showers and leave the water running while you brush your teeth.

Last week we did a little experiment outside of our office.  Here are the results:


Temp on asphalt

Temp on asphalt

Temp on "desert landscape"

Temp on “desert landscape”

Temp on artificial synthetic grass

Temp on artificial synthetic grass

Temp on natural turfgrass

Temp on natural turfgrass

Surprised? (Here is a link to a study done by BYU regarding heat in case you are interested!)

As a sod producer we take great pride in using water responsibly and we want to make sure we’re providing you with enough information to water your lawn properly. My personal lawn is watered two days a week in Scottsdale, Arizona, during the summer months. This is possible because of the steps I’ve taken to make my lawn drought tolerant.

Did you know if you watered your lawn everyday that you would have a better chance of killing it than your neighbor who waters two days a week? How many times do you see sprinklers running during a rain storm or in the heat of the day? These are simple fixes that we can all address. If it’s raining, turn off your irrigation. Why water during the hottest part of the day when most will be evaporated? Watering at 3 pm on a summer day is going to do nothing more than cool the surface of the plant for a few minutes. It is better to wait until the morning and get a deep, proper irrigation cycle on the lawn. This is a simple fix. Set your clock to run first thing in the morning while environmental conditions are calm. You will not kill your lawn by waiting until the morning to water if the grass is showing stress.

I want to start with the basics of watering. When turfgrass is first installed, like all plants it will require sufficient water until it is rooted down. Within two weeks a warm season grass, like bermudagrass or paspalum, has adapted to its new home and is well rooted into the soil. After a grass is rooted into the soil it is important to begin training your lawn to handle stress.

Remember earlier when I said grass will adapt no matter where it is? If you cut the water back to two to three times per week, it will force your grass to grow a longer root system. Think about this in terms of the tree in your front yard. Like your lawn the tree is providing the same type of cooling for your home, but do you water it every day? No, because the tree would fall over from having a shallow root system. Grass is the same. If you water it every day you will never develop a root system and it will struggle during the heat of the summer. It never has to adapt if you’re always giving it water. So lesson one is to go out and cut out several days a week you water. This alone will cut your turfgrass water use rate by 25%.

Watering your lawn can be tricky, but with the right irrigation system you can reduce your water by another 25%. The first step is setting up an automatic irrigation system. The old fashioned way of moving a hose and sprinkler around a yard is both inefficient, and a waste of water. Once the system is installed you will want to add a timer. This way if you need to water 15 minutes, you water 15 minutes. If you set a sprinkler out to water 15 minutes you will probably forget to move it.

After the irrigation clock has been installed it is time to check and adjust your sprinkler system. All sprinkler nozzles will tell you the gallons per minute output and spray pattern. It is very important to choose patterns that won’t overspray on to your sidewalk, driveway or plants that don’t need water. The best nozzles for odd shapes are the ones that can go from 0-360 degrees. You simply set it to the desired spray pattern.

So how do you know how long to water? Each day an evapotranspiration (ET) rate is published for your city online, and this will tell you how much water was lost. If the rate was .25 inches per day and you’re using a drought tolerant warm season grass you really only need to replace about 60% of this water to keep it aesthetically pleasing. Your idea of aesthetically pleasing and mine may vary, but the compromise should be what is good for the grass and good for the environment. This water does not need to be replenished daily; it simply needs to be replenished when your lawn is starting to show symptoms of stress. One of the first signs of stress is the blue/gray color in your lawn, or inability for it to bounce back up after you walk on it. Instead of setting your clock to run every day or every other day, just run water when it is necessary.

Now that we know the daily or weekly ET we can figure out how much water to put down. If the ET for three combined days was .75 inches, you would need to replace 60% or .45 inches of water. You can check your output by setting up pans in the yard and measuring how much water in inches is watered in a set time period. (i.e. 5 or 10 minutes). If this test determines you need to run 25 minutes of water every three days it is best to split it up into a couple cycles. The first cycle would run at 5 am for 15 minutes. You would allow the water to infiltrate the root zone for an hour and then water the additional 10 minutes. Putting down all the water at once will cause runoff which is a waste of water. Most clocks allow for simple cycle/soak operation.

In my next blog I will be discussing sub terrain irrigation, agronomic practices associated with saving water, and how each of us can do our part to conserve water and have a beautiful lawn.

So, don’t go ripping out that lawn just yet!  You can save water, and have natural turfgrass benefit the planet, too!

If you have any questions, please hit the “ASK JAY” button at the top right of this page.

Until next time,