For many, having a lawn outside their home is a no-brainer. The ideal American home has long been depicted and associated with white picket fences and perfectly mowed lawns. Proper irrigation is critical, and in this article I’ll share the recommended sprinkler run times for a thriving lawn.
While many opt out of having and maintaining a lawn, a vast majority of Americans still prefer to have a lush green lawn. But having a lawn requires maintenance.
Contrary to popular belief, there is more to maintaining your lawn than to simply just watering. Understanding your lawn and irrigation system are the first steps to a healthy outdoor space.
Simply relying on your sprinkler’s automatic timing, can in most cases do more harm than good. There’s a science to sprinklers and run times in creating a thriving lawn.
Understanding your Lawn
Before discussing watering, and watering times, it is first important to understand your lawn in terms of its roots, the grass you have, and how this can be affected by your location.
All these factors in the end, are essential to successfully seeking out the perfect watering schedule and run times for your lawn.
About Grass Roots
Understanding your grass and its roots can make all the difference in watering. Most irrigation systems simply water the surface of the lawn when the best way is to get to the roots.
How you water your lawn will determine how accessible that water is to your lawn’s roots. This, in turn, will impact how your lawn’s roots grow.
Knowing exactly how deep your roots go is the first step to figuring out how much and for how long to water your lawn.
Cool vs. Warm Season Grasses
Just like any plants, some grasses grow better in cooler climates and some are able to thrive in warmer to hot conditions.
Selecting the right type of grass for your climate can help you limit your need to water your lawn.
Cool Season Grasses
Cool season grasses grow best in climates between 65 and 75 degrees fahrenheit.
Most grasses used for northern lawns and lawns in the transitional zone are cool season grasses. Common cool season grasses are tall fescue grass, perennial rye, Kentucky bluegrass, and buffalo grass.
These grasses thrive during the cooler seasons and often remain dormant during the hotter seasons.
The University of Missouri extension recommends that “dormant lawns should receive at least 1 inch of water every two or three weeks during summer to prevent complete turfgrass loss.”
Prefer to prevent summer dormancy? For a lawn to remain active and green through the summer, more water is required (1 to 1-1/2 inches weekly).
Warm Season Grasses
Warm season grasses are the exact opposite of cool season grasses and thrive during the warmer to hot temperatures.
St. Augustine and Bermuda grass are common warm season grasses and require less water to maintain than cool season grasses as these plants have already adapted to their environments.
The University of Florida IFAS Extension explains that “the frequency of irrigation should change seasonally” for St. Augustine lawns, “with less water needed in the fall and winter.”
Experts don’t recommend changing the amount of water warm season lawns receive week-to-week, or seasonally – just how often it is applied, with more frequent irrigation (of a shorter duration) a good choice during the summer.
Watering Your Lawn (the right way)
In order to properly water your lawn and ensure the best results when it comes to hydration, color, and overall lawn health, it is important to understand your irrigation system in terms of the different types of irrigation systems, the different tests you can conduct, and productive watering in order to figure out the best watering schedule for the best results.
Cutting Down on Water Waste
Before going onto the different methods to watering your lawn it is important to first acknowledge the issue of water waste as improper or unnecessary water methods can result in large amounts of water wasted.
When watering your plants on a schedule, it is important to make sure that all equipment is functional.
Make sure that sprinklers are well maintained. Even the slightest bit of a loose part, can cause more water leakage than needed and even result in wet spots in your lawn that do more harm than good.
Irrigation & Your Lawn
There is more than one way to water your lawn. Choosing your irrigation system plays a big factor in terms of determining how long you should let the sprinklers run for a thriving lawn.
Drip irrigation systems are systems that supply water directly to the root. This prevents waste in water and lessens chances of evaporation as the water goes directly to the roots of the grass. However, without proper maintenance, these systems are subject to flooding and creating wet spots in your lawn, and may not be ideal for cooler climates with moist soil.
Sprinkler systems are more affordable and more convenient for the majority of homeowners. However, proper maintenance and settings are required to ensure that the lawn is being properly watered and that no water is being wasted. Loose sprinklers can result in large amounts of water wasted. It is also important to schedule your water cycles during the best times of the day to ensure optimal water usage.
Recommended Sprinkler Run Times
First Thing’s First: Testing
Before determining how long and how often you should be watering your lawn, first take into consideration how much water is actually going to your lawn when the sprinklers are left on.
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The Tin Can Test
The most basic test you can conduct is the tin can test.
This is a method that uses simple household products such as tin cans or even tupperware to measure the amount of water actually going into the ground. Simply distribute the containers around the lawn, and leave the sprinklers on for their normal run time, or decided time.
Make sure that your containers are the same size in order to get an accurate idea of how much water your lawn is getting.
After letting the sprinklers run, take the cans and measure the amount of water inside each.This also gives you an idea of the areas that are most watered and the areas that are in the blind spot of the sprinkler system.
With this information, also keep in mind the length or how deep the roots of your grass measures to. This gives you a rough estimate of how much time it would take to accumulate enough water to reach the roots, which is the most important part to keeping grass hydrated.
With this information, you can calculate and adjust for your lawn.
You can program most sprinkler systems to run at certain times in the day for a select duration of time.
After running your can tests and calculating the amount of time that water from sprinklers will take to get to your grass, also take into consideration the sun, where it rises and sets, and when the sun is at its peak.
Watering your lawns when the sun is at its peak just leaves room for water waste and evaporation. Watering at night leaves more room for grass to rot overnight.
Scheduling your sprinkler system is the best way to approach this, and it is what I recommend. You’ll reduce waste, and get the most value from every drop of water.
The Recommended Sprinkler Run Times for Your System Will be Unique
The best sprinkler run times for a thriving lawn can be best determined after taking into consideration factors such as your location, the type of grass present in your lawn, the weather, and the aspect of the sun and evaporation.
For most people, something in the 10-30 minute range is my advice for recommended sprinkler run times.
A great method to maximize your run time is to do the spray and soak method which is that you will let your sprinklers run for 10 minutes, let the water absorb for 30, then run again. This allows you to only have to water for that one cycle that day and be enough to last until the next scheduled cycle.
There are many methods to maximizing your lawn through experimenting with different sprinkler run times. Personalize this process to reflect your grass and location. Throughout all methods it is important to not overwater your lawn.
Stop watering after 30 minutes. If your lawn needs more water, increase the frequency. Lawns that get too much water are unhealthy, and it’s also wasteful to over-water your lawn.
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