For those of you who don't live in the northwest, you might not know that we have some of the best summers around. While we get a lot of rain during the winter and spring, you just can't beat the summer and fall months in Oregon. Compared to most parts of the country, our temperatures our pretty moderate during the summer. Most days are in the 70s to 80s, we have low humidity, and the sun doesn't set until after 9:00 p.m.
As a kid, one of my favorite things to do before bed was to lay outside on the cool, lush grass looking up at the sky. My son now loves doing the same thing. But as an adult, when I sit outside on the grass sometimes, I can't help but notice the dry patches, weeds, and other yard challenges that need my attention. My lawn always looks picture perfect during our rainy months when we don't sit outside. But come summer, I'm still learning how to keep my lawn looking its best without doubling my water bill.
Trial and Error
During my first year of home ownership, I didn't have a clue about when or how much to water my lawn. So I tried different things, none of which worked well. I either didn't water enough and ended up with dry patches, or I watered WAY too much and my grass sprouted mushrooms. I'm here to tell you that neither is a good look.
So how did I finally figure out the "just right" solution for my lawn? I talked to my neighbors, read up online, and talked to my local garden center. No matter where you live in the country, there are some tried and true strategies that work for most lawns. And with a little bit of trial and error, your lawn will be the envy of the neighborhood in no time.
Time of Day is Key
The most important thing I learned is that it's best to water your lawn in the early morning hours, between 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Any later than that, and the water is likely to evaporate too quickly to be absorbed. I'm lucky enough to have a sprinkler system with a timer, so I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to turn on my sprinklers. If you don't have that option and aren't able to water first thing in the morning, lawn care experts say the next best time to water is in the late afternoon. If you wait until it cools down at night to water your grass, it's more likely that you'll end up growing fungus instead of green grass.
Quality Over Quantity
I also learned that it's better to water two to three days a week for a longer amount of time than it is to water daily for a short period. I figured this out the hard way during a particularly hot, dry spell last summer. I figured the best way to combat the pounding heat was to water my lawn every day for five minutes. But according to an article in Popular Mechanics, "Frequent, light watering can lead to fungus and a shallow root system; fewer waterings that soak the soil more deeply encourage the roots to grow deeper." Remember my mushrooms?
But how do you figure out what exactly this means for your grass? Each yard and environment can be different, so it will take a little work to find your yard's sweet spot.
How to Get it Just Right
Most lawns need to absorb about an inch of water a week to stay healthy. On average, this amounts to running your sprinklers for 15 minutes, twice a week. But you won't know how much water your lawn is really getting until you measure the amount of water that your sprinklers are putting out. There are a couple of different ways to do this. One method is to use a screwdriver that's about six inches long. After watering, try pushing the screwdriver into a spot on your lawn. If it goes in easily to six inches, this means your roots are getting the water that they need.
Another idea that might be fun for the kids is to place jars or tin cans in different places around your lawn before watering. Once the sprinklers are done, put a ruler in each container to see if there's about 1/2 inch of water. If so, you've found a winning combination. If not, try again by adding another five minutes to your watering schedule each time until you get it right.
Save Frustration and Money
After I switched to watering my lawn twice a week for 20 minutes day, I not only saved myself a ton of frustration messing around with my sprinkler system, but I reduced my water bill by more than 30%! Now I can lay on my grass on warm summer nights and enjoy looking up at the stars instead of studying the ground. So, here's to finding your lawn's sweet spot, and to enjoying the rest of your summer!