Watering Tips for a Healthy Florida Lawn
February 01, 2017
Ever wonder why, no matter how much work you put in or money you spend on your lawn, it still doesn’t look as good as you’d like? While there could be issues that run deep—such as disease, weeds, or insects—the problem may be caused by improper watering practices.
Here are some simple tips that will help make your South Florida lawn looking it’s very best all year long.
The Green Goldilocks Known As Your Lawn.
Your lawn is as picky as Goldilocks and just like that little girl from the bedtime story won't be happy until it's irrigation is “just right.” While it’s well known that underwatering your lawn could cause damage, homeowners are often unaware that overwatering could be just as bad—if not worse.
The dangers of overwatering.
According to The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, “Overwatering will harm long-term turf health because it greatly increases disease susceptibility and thatch buildup and leads to a shorter root system, which reduces the turf’s overall stress tolerance and ability to survive with less water.” [read more] In fact, weed species such as dollarweed and sedges flourish in saturated, overwatered lawns.
Change in weather means change in watering frequency.
Most lawn overwatering is caused by irrigation systems running on the same watering schedule all year long regardless of recent rainfall amounts and changes in season. For the healthiest lawn, sprinkler system schedules should be adjusted seasonally to compensate for changes in weather.
While it’s best to adjust based on the species of turfgrass as well as the specific environmental conditions of your lawn, here is a good rule of thumb regarding turf watering frequency in our South Florida climate:
- Spring: 1-2 times a week
- Summer: 2-3 times a week
- Fall: 1-2 times a week
- Winter: 1 time a week
Remember, South Florida receives an average of fifty or more inches of annual rainfall. During periods of frequent rain, that rainfall will likely meet your turf’s needs. When this occurs, you should turn off your irrigation system temporarily to avoid unintentional overwatering.
Signs of drought stress
You should always pay attention to what your lawn is “telling you” and adjust watering to its individual needs. Observing the grass for signs of drought stress is the best way to tell if its watering needs are being met.
Signs your lawn needs more water:
- Grass has a blue-gray tint rather than maintaining a green color.
- Footprints or tire tracks remain visible long after they are made.
- Leaf blades are folded in half lengthwise in an attempt to conserve water.
Credit: Laurie Trenholm
How much to water when you water.
While the frequency of watering should vary based on season, the amount of water applied each time you irrigate your lawn should not. The best watering wets only as deep as the roots, does not saturate the soil, and does not allow water to run off.
Florida soil is usually sandy and can hold about one inch of water in a soil depth of one foot. Healthy turfgrass roots typically penetrate the top ten to twelve inches of soil. When the soil is dry, only about one-half to three-quarters of an inch of water is required to wet the area thoroughly.
Not sure how much water your system is applying? A simple way to test is to place a flat-bottomed container such as a coffee cup or empty soup can on the lawn in a zone then run the system. After the system completes its cycle, use a ruler to measure the depth of the water in the cup or container. Increase or decrease the amount of time the system runs based on the measured amount of water you find.
The best time of day to water.
The best time to water your lawn is in the early morning hours. Watering in the middle of the the day will waste water due to evaporation. Watering in late afternoon or late morning may extend your lawn’s natural dew period which could promote disease.
Watering your lawn evenly.
It is important to regularly check your irrigation system to make sure it is watering your lawn evenly. Normal wear and tear, such as clogged, damaged, or off-center sprinkler heads and leaks in the line may occur creating problem areas in your lawn.
Need a way to test coverage? You can easily check a zone’s coverage uniformity using a process similar to the test that measures the amount of water applied in a zone. Place several flat-bottomed containers such as a coffee cups or empty soup cans on the lawn in straight line leading away from a sprinkler head. Run the system and check to see if an equal amount of water is in each can. If not, you know there is an issue with coverage for that sprinkler’s area.
Remember, your lawn is unique.
Not only will your lawn have its own unique elements that will impact its watering requirements, different parts of your lawn will also have their own set of factors that will impact that area’s irrigation needs. For instance, grass closer to trees will be shaded during part of the day or even all day long. For that zone, you will likely need to reduce watering to this part of your lawn.
Here are some of the factors to consider when considering the watering needs for your Florida lawn:
- the type of grass
- rainfall amount
- soil type and amount of compaction
- shade presence
- wind exposure
- proximity to other plants or landscape features
- mowing frequency and height
- fertilization schedule
Each lawn is different and changes over time. Observation is the best way to determine the best course of action to make your lawn the best it can be.
A note about district restrictions on irrigation.
Be sure to be aware of and understand any restrictions and limitations in place in your community for outdoor irrigation. Note they may vary based on the season and are designed to conserve water, so be sure to stay within the restrictions they outline.
That being said, it may not be necessary to water your lawn in the frequency allowed by these regulations. For example, if there is adequate rainfall the day before your scheduled watering day, skip that day and wait to irrigate on the next day allowed to avoid overwatering.
These low-cost/no-cost changes to the way you irrigate your lawn could make all the difference in improving its health and appearance. Just remember, there is no overnight fix or one size fits all strategy to watering your lawn, but following these steps will bring you closer to a lawn that’s watered “just right.”
One more word of caution. Some problems can’t be fixed by simply changing they way you water your yard. If you are struggling with weeds, insect infestation, plant disease, or an issue you simply can’t identify, give us a call at (772) 919-1157 and we’ll come evaluate your lawn at no cost.