Tag Archives: irrigation

Turf Management: Adjusting to Drought

If your property does not have an automated irrigation system and you have not watered your turf regularly this summer, you may have noticed it is turning brown, indicating it is reacting to the impact of the summer drought we are in the midst of here in the northern Chicagoland area.  Your grass has a natural drought defense system which shuts down the expendable parts of the plant in an effort to keep its roots alive, hence the brown coloration at the surface. The good news is, turf grasses are resilient plants and can survive a long time without water. The bad news is, not only does the brown grass not look good, the dormant grass will become more susceptible to invasive weeds and crabgrass which tend to find room to root and grow in the stressed turf.  Generally, though, once moisture returns, most grasses will recover without leaving permanent damage.  The weeds and crabgrass can be treated, and your once beautiful lawn should be restored.

The simplest and best practice that we have found for helping the turf survive and recover from the effects of a drought, if regular watering is not an option, is to make some simple adjustments to our mowing operations.  We raise our mower blades slightly, to 3″ – 3.5″, to minimize the heat/sun exposure of the root systems of the turf that results from mowing too low in these hot, dry conditions.  Additionally, you will find that we will forgo mowing whenever warranted, on a given visit, if the grass has gone dormant and has not grown sufficiently to necessitate a mowing.  This will prevent the potential damage that could be done to the dry, brittle grass blades as the heavy mower wheels roll over them.  The added benefit of not mowing is the extra time we can spend on your property detailing and performing more labor-intensive gardening operations.

Furthermore, the longer grass blades will shade the ground underneath, keeping it cooler and inhibiting water evaporation. The granular fertilizer we apply during your lawn care visits will stimulate new growth once rain returns or the lawn is watered. If you are going to water your lawn, you must be consistent. If you cannot deeply water your lawn one inch or more per week, it is better to let your lawn go into a state of dormancy.  Light, infrequent watering can do more harm than good as it encourages shallow root growth which then makes the turf even more susceptible to disease and insect infestations during periods of stress.  So, it is best to commit to keep up with the watering or let it go and wait out the drought.

When temperatures start to cool down and rainfall increases, your lawn should come out of dormancy and begin to recover. The turf plants will start growing new roots and new plants will germinate to replace those that were damaged or even killed during the summer. Core aeration and over seeding in the fall are two great ways to help your lawn recover from a tough drought season, like the one we are currently experiencing. Strengthening the roots is critical to maintaining healthy turf, and the core aeration process will open the lawn to provide more air, water and nutrients into the turf root zone.  Following up the coring operation immediately with over seeding will help to generate new seedlings to fill in sparse areas. Grass seed needs to come in contact with soil and receive adequate moisture to remain viable once the germination process begins. A good portion of the seed will end up in the core holes, which ends up being a great place for the seed to germinate. The soil in the core holes will remain moist and cool, and the seed will have a much better chance of germinating.

Kevin T Block

Watering guidelines – new and existing turf

Newly Seeded Turf

Seed just planted should be CONSISTENTLY moist until growth begins.  This means a daily light watering for 15 to 30 minutes.  DO NOT OVER WATER AND DO NOT USE A STRONG SPRAY. You don’t want to drown the seeds, nor do you want to wash them away.

Once seedlings have reasonable growth (½” to ¾”), reduce watering to twice weekly and apply ¼” to ½” per watering.  Once mowed, watering can be done as to accumulate 1 to 1 ½” of water once per week.  Again, be certain to take rainfall into consideration.

Please note that seed will not germinate without the execution of these watering guidelines.

 New Sod

Sod should be watered daily.  Its good health and development requires up to 2” to 4” of water per week for the first couple of weeks.  After the first week, start stretching out the time between watering so that the roots will grow downward toward the soil moisture.  When you do water, water deeply.  Keep up the frequent watering until about 20 to 30 days after planting.  Once firmly rooted you may reduce watering to once per week, applying 1” to 1 ½” per application.

Please note that sod will die without the execution of these watering guidelines.

Established Turf

Established turf grass requires infrequent but heavy watering.   Remember you are watering the soil, not the grass.  Generally established turf grass requires 1 inch to 1½ inches of water per week for optimum health.

Watering twice a week may be required during extreme conditions, such as temperatures of 90 degrees or higher for a prolonged period of time or extremely windy days.  Separate the watering to the early part of the week and the later part of the week with a minimum accumulation of 1 inch per watering.

For more information about your turf, check out the National Turfgrass Federation’s website.

Watering Guidelines – new trees and shrubs

During the spring we generally receive a sufficient amount of moisture.  Spring to summer is probably the most critical transitional period because moisture levels can drop quickly and soil moisture availability rapidly declines.  This situation can be exacerbated by overly hot and windy conditions.

When plants start to show signs of stress by wilting permanent damage to the vascular system may have already occurred.  Prevention is the key; therefore we have prepared the following guidelines on the basics of proper watering procedures.

Time of Day to Water

The BEST time to water is about 3 a.m. to 10 a.m.  At this time the air is cool and very little evaporation loss occurs before the water reaches the ground.  When the sun rises and the air warms, the liquid quickly evaporates from the leaves.  Watering early in the evening encourages fungal infection (fungal infections thrive in cool wet conditions); watering in the heat of day is bad because much of the water evaporates before reaching the ground.  This accelerates buildup of soluble minerals in the soil that over along time can be ruinous to soil health.

Accurate Measuring

When you water, water deeply.  This means water for a long time, allowing the water to soak into the ground.  Ideally, you should provide one inch of water with every soaking, but not more than once per week.

Remember to take rainfall into consideration when monitoring your watering. Use a rain gauge to monitor the amount of water your landscape receives from rainfall and your irrigation system (if applicable).

Be careful…you can over water your plants!  Roots need both water and oxygen to thrive.  Over watering can kill plants because constant moisture suffocates the roots, thereby causing them to die and rot.  Inspect the area BEFORE watering by tunneling with a deep root feeder or stake.  If the soil is dry on top, it might still be moist underground and not need water.

Newly Planted Trees

When watering newly planted trees, remove the nozzle from your hose, wrap the hose in an old bath towel  (so it will disperse the energy of the spray) and set the hose at the base of the tree.  Water the area at a low pressure every other day (45 to 60 minutes) for 3 to 4 weeks, based on your soil conditions.  Make certain to change the position of the hose to water evenly.

Newly Planted Shrubs

Shrubs can be watered similarly to trees except the time frame drops to 10 to 15 minutes each.  Avoid watering foliage, most plants DO NOT like being watered from above because moisture build up on leaves encourages fungal problems.

For more information there is a great article by the University of Illinois Extension.