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Extension advice: Know when, how much to water your lawn during this hot, dry spell
Richard Evans
Richard Evans is UGA Extension Service agent in Bryan County.

We expect some dry weather about this time of the year. For many farmers irrigation can be a blessing at the right time (growth/development) or a curse at the wrong time (harvest or cuttings).

Although a strange thought to some, the dry weather can actually a blessing in a way since we have trouble gardening and mosquitoes are more active when it is wet.

Unfortunately, lawns do not appreciate a drought. They show signs of needing water now. We need to heed these signs and water them. The lawns have gone through a lot due to the cold – do not further stress them by letting them get dry.

Care for your lawns with proper watering now to prevent problems later. For most of us, centipede and St. Augustine are our primary lawn types and they need at least an inch of water per week if we don’t have rain.

What are the signs of a dry lawn? Dry turf will look grey.

The leaves will wilt – rolling up and sometimes laying over.

A good way to see if your lawn needs watering is to walk over it then look back at your footprints. If the grass remains down where you have stepped, the lawn is getting dry.

Some parts of the lawn dry before others. This may be because those areas are sandy and will dry out more rapidly.

Nematodes or disease can also damage roots leading to dry plants. Finally, trees can draw water out of soils causing the area under them to be very dry. If possible, find out why certain areas dry first and solve these problems. With dry areas caused by trees, all you can do is water a little more in that area.

If you have an irrigation system, a dry spot may be due to improper coverage by the system. Place cups out to catch the water in good and bad areas, run the system and then see how much it is putting out in each area. You may be able to change the pattern or the sprinkler heads to help cover these spots.

Also look out for areas receiving too much water.

Remember shrubs and trees require less frequent watering than lawns but like more water when irrigated. Watering trees and shrubs like lawns can kill them.

So just how much and how often should you water? Water systems vary widely. Some people use fully automated or manually operated sprinkler systems, moveable sprinklers or hand watering.

In general I don’t recommend hand watering. Hand watering involves using a hand-held nozzle to water lawn and flowers. While this method gives us the feeling we are meeting the plants water needs, we are not. We will not stand in one place long enough usually to fully wet the spot. Hand watering is very therapeutic for us but really helps the lawn very little.

When watering, remember “timing” and “amount.” It’s always better to water deeper rather than shallow. And shallow coverage is what hand-watering typically results in.

When timing water application, do not water every day.

This creates a shallow root system that will be susceptible to drought and freezes. You will leave for a week’s vacation and come back to a dead lawn.

Water when the lawn shows signs of stress. Finish watering in the morning if possible so the lawn can dry before nightfall. The longer a lawn stays wet, the more prone it is to diseases.

The best time to finish watering is as the sun rises.

Of course, this may only be feasible for automated systems.

If you have to turn the water on manually, morning is fine. Just let the lawn enter the night time with dry leaves and stems.

Irrigate when the grass shows signs of stress – grey color, wilting, showing foot prints. Apply enough water to wet the soil to 6 to 8 inches.

This will probably require 1 to 1 ½ inches in Bryan County.

Most sprinklers put out about one-fourth of an inch of water per hour, so it will take two to four hours to apply one inch of water. You can see now why hand watering does not work well. You will not want to stand in one area that long.

Do not irrigate until the water runs off the soil. If you apply water too fast - the soil cannot absorb it. If water is standing on the soil surface or running off the soil, move the sprinkler or turn it off and let the water soak in.

To determine how deep the ground is wet, push a spade or sharp probe into the ground two to four hours after irrigation. The probe will move easily through moist soil and be harder to push when it hits dry soil.

Proper water timing and amount is very important to producing a healthy lawn. Do not water every day. Follow this schedule for the best lawn health. Healthy lawns resist diseases, drought and freezes better.

A healthy lawn will also resist drought better. De-thatch the lawn if necessary. Do not fertilize heavily during drought. Fertilizers are salts that can burn lawn grasses.

Finally, if establishing a lawn, consider its drought tolerance.

Bermuda grass is most tolerant to drought, followed by St. Augustine, and then centipede with Zoysia being the least drought tolerant.

For more information on irrigating lawns, call the County Extension Office at 912-653-2231 or email Much of the information I have shared here is from brochures and handouts I would be happy to provide by email.

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