You are over watering your grass. Yes you are.
If you are reading this, you are wondering why I say drought is good for grass. That’s because you’ve been taught that your lawn will die if it is not watered like the end of the world.
You have been misled.
Your grass needs drought. Yes it does.
Here are some benefits of letting your yard dry out regularly and some guidelines to follow so you don’t go too far.
Plants are opportunists. They take food and water where they can get it and won’t expend extra energy if they don’t have to.
If you water your grass too often (like every day here in the South), it will never dig roots into the soil to find water. It will lay its roots on top of the soil because it knows more water is coming the next day.
Problem is, this makes weak grass. Pretty soon, usually in the heat of summer, you won’t be able to water it enough because the roots do not have the protection the cooler soil provides a few inches down.
The first sign of stress and your grass will croak.
Letting your grass dry out some (see guidelines below) between waterings trains it to dig deep roots. This means your grass will be more resilient and hold on to water longer, which means it needs even less water.
Regular drought = healthier roots = tougher grass = happy lawn owner.
Certain turf grasses are more susceptible to fungus than others, but they can all get it (read my post on the pros and cons of 4 Southern turf grasses).
Guess the number one cause of fungus.
A constantly wet yard is asking for fungus problems. Dry spells defend against fungus while making your grass stronger. Win-win.
It goes like this: You over water your grass. It gets weak so you fertilize more ($). You then “water it in,” i.e. water too much and wash the fertilizer down the street (which causes eutrophication, gross).
Oh no, the grass looks weak again. Fertilize more. Water more. And so on.
You are unintentionally wasting money, making weak grass, and mucking up the waterways.
Now try this: Provide periodic drought. Your grass gets stronger, which means less need for fertilizer and water. More money in your wallet and less down the drain, literally.
Grass is a plant like any other. It did not evolve to be watered every day. Over watering is, ironically, unnatural.
I don’t want your grass to die. Everything in moderation. There are some rules of thumb when it comes to providing drought.
When to Water
Here is what experts at the University of Florida recommend (they really know grass):
“Water your lawn only when 30 to 50 percent of it shows at least one of the three wilt signs.”
What are the signs?
- Folding leaf blades
- Blue-gray color
- Footprints remaining in the grass (I did a video on this one)
**Notice, they didn’t say to water when one square foot of your lawn shows these symptoms. You should only water when 30 to 50 percent of your lawn shows at least one symptom.
It will take self control to watch your lawn wither a little, but trust the experts.
How Much to Water
Conventional wisdom says to water a little each day for healthy grass. Like so often with conventional wisdom, the opposite is true.
Rule of thumb: Water less often but more when you do.
How much should you water? Again, from the experts at UF:
“When you do water, apply 1/2–3/4 inches. For sandier soils, which do not hold water well, the 3/4-inch rate may be necessary. For heavier clay soils in North Florida and the panhandle, the 1/2-inch rate may be sufficient. The idea is to get water to your grass’s roots without drowning your grass or creating run-off (excess water that your grass cannot absorb).”
But how do you know when you’ve watered 1/2-3/4 inches? Use tuna cans, of course. Read this article on the technique for measuring watering depth.
Feel the Rhythm?
Bottom line, you are trying to be more in sync with the natural rhythms of, well, nature.
Unless you live in a rain forest, your environment does not get rain every day. Plants are used to cycles of rain and drought, including grass.
Healthy drought makes your lawn stronger.
P.S. – Bonus Tip
Do not cut your grass too low. Can’t say this enough. It stresses out your lawn and weakens it. It’s so important, I wrote a whole post about it.