WHAT, WHY, HOW
Despite our dread of the lawn looking like this, water is the most at-risk natural resource; so how do we water our lawns responsibly? Should we even be watering them at all? The answer is definitely ‘no’ unless you know what you’re doing – and even then, it may still be ‘no’ unless you are germinating a seed bed or settling in some new turf. Here we consider the key facts AND good watering practice.
WHAT, WHY, HOW
Despite our dread of the lawn looking like this, water is the most at-risk natural resource; so how do we water our lawns responsibly? Should we even be watering them at all?
The answer is definitely ‘no’ unless you know what you’re doing – and even then, it may still be ‘no’ unless you are germinating a seed bed or settling in some new turf. Here we consider the key facts AND good watering practice.
Is lawn watering necessary?
There are two reasons for watering a lawn in mid-summer – 1) because you really need to keep a lush, green appearance, or 2) because it is so hot and dry that the plants are on the point of dying. However, if your lawn is healthy, then you can choose NOT to water in the summer. During a hot, dry spell, grass will naturally enter a dormant, non-growing phase during which the leaves turn brown. But beneath the surface the plants are still alive. The proof of this is the speed with which your lawn turns green again when the rains return.
On this basis, if you can live with the natural summer browning, then no, lawn watering is not necessary. However, whether you rely on rain or choose to do additional lawn watering or irrigation, you must maintain good lawn care in other ways to maximise efficient uptake of water. And there are good and bad ways to water, discussed below.
Remember, a pale lawn in summer may be down to poor nutrition, not dry conditions.
Can I rely on rain for my lawn watering?
You can, if you are looking after your lawn properly. Our weather is changing rapidly, but we still get an average of between 130 and 180 days with precipitation each year. So, to get the most from natural lawn watering (and also avoid the other extreme, surface flooding) we need to keep the thatch layer in good condition, allowing good water percolation through to the soil. We must also aerate the soil to reduce compaction and create space for the water without expelling vital oxygen. You can also use soil conditioners and even wetting agents to enhance the soil’s health and natural ability to make use of water.
If I have to water my lawn, what should I do?
First, in today’s world you must have a really good reason to water a lawn. Second, if your lawn really does need watering, you must follow good practice to minimise the quantity of water. There are three golden rules for efficient lawn watering:
- Avoid shallow or under-watering: this just leads to shallow or poor root development. Make sure the water penetrates well into the soil.
- Avoid the middle of the day when too much water is lost through evaporation. Early morning is acceptable (although a strong morning sun can quickly suck moisture from the ground), but late at night is best as summer grass grows more at night than in the daytime and will use the water more efficiently.
- Avoid over-watering! Too much water will force the air out of the soil and increase compaction. This will damage the soil’s biology and lead to poor root development.
Then there is the question of how often – light and regular/daily or a deep drenching less often? Again, the answer depends on the condition of your lawn and, most of all, your soils. If you have compacted soil, you will waste huge amounts of water through run-off – water that you may as well be pouring straight into the drain.
Finally, remember that old plants will die off during hot spells – it’s natural and no amount of watering will save them.