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How to Water Your Lawn Efficiently

Three Methods:Knowing How to Water Your LawnFinding Ways to Conserve WaterAltering Your Lawn

For many homeowners, a lush green lawn is a symbol of pride and a pleasant place to relax or play. But maintaining a green lawn will require a lot of water, and depending on where you live, there may be water restrictions or simply low water levels for much of the year. No matter where you live, it's important to learn ways to conserve as much water as possible. Learning how to efficiently water your lawn will help save you money and preserve this precious natural resource.

Method 1
Knowing How to Water Your Lawn

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    Learn your evapotranspiration rate. Evapotranspiration (ET) measures how much water is needed in order for plants to grow and thrive. It factors in evaporation (water lost to the atmosphere) and transpiration (the productive use of water by plants).[1] Water that is lost or consumed through ET will need to be replenished in order for plants to continue to grow and prosper, and yet the rate of ET will vary, depending on factors like the species of grass in your yard, the climate you live in, and the seasonal variation in precipitation.[2]
    • ET rates will vary, even within the same city, from one time of year to another.[3]
    • Turf grass does not need 100 percent ET replacement. But how far below 100 percent your lawn can fall while still surviving will depend on the species of grass and its unique drought tolerance.[4]
    • Virtually every type of turf grass can survive brief periods of drought, so long as that dry period is followed by a period of recovery. During recovery, it's important to ensure that your lawn is getting enough water to keep it from dying completely.[5]
    • You can learn about your own yard's needs by learning about the variety of turf grass planted in your yard and studying your region's ET rate. You can find information on both factors by searching online for grass identification guides and your region's climate and ET, respectively.
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    Evaluate your soil type. The type of soil under your yard, as well as the climate and time of year, will dictate how often you need to water your lawn. If you live in an area that is prone to heavy rainfall during parts of the year, for example, you will not need to water as often. Certain yards may not reap the benefits of rainfall, however, depending on the yard's composition and layout.[6]
    • Certain soil types dictate a lawn's ability to absorb water. A high composition of clay, for example, will not facilitate easy absorption from the soil.[7] Clay tends to average around 1.5 inches of water per foot of soil, while fine sand and loamy sand retain the least amount of water at 0.7 and 0.8 inches of water per foot of soil, respectively.[8]
    • Silty loam, clay loam, and silty clay loam have the highest available water retention of all soil types, averaging 2.4 inches of water per foot of soil.[9]
    • The layout of the yard is a factor as well. A sloped lawn will not be able to absorb much excess water, because anything that is not readily absorbed will most likely run off downhill.[10]
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    Decide when to water. Certain times of day are more conducive to watering the lawn than others, and that will vary depending once again on your climate. It may come as no surprise that where you live may be the biggest factor in when and how often you need to water your lawn.
    • If you live in a humid climate, experts advise that you water your lawn between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am for optimum results.[11]
    • In hot, arid climates, it's best to water lawns in the still, early-morning hours before sunrise. This will help reduce the amount of water that would otherwise be lost to daytime evaporation and winds.[12]
    • In cooler temperatures, it's best to water your lawn before 10:00 am or after 6:00 pm to minimize evaporation.[13]
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    Determine how often to water. While some may feel that the lawn should be watered on a daily basis, often times that is not necessary. Many factors influence how often you need to water your lawn. In drought-prone Southern California, for example, you may need to water your lawn anywhere from 20 minutes per week to 200 minutes per week, depending on your geographic region, time of year, and hourly sprinkler output.[14]
    • Use the minimum amount of water necessary to maintain your lawn. Using too much water will run up your monthly water bill, waste vital resources, and may end up damaging your lawn with over-saturation.[15]
    • The best measure for determining how often to water your lawn is to check the lawn itself. If footprints or lawn mower tracks remain indented in the grass for longer than 30 minutes after passing through the yard, it may be a sign that your grass is getting dry.[16]
    • Check the color of your lawn. Turf grass that is dry will often turn to a blueish-gray shade, rather than a lush green.[17]
    • You can also check the soil moisture to see if your lawn needs to be watered. Drive a six inch screwdriver or stake into the ground. If the screwdriver breaks through the soil easily and without much effort, it's a good sign that the soil is retaining enough water, and you can hold off on watering the lawn for a few days.[18]
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    Measure your sprinkler output. One important factor in determining how often to water your lawn is how much water your sprinkler system puts out. You can measure the output of your sprinklers by arranging empty tuna cans or cat food cans across your lawn. If you do not have empty cans, several coffee mugs will also work well. Then run the sprinklers for 20 minutes and use a ruler to measure the water depth put out across the yard.
    • After 20 minutes, add all the depths together from each container in your yard and divide by the total number of containers to obtain an average for the whole yard. Then multiply that number (the total yard measurements over 20 minutes) by three to average your total sprinkler output per hour (60 minutes).[19]
    • Compare your yard's sprinkler output with your region's recommended monthly watering time. You can find a chart for your region by searching online.

Method 2
Finding Ways to Conserve Water

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    Adjust your mowing habits. Mowing the lawn is essential, but mowing too often or cutting the grass too low can dry out an otherwise healthy lawn. Using the same pattern to mow your lawn can also cause stress to the grass from the repeated wheel tracks that follow the same direction week after week.[20]
    • Try changing the direction(s) you mow in every time you cut the grass. It will help cut down on stress to the lawn, and may also prevent divots from forming in your pattern.[21]
    • Set your mower's wheels to the proper height. There is some variance of recommended heights depending on the type of grass in your yard. Tall Fescue grass, for example, should be kept no shorter than two and a half to three inches, while Bermuda grass should be kept between 3/4 inch to one and a half inches.[22]
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    Use a smart clock. If you have an automatic irrigation system, you may want to consider getting a smart clock or smart irrigation controller. These devices regulate how much water is put out by your sprinkler system and typically have some type of rain sensor, which automatically shuts off your sprinklers when it starts to rain.[23]
    • Some state or regional authorities offer rebates or tax incentives for water consumers who install smart irrigation systems. Check with your local water authority to see if you would qualify for such a program.[24]
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    Reduce how much you fertilize. Frequent fertilization of your yard may dry out the lawn. Using too much fertilizer or fertilizing too often will increase the need to water your lawn more frequently and in greater quantities.[25]
    • In late spring and early fall, use a fertilizer that is three parts nitrogen, one part phosphorus, and two parts potassium. This is ideal for maintaining a healthy lawn without needing to over water the grass.[26]
    • Opt for either slow-release fertilizer or a mixture of quick- and slow-release fertilizers for your lawn. Quick-release fertilizer releases all of the nitrogen rapidly, which will require more frequent applications over time.[27]
    • Follow the instructions and recommendations on your fertilizer's packaging label, or read online about how and when to properly apply fertilizer to your lawn.[28]
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    Consider reducing unnecessary watering. Watering your lawn serves a number of purposes. In addition to keeping the grass at its optimum health, it also reduces airborne dust and helps regulate the temperature of the soil. But if there are parts of your yard that do not get a lot of foot traffic or do not serve an aesthetic purpose (parts of the backyard or side yard, for example), consider reducing how much and how often you water those areas. You can still water them regularly without letting them wither, they just may not need as much water as the rest of the yard.[29]
    • In addition to cutting back on which parts of the lawn you water, you can also reduce evaporation around certain plants or flowerbeds by laying down a layer of organic mulch over the topsoil. This will help conserve water, and may reduce how often you need to water these parts of your yard.
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    Recycle water. If you're watering your grass and not a vegetable or fruit garden, you may want to consider recycling water. Rainwater is safe to use, as it is the same water that would otherwise naturally irrigate your yard, though there may be restrictions on how rainwater is collected and harvested depending on where you live.[30] Grey water, the gently-used and non-hazardous water from showers, dish sinks, and washing machine runoff, is not safe to drink but is generally considered safe to use for watering your lawn.[31]
    • If harvesting grey water, be sure to use environmentally-safe soaps and detergents. Try to use products that are considered "plant friendly," meaning they are free from salt, boron, and chlorine bleach.[32]
    • Try collecting rainwater. It's safe to use on any part of your lawn (including vegetable gardens), and it helps cut down on municipal water consumption. Some states in the U.S. have their own laws governing the collection and use of rainwater. To find out if there are any requirements or restrictions on collecting and using rainwater in your state, check the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association website, click the Resources tab, and read the section titled Laws, Rules & Codes.[33]
    • An easy way to get started collecting rainwater is to simply arrange buckets or barrels under the downspout coming off your gutter. If you decide that collecting rainwater is something you'd like to pursue more actively, there are more advanced collection methods, like rain barrels.
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    Check for leaky sprinklers. Broken or leaky sprinklers waste a substantial amount of water, and may actually be overwatering parts of your lawn. To cut back on your water bill and conserve water during times of drought, it's important to check your sprinkler system and water faucets and fix or replace any leaky or broken hardware.

Method 3
Altering Your Lawn

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    Pull weeds frequently. Weeds not only take up space in your yard, they also compete for water and nutrients in the soil. When you pull up weeds, be sure that you dig deep enough to remove the entire root system, as pulling out the surface sprouts will not effectively kill the weed.[34]
    • If you must use chemical herbicides on your weeds, use spot applications instead of a broad, whole-yard application. Spraying the entire yard can harm many of the organisms that live in the soil and could potentially pollute your local groundwater system.[35]
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    Choose the right grass. While it may seem to the untrained eye that grass is simply grass, there are, in fact, many different types of grass. Each variety has its own advantages, depending on the climate and region in which you live.[36]
    • Perennial Ryegrass is somewhat drought tolerant, easy to establish across the lawn, and can compete well with weeds that sprout up in the yard.[37]
    • Tall Fescue grass is very drought tolerant and has the deepest root system of all turf grasses, running anywhere from three to six feet deep. Tall Fescue doesn't necessarily use less water, but it does use water the same way a deep-root plant would use water. It also stays green during drought, which is advantageous if you live in a drought-prone climate.[38]
    • Fine Fescue grass has a low fertilizer requirement and a high drought tolerance. It can actually go dormant during dry periods when water is not applied, and will quickly come back to a healthy shade of green once water is applied again.[39]
    • Bentgrass grows well during cool weather, and much like Fine Fescue it can also go dormant during droughts. Bentgrass does not require very much fertilizer, either.[40]
    • Kentucky Bluegrass grows best in cool, humid, semi-arid, and temperate climates. This grass variety is moderately drought-tolerant.[41]
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    Consider alternatives to turf. Whether you have a large yard that is difficult to manage or you simply want a little more diversity in your yard's landscape, there are plenty of options for non-turf alternatives. Some drought-stricken communities may even offer incentives to homeowners who opt for non-turf alternatives, so it may be worth checking online or with your local department of natural resources to see if your region offers these incentives.
    • Ground cover makes a fine substitute for turf in some yards. Ground cover like drought-resistant plants are ideal for low-traffic parts of the yard. Planting ground cover in slanted parts of the yard that tend to lose a lot of water may also help conserve some water and promote a greener yard.[42]
    • Perennials, shrubs, and trees are all excellent alternatives to grass. Many of these plants have drought-resistant varieties that can help control erosion and water loss.[43]
    • Hardscapes, like decking or pavement (including stepping stones), can help cut back on how much you need to water your yard. Hardscapes also create recreation space, as a deck or patio makes an excellent place to sit outside for picnics, meals, or simple downtime.[44]


  • Grass that is overwatered will often exhibit some of the same symptoms as grass that needs water. If you notice the symptoms but the soil is damp, hold off on watering.
  • Aerating your lawn once a year can increase the soil's infiltration rate (the rate at which it absorbs water) and reduce runoff problems.
  • Local extension services or water conservation authorities can provide additional information on how to water your lawn more effectively and may provide other techniques to save water while keeping your lawn looking its best.


  • Find out if your community has watering restrictions. Many communities have responded to water shortages by implementing laws that restrict how many times per week residents can water their lawns, or for how long, and/or at what times. If you live in such an area, this article can still help you, but be sure to abide by the restrictions.
  • Be sure to check local ordinances before creating a rain barrel. In some places it is illegal, or there may be restrictions on how much water can be collected and through what methods. This is often due to water rights laws, which allocate all fresh water in rivers and streams, including the runoff into a river from rainfall, to a hierarchy of water rights owners.
  • If you choose to use a pesticide or herbicide to get a lush lawn, be very care and judicious in your use, as overuse can negatively impact your environment.

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