For Release June 15, 1999

The Art of Watering

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

This has been a very entertaining spring to watch people and how they water their lawns and gardens. There have been days that I have driven down the street just shaking my head in wonder and amazement. Watering a lawn, a garden or landscape plants is an art form that is based in science.

The first step is to know how much water a plant needs, how much water the soil has available and how much rain has fallen recently. Not all plants are going to use water the same way. A newly seeded lawn needs water more often than an established lawn. A newly transplanted flower needs watering almost daily until it can establish roots in the soil. An early morning check of plants will tell you if they need water. If they are wilting first thing in the morning they are probably dry. If they are wilting in the late afternoon, they may just be hot.

You have to learn how to read the soil and read the plant. More damage is done to plants through over-watering than under watering. For most garden plants, landscape plants and lawns the average summer water need is about one inch per week. The Sunday morning rain we just had provided anywhere from three quarters of an inch to over an inch, depending on where you were around the area. With that kind of rain there was absolutely no reason for lawn sprinklers to be running Sunday evening, in fact lawn sprinklers should never be operated in the late afternoon or evening anyway. I’ll be watching those lawns for brown spot to show up later this summer.

Buy yourself a rain gauge. An adequate rain gauge can be purchased for not that much money. Buy one that you can stick in the ground so you can measure how much irrigation you apply to your lawn or garden. People are inclined to do things by the clock or the calendar. Mother Nature works at her own pace. If you don’t know how fast your sprinkler applies water you don’t know how long to run it. Place a rain gauge out and measure how much water goes on in thirty minutes or one hour.

Ideally you want to apply enough water to soak up the ground six to twelve inches deep. Which corresponds to one half to one inch of water or rain. But some soils simply won’t take in water as fast as your sprinkler will apply it. If you can not get even a half inch applied before it starts running off or looking like a swamp then you need to call me and we can discuss ways to apply water slower or improve water infiltration into the soil.

If you water your lawn, you should be watering once or twice a week with that one half to one inch application on each watering. This should be done between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. This minimizes water lost to evaporation and wind. It also minimizes the amount of time that the grass stays wet. The longer that the grass is wet each day, the more likely you are to be fighting grass diseases.

I don’t like to use sprinklers in gardens for the same reason. You will have more disease problems in flowers and vegetables if you use a sprinkler. If you use an open hose, soaker hoses or drip irrigation, you will keep foliage drier and have healthier plants.

Garden and lawn watering will be done every summer in Kansas. For the health of your plants don’t start to soon and then do it right when you do it. We have a very good bulletin at the Extension Office, 119 East 9th St., Junction City, on watering lawns.


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