Getting the greenest grass on the block is all about timing
We all know that neighbor who's constantly watering grass no matter the weather or time of day. But how much do you really need to water your lawn, and is there a clear right and wrong way to do it? The answer is a resounding yes.
Learn the whens, whats, whys, and hows of watering grass—so it’s green on every side, not just in your overzealous neighbor’s front yard.
Why Does Your Grass Watering Technique Matter?
The way you water doesn’t just help you maintain green grass. It actually dramatically influences your lawn’s health. Overwatering or watering too late in the evening can create the type of moisture that invites fungal disease and leads to dead spots on your lawn.
Watering too little or watering in the heat of the day won’t let enough moisture reach the roots. An optimized watering strategy will encourage deep root growth that can withstand disease and drought. If you need help maintaining a schedule, hire a local lawn care company.
Prepping to Water Your Grass
Before you can start watering grass, you need to nail down some of the lawn care basics. It’s important to know how much and how often to water. This mostly depends on your climate, but consider the following guidelines when building your watering schedule.
When to Water Grass
The best time for watering grass is early in the morning. Around sunrise is ideal—but if you don’t have automatic sprinklers, just make sure you water early enough that the weather is still cool and the light is as low as possible. This helps maximize absorption because the water is less likely to evaporate before it sinks into the roots.
If morning is out of the question, the next best time is late afternoon. Avoid watering your grass in the evening. Damp soil that sits overnight in darkness can attract fungus (if you notice what looks like spiderwebs on your grass, that could be the culprit).
How Often to Water Grass
The general—and we mean general—rule of thumb is to water your lawn twice a week. During intense heat waves, you can add a third grass watering. Keep in mind that you’ll need to water new seeds daily, but you won’t need to water at all during the winter if you live in a cold climate and have cool season grass.
There are a few exceptions. In early spring, when the weather is typically very wet, you’ll only need to water your lawn during a dry spell. If the ground isn’t frozen and it hasn’t rained for two weeks, give your lawn a good soak.
How Much to Water Grass
Most lawns thrive with 1 to 1/2 inches of water per week, split between two waterings to maximize absorption—but this isn’t a hard and fast rule. This figure is dependent on the weather and changes seasonally.
You have to factor in precipitation, but here are some general estimates:
During the growing season: 1–1.5 inches of water, split between two waterings
During intense summer heat: 1.5–2 inches per week, spread across three waterings
During fall: Water your grass normally until the ground freezes.
During winter: Once the ground has frozen, do not water your grass.
How Long to Water Grass
Each time you water your grass, you should ideally use enough water to soak into the top 6 to 8 inches of turf. In general, most sprinkler systems will deliver the appropriate amount of water within 30 minutes, though watering time can vary based on several factors:
Device you’re using to water
Thickness of your grass
Type of soil under your grass
While rain generally distributes water over your lawn quickly and evenly, different sprinkler systems and or hand-held hoses take different amounts of time to distribute water. A multi-head sprinkler will take less time than a single-head sprinkler, which could take less time than watering manually with a hose. The thickness of your grass and how absorbent the soil is underneath your lawn will also make an impact.
How to Water Grass
Once you have the basics down, it’s time to start watering. Most homeowners either use a sprinkler system or a hose with a sprayer nozzle or sprinkler attachment.
Once you start watering your grass regularly, you’ll understand how much it needs and won’t need to measure it out. Follow these steps to get started.
1. Water With a Sprinkler System or Hose
Things are simple if you’re using an irrigation system. You can use the output numbers included with your model to reach the right weekly water level. You can also install a flow timer on your sprinkler system to measure the exact gallons needed for your square footage. When in doubt, chat with a local sprinkler specialist to find the right setting for your lawn.
If you’re watering with a hose, it takes a little more trial-and-error than with an irrigation system. The first time, you should start with a dry lawn so you can easily check your progress. Spray an even mist across the lawn in a back-and-forth motion. Check the moisture level, then repeat the process as needed. This method works with all different kinds of nozzles, including a detachable sprinkler head.
2. Check the Moisture Level
If you’re manually watering grass, you can check your lawn’s moisture level in three ways. Remember, you want to soak the first 6 to 8 inches of soil. After a while, you’ll start to understand how much water your lawn typically needs without needing to check.
The Screwdriver Method
Measure how far the water's sunk into the ground by loosening a small area with a screwdriver. If the screwdriver drives right into the ground with no give, it's as dry as a bone and needs water.
The Can Method
You can put cans out in your yard as you’re watering. Test the water level using a ruler to make sure it’s 0.5 to 0.75 inches.
The Step Test
You can also step your foot onto your grass and check if the grass bounces right back. If not, it's quite thirsty.
3. Set Up a Watering Schedule
Avoid over or underwatering your lawn by making it a habit as predictable as walking the dog or grabbing groceries. For weeks without soaking rain, split the full water amount between two sessions several days apart. If it’s super hot, add an extra watering. If a storm rolls through, skip a watering. Ideally, water anywhere between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.
4. Test Your Soil
Let's say you give an even soaking with the hose and water just pools on top of your lawn instead of soaking into the ground. You may have a high clay content or impacted soil. When it comes to clay, break up watering into two rounds to allow the water some time to sink. If you have impacted soil, consider bringing in a landscaper for aeration services.
"Slowly adding in soil amendments such as compost or organic material over time to your lawn will also help break up the clay content," says Tara Dudley, owner of Plant Life Designs. "Talk to your local landscaper for more information on this."
5. Adjust for Sunlight
The shady areas of your lawn will naturally need less water than those in constant sunlight. Keep this in mind if you're noticing sun-specific patchiness in the color and consistency of your blades.
Tips for Watering Grass
Watering isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution because not every homeowner has the same type of grass, the same landscape, and the same weather. Once you have a watering schedule, there are still a few things you should keep in mind if you want a lush lawn.
1. Know Your Type of Grass
Your lawn has certain nuances depending on whether it’s cool-season or warm-season grass. This will change the way you water. Consider the following as you care for your lawn:
Some cool-season grasses go dormant during droughts, so they might look dead, but most of the time they aren’t a lost cause. These grasses will turn green as soon as you return to regular watering. Out of the bunch, tall fescue tends to be the most drought-tolerant.
Warm-season grasses typically require less water than cool season grasses. You’ll still need to water them more frequently during high heat, droughts, high winds, and low humidity—especially if you have sandy soil that doesn’t hold moisture. Zoysia grass, St. Augustine, and Bermuda grass tend to be the most drought-tolerant.
2. Adapt With the Seasons
Lawn care should change with the season, whether you're up in Massachusetts or down in Texas. For example, winter dormancy requires less watering than the summer growing season. Increase watering your lawn in times without rain—but keep an eye on municipal or water management district restrictions in your area.
3. Keep the Hills in Mind
Have you noticed that the grass is always greener at the bottom of the hill? Slope can play a large role in how much water ends up in each area. Water your hilly lawn in phases and pay attention to how much slides down the hill before rehydrating that area.
4. Treat a Newly Seeded Lawn With Care
Watering your newly seeded lawn is a whole other kettle of fish. New sod requires daily watering for at least two to three weeks until it’s taken root.
5. Avoid Waste
Caring for a lawn comes with the crucial caveat that a water-efficient landscape is best for the environment. In addition to the tips above, choosing native grasses and creating a watering schedule helps you be mindful of water usage. Do not let sprinklers waste water on your driveway or sidewalks, for example.
DIY vs. Hire a Pro
Most homeowners have no problems watering their lawn DIY, but it depends on whether or not you have a sprinkler system. If you have sprinklers or plan to install them, it’s a good idea to hire a lawn irrigation service.
They’ll be able to help you set your sprinkler for the growing season—so you can grow the greenest lawn with the least amount of waste. It’s also important to have a professional winterize your sprinklers at the end of the season to prevent damage when they’re not in use.
Frequently Asked Questions
It takes the average sprinkler system about 30 minutes to deliver a half an inch of water—and most lawns need 1 to 1 1/2 inches per week.
Two half-hour sessions a week is a great minimum, but it depends on other factors like the weather, the type of soil, and your watering method. Make sure you water long enough that the water soaks 6 to 8 inches into the soil, and don’t overwater. If the weather is rainy, you can skip it.
The ideal time to water your lawn is early in the morning when the weather is still cool and the sun isn’t at its brightest. This helps prevent evaporation. Shoot for a time between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.
Watering your lawn every day is a quick way to encourage root rot and other fungal diseases. Lawns only need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water a week, split between one to two waterings. The only exception is new seeds. Water new seeds daily, then switch to less frequent watering once they start to grow.
If you have to water your grass in the evening, opt for the early evening before the sun sets. You do not want water sitting on your lawn overnight without a chance to evaporate because it encourages fungal diseases and other lawn problems.