Ask the Superintendent – Summer Watering Made Easy

Ask the Superintendent – Summer Watering Made Easy

We have arrived at the toughest, hottest part of the golf season and no matter what plantings and turf you have you know that water management in August is critical for success. That leads to the most asked question to superintendents across the country this time of year, how can I make the most out of my water use in my home lawn/garden? As usual loyal readers we will start with some basics on the topic then answer the question with proven action steps. Let’s start with a statement about water use in general, it is never appropriate to overwater, it costs more money and creates a series of new problems not to mention the environmental impact. Now let’s move into the art and science of water management. 

When we are getting adequate rainfall no one thinks about watering the lawn or landscape, but when it stops raining and your green assets are in peril you must transform into a skilled water manager. Whether you have an in-ground automated irrigation system or you are still hand watering with the world renowned water hose with thumb or sprinkler there are a few things you should know before opening the faucet and your wallet. 

Weather Forecasts, Actuals and Watering Decisions 

To water or not to water that is the question. The weather forecast is never 100% accurate but it must be included in your watering decisions. Get a good weather app for your phone (our favorites are AccuWeather, Radarscope and WeatherBug) or watch the local meteorologist each night on TV but knowing there is a 90% chance of rain tomorrow should make you aware that you will likely not need to irrigate or knowing that it’s a 10% chance of rain with 100 degree temperatures should make you increase your water accordingly. You will also learn to confirm whether it actually rained and how much it rained.  Have you ever noticed a business or home owner’s automated irrigation system watering during a heavy rain? Make sure you incorporate weather forecasts and actuals into your watering decisions and processes. 

Action steps: Get a weather forecast that you trust and install a rain gauge in your yard and use them. Note* the rain gauge should be installed 2-5 feet above the ground mounted on the side of a single post in an open area. The top of the rain gauge should extend several inches above the top of the mounting post. The mounting post should have a rounded, pointed, or slanted top to avoid upward splash towards the rain gauge. Keep your own records to compare with online statistics. 

General Watering Guidelines

Once you have decided to water knowing what time of day to water is the next question to be answered. Watering in the morning (before 10 a.m.) is the best time for your lawn and/or garden; it’s cooler and winds tend to be calmer in the morning so water can soak into the soil and be absorbed by the grass roots before it can evaporate. It is also important not to overwater, water until the soil is fully saturated (Field Capacity) avoid large puddles or runoff. Know your soils and plants, some require very little water while others need quite a bit of water to be healthy so knowing that cacti use less water than live oaks and that Bermuda Turf is more drought tolerant than Fescue turf is important information for the avid irrigator. Mulch Trees and Garden Beds, in addition to beautifying the landscape, mulch provides numerous services in the garden, from managing weeds to controlling soil erosion. It would not be an Avid Golfer ask the superintendent article without a top 10 list so here is our top ten tips to make the most of your water resources in your home lawn/garden.

Top 10 ways to make the most of your water use in your home lawn and garden

No. 10: Know what type of soil you have and it’s general make up fertility pH etc. Soil test information available at (, Note that soil types hold moisture differently, clay holds moisture better than sand.   

No. 9: Know what plants/turf are present in your landscape and their basic water needs. For example, Fescue turf needs more water than Bermuda turf. Yucca uses less water than hollies. 

No. 8: Watch and track weather and its impact on watering use and evapotranspiration which is the sum of evaporation from the land and water surfaces plus transpiration from plant root absorption.

No. 7: Use the screw driver test to see if your soils are properly hydrated. You should be able to easily push a 6” screw driver into the ground of your lawn/garden, small moisture meters are available.

No. 6: Water deeply and infrequently to save water and encourage root depth, two or three deeper waterings per week are better than light watering every day. (See No. 1 for water recommendations)

No. 5: If you have an automated irrigation system take a picture of the design blue print or as-build (locations of sprinkler heads, valves, wire and controls location) with your cell phone so you can have easy access to this information. Do not wait to have a leak to find your water valves. 

No. 4: Inspect all of your watering devices and system regularly to ensure proper coverage and working order, consider a professional inspection or irrigation audit annually.

No. 3: Raise the HOC (Height of Cut) for lawns during periods of drought or high temperature to improve the plants ability to react to the stresses, remember to never remove more than ⅓ of the leaf blade when mowing.

No. 2: If you have a brown area in turf or a wilted branch on an ornamental plant that is not responding to watering be sure to check for other causes such as fungi (phytophthora), chinch bugs, army worms or even buried construction debris can mimic drought stress symptoms. 

No. 1: Water appropriately, in general terms your lawn needs 1” to 1.5” of water per week even in the winter, if you get enough precipitation naturally you’re all set but if you do need to supplement or irrigate here is a simple way to water appropriately. Place several small containers (empty tuna cans work great) across the lawn or garden so that sprinkler water can fall naturally in them. Run your sprinkler until you get ½” in the cans, this usually takes about 20 minutes. So by watering 20 minutes (enter your actual number) three times a week you would be able to reach a weekly goal 1.5”supplemental water, adjust as needed for increased or decreased weekly totals. 

Water is a precious resource and must be managed and measured to be sure we are making the most of every drop. Professional water managers engage a variety of technologies to achieve their goals and so can you. A basic mix of science, art and commitment will ensure that you are managing water resources appropriately. I hope that you found these tips useful and add them to your daily routines and share them with your friends. Keep reading Avid Golfer and be sure to thank your golf course superintendent.