Most Georgia lawns have had plenty of rain in the past few months, but the hot, potentially dry months of summer are ahead. Without adequate moisture, plants cannot function normally and can become predisposed to other stresses in the environment, such as winter injury or diseases.
Should you water?
When it comes to lawn irrigation, you have two choices during long, dry periods in the summer: (1) Water the grass to keep it green, or (2) Don’t water. Let it turn brown and go dormant.
Watering keeps the grass green, but increases the need for mowing, encourages weed growth, can cause lawn disease and raises your water bill. If you decide to let your lawn go dormant, warm-season grasses like centipedegrass, bermudagrass and zoysiagrass will likely survive and rebound when favorable conditions return.
However, tall fescue lawns may not fare as well. In some cases, extended drought can severely injure or kill tall fescue. Whatever lawn care option you choose, stick with it. Flip-flopping between the two can weaken your lawn.
Identify a thirsty lawn
If you choose to irrigate your lawn during drought periods, do so efficiently. Water when the lawn shows signs of "thirst," applying an appropriate amount at the right time of day.
Foot-printing: Walk across your lawn. If your footprints remain in the grass very long, the lawn is dry.
Color test: When a lawn is dry a long time, it will have a bluish-gray cast. Watering brings back the color.
Check leaves: Dry grass responds by wilting, rolling or folding the leaves.
Screwdriver test: If the soil is very dry, it will be hard to insert a screwdriver into the lawn.
Watering your lawn
Once you have determined your lawn is dry, apply about 1 inch of water. This amount should moisten the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. If runoff is a problem, apply half and let it soak in before applying more water. Early morning is the best time to water. Irrigation timers should be set to water the lawn between 4 and 6 a.m.
Water your lawn only as often as necessary. Applying a little bit of water daily can be harmful, as it can encourage shallow roots. This makes the grass less drought-tolerant. Stretch the interval between each watering to encourage development of deep, extensive roots. Most established lawns do not need to be watered more than twice per week.
Georgia is following a non-drought schedule for outdoor water use. Under a non-drought schedule, outdoor water use is allowed three days a week on assigned days using odd and even-numbered addresses.
Odd-numbered addresses can water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Even-numbered and unnumbered addresses are allowed to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Water use may occur at any time of the day on the assigned days, but to be water efficient, landscape watering should NOT occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.