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Watering Tips to Avoid Summer Drought & Fungus in Grass

When you purchased your home, you probably didn’t bargain for the struggle that comes from a chore that seems simple — watering the lawn.

That’s because finding the proper balance between overwatering and underwatering isn’t easy. So many variables come into play, and you didn’t sign up to tend the lawn seven days a week, right?

That’s where we get the opportunity to assist you. For over 35 years, we’ve tested every watering strategy possible and are happy to share what works best with you. This includes avoiding one of the most impressive and destructive organisms on Earth – fungus.

This Watering Tips Article Covers:

Understanding Your Lawn’s Water Needs

Are we overstating how big a problem lawn fungus is? Afraid not. Fungi can survive as spores in dead grass clippings over a cold, hard winter, showing up in the spring ready to ruin your turf.

Avoiding a fungal problem in the first place is our mission. To do that, we need to know if you’re overwatering or underwatering.

Signs of overwatering:

  • Yellow, brown, or pale green grass
  • Blades may remain green but become frail
  • Mushy or soggy turf
  • Water running off the lawn
  • Mushrooms

Signs of underwatering:

  • Dry or brittle grass
  • Footprints visible after walking on the lawn
  • Reduced growth

The best test to see if your watering is on point?

A Soil Probe

Using a soil probe made for moisture testing is ideal (similar techniques without the tool noted below).

Simply insert the probe into the lawn. Pull it up, and soil will cling to the tool. The ideal consistency is soil that holds its form around the probe — but isn’t saturated, as that indicates overwatering. If the soil is powdery or crumbles easily, underwatering is the issue.

Check a few different lawn sections to ensure consistent testing. If results aren’t consistent, check your irrigation system because this may indicate uneven watering.

Using the soil probe technique without this tool:

  • Push a screwdriver into the soil and use the same consistency check.
  • Dig up a small clump of turf with a garden trowel. Squeeze the soil in your hand to see if it stays compacted or crumbles or is saturated.

These tests inform your watering adjustments. Also, use the following best practices.

Watering Timing and Frequency

Over the years, we’ve lost count of the number of sprinklers we see running at the worst possible time – at night!

The best time to water? Mornings. Specifically 4 AM to 8 AM.

Even when you get the timing right, it’s crucial to water the lawn in a way proven to maximize the benefits. Too much water gets wasted by watering seven days a week, even if it’s only 15 minutes at a time. Plus, that leaves grass roots thirsty because the water only reaches the grass blades and barely penetrates the soil ( ⅛-inch penetration).

Your turf will thank you (by thriving) if you run the sprinklers for 60 minutes at a time, two to three days a week. This technique soaks the ground, allowing precious water to reach the grass roots.

Get the timing and frequency down pat, and you’re on your way to a healthy lawn that can survive dry conditions and avoid fungal diseases. 

Since grass fungus is such a threat, though, don’t stop there.

How to Maximize Water Efficiency and Avoid Fungus

The largest living organism on Earth is a fungus, covering the equivalent of 1,665 football fields! It could be over 8,000 years old, spreads slowly, and destroys trees by releasing digestive enzymes and consuming the wood.

Rust (a common New England lawn fungus) is relentless also. It can live through severe drought as dormant spores, reactivating once moisture returns and destroying a lawn. Other common fungal diseases in Eastern Connecticut:

  • Brown patch 
  • Dollar spot 
  • Red thread

All four are difficult to manage once they take hold, making comprehensive turf care vital. Prevention is the best cure.

  • Invest in smart irrigation systems that adjust to the weather
  • Use drip irrigation and soaker hoses in landscaping beds to avoid overwatering nearby turf
  • Don’t mow too low, and mulch clippings to return organic material to soil
  • Mow at even higher levels in extreme heat
  • Aerate regularly (liquid aeration leaves no mess)

Four Common Watering Mistakes

Time to look at the most common watering mistakes and easy ways to avoid them.

  1. Uneven watering
  2. Inefficient irrigation systems
  3. Outdated irrigation systems
  4. Overwatering shaded turf

Regular irrigation testing helps prevent uneven watering, while your settings can be made efficient with the help of an irrigation professional or free advice from your extension office.

Replacing outdated irrigation systems is an investment that saves water while producing healthier turf. For shaded turf, trim trees back to allow more sun or adjust that sprinkler zone.

What About Non-Irrigated and Dormant Lawns?

Not everyone has an irrigation system to get their lawn through dry spells. That’s ok. There are ways to handle this situation. It takes a counterintuitive mindset, though.

It’s easy to think you’re mowing at too high of a level. But most likely, you’re not mowing high enough. The higher you leave your grass during drought-like conditions, the more protective shade is available for grass roots.

Mowing too low stresses turf, even in ideal climates. With no rainfall or irrigation back-up, mowing too low is one of the most harmful things for a lawn. Go with the lawn science and leave the grass higher to gain root shade and reduce moisture evaporation.

Even more counterintuitive? Allowing a lawn to go dormant during a drought. The truth is – doing nothing is sometimes the correct, natural solution.

Watering at this stage is usually futile and even harmful since extra water promotes fungus in the grass. Adding nitrogen fertilizers is pointless since dormant lawn growth isn’t going to be “jump-started.” Lastly, less frequent mowing and foot traffic will reduce stress on dormant turf.

Summer Watering Tips Summary

Keeping your lawn properly watered and defended from fungal diseases should be less of a struggle now. 

Just remember:

  1. Watch for signs of overwatering and underwatering
  2. Test soil moisture levels
  3. Implement proper watering timing, frequency, and technique
  4. Course correct watering mistakes
  5. Avoid further stressing a drought-stricken lawn

Most importantly, focus on prevention because while a fungicide can cure lawn fungus issues, it’s not a quick fix. So stay three or four steps ahead of this destructive threat to your lawn.

If you need help dialing in your irrigation settings or have spotted a fungal issue in the making, contact American Landscape and Lawn Science today.

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