Best Lawn-Watering Times


Always water early in the morning

That’s the first piece of advice that comes to mind from Lorence R. Oki, who earned a doctoral degree in ecology through the University of California, Davis. He also holds degrees in plant sciences and ornamental horticulture. His specialty is water management — namely, irrigation efficiency and runoff management.

Why is early morning the best watering time? The sun’s rays are not at their strongest yet, and the wind tends to be at its calmest. This way you lose a lot less water due to evaporation or desiccation even from the slightest breeze.

To add to Oki’s recommendations, the University of Florida adds that the best lawn-watering time is between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. Your lawn needs will be met with an early morning watering schedule. You’ll achieve a healthy lawn without using as much water, since early watering times give it a chance to sink in instead of evaporating in the hot weather.

Opt for rotary stream sprinklers

These are the metallic sprinkler systems permanently installed into certain lawns and turf, often seen in professional lawns (and in some larger home lawns).

The dinky plastic sprinklers you get at farm and garden stores, on the other hand, simply don’t distribute water nearly as efficiently, and can lead to overwatering and runoff. That, in turn, leads to unnecessary water loss.

Water Your Lawn Deeply

The amount of water you use is critical for healthy grass roots. You want your grass to develop a deep root system. A shallow root system is less resilient. That means you need to water lawns deeply. Oki recommends putting down enough water to reach a depth of 12 inches for thoroughly quenching your lawn, which is possible with minimal water loss using rotary stream sprinklers. Inexpensive sprinkler heads tend to water only to depths of around 2 inches, with the rest running off and evaporating — and then you lose all effectiveness and efficiency.

Of note, less-frequent irrigations at depths like these can allow you to water your lawn as little as only once per month, according to the University of California.

You can check how deeply your water is reaching with an inexpensive soil moisture tester. Even simpler: Plunge a screwdriver into the grass and check to see how deeply the water has reached.

Soil Types

Your watering pattern and frequency will vary depending on the type of soil you have:

Clay Toil

Clay soils retain water better than others, so it needs less water. However, it takes water longer to soak into clay, which increases the chance of inefficient runoff. The solution: Use a lower volume of water, but for a longer period of time.

Sandy Soils

Compared to clay soils, sandy soils retain less water, “but less water is needed to properly wet sandy soil,” according to the lawn watering guide from Texas A&M’s extension service. Therefore, watering sandy soil takes less time than watering clay soil but must be done more frequently.”

Loamy soils

Loamy soils have a density between sandy and clay soils, so the watering needs in loamy soil is in between as well. Water at a moderate volume, for a moderate length of time.

Grass Type Makes a Difference, Too

The type of grass you plant will also make a difference in making sure the lawn gets the right amount of water. Some grass varieties are more drought-tolerant. Those that can withstand a dry spell better don’t need as much water.

Drought tolerance of common types of grass
 Warm-season grassesCool-season grasses
GoodBermudagrass, Zoysia japonica, Seashore paspalumTall fescue
FairSt. Augustinegrass, Centipedegrass, BahiagrassKentucky bluegrass
PoorZoysia matrellaBentgrass, rough bluegrass, perennial ryegrass
Sources: Texas A&M University Extension Service, Cornell University Sports Field Management

How Do These Tips Save You Money?

The benefits are obvious: if you can cut down on irrigation, Oki says, then that’s less often you have to foot a massive water bill just to keep your lawn green. It’s not just money in your water bill you save. 

Ultimately, you might cut down on unnecessary costs that go into long-term lawn maintenance, too. Inevitably, runoff from inefficient watering leads to soil loss, which in turn affects those important treatments you apply for a lusher, healthier lawn (conventional or natural pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and the like). You can bet that if water is running off from your lawn, it’s taking all those costly treatments right with it.

Save Time, Too

Oki stated that streamlining your irrigation to guzzle less water can save you time, too — and that means saving a whole lot of work and backaches, too, when you think about it.

Some of his time-saving recommendations were:

  • Contact a lawn care professional to calibrate your irrigation system as soon as it is installed. 

Proper watering, with minimal waste, can be achieved more quickly by adopting the advice of an expert.

However, you can do the work yourself to tune up your lawn sprinklers. The old “tuna can” test works well: Scatter tuna cans or similarly shaped containers around the yard. Turn on the water and take a lawn sprinkler audit and see how long it takes to get one inch of water in the can.

  • Install a fully automated (or even no-touch) system.

An irrigation system that automatically manages and gauges both time and output (water flow in inches per hour) will save you an immense amount of time and work — if you can afford it and you’re willing to put in the overhead right at the start. Though it is an automated setup, it helps to get the advice from a lawn care professional to set it up correctly for the best reduced-water use, too.

Adrian White

Adrian White

Adrian White is a certified herbalist who co-owns an Iowa organic farm specializing in organically grown produce and gourmet mushrooms. Her articles have been published in Healthline, Rodale's Organic Life, The Guardian, Civil Eats, and Good Housekeeping.