Best Time to Water Your Grass

sprinkler rainbow

The perfect green, picket fence yard is anything but easy to maintain, but it’s not impossible. Water is the place to start. And with water conservation becoming a growing concern, knowing the best time to water your grass is one of the most important aspects of lawn care.

When to Water

Watering early in the morning between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. is the most efficient way to water the lawn. Why is early morning the best time to water grass? The sun’s rays are not at their strongest yet, and the wind tends to be at its calmest. This way, you lose much less water due to evaporation from the sun and wind.

There is one caveat here. Early morning watering is best for established lawns, but watering new grass is a bit different. 

  • If you have planted new grass seed, keep the soil moist, but not soggy, by watering in the early morning and afternoon (or up to three times per day) to keep the soil moist at all times until the grass germinates.
  • For newly planted sod, make sure the water soaks into the top few inches of soil to promote root establishment. Water from one to three times per day, starting in the early morning, until roots start to establish.

How Much to Water

watering grass
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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.

Experts in drought-stricken California recommend putting down enough water to reach a depth of 12 inches to thoroughly quench your lawn. For minimal water loss, use rotary stream sprinklers and water in the early morning hours. 

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.

Check Your Soil

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. If you have trouble pushing a screwdriver 6 inches into the soil, then you haven’t watered enough.

The old “tuna can” test also works well: Scatter tuna cans or similarly shaped containers around the yard. Turn on the water and take a lawn sprinkler audit to see how long it takes to get 1 inch of water in the can.

Best Sprinklers for Your Lawn

closeup of a sprinkler head in grass with leaves
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There are many options when considering sprinkler systems. Sprinkler kits are available, or you can build your own. Whatever you’re looking for, these sprinkler options are a good place to start:

  • In-ground sprinklers are installed under your lawn (yes, in the ground) and can help avoid runoff when placed correctly. An in-ground sprinkler with a smart controller is your best bet for watering your lawn in the most time- and water-efficient manner.
  • Pulsating systems let water out in spurts at a high velocity. The powerful spurs of water mean less water loss due to wind.
  • Oscillating sprinklers notably have a long plastic or metal tube with holes that spray a gentle arc of water back and forth.
  • Sprinkler hoses work best for long strips of garden or flower beds. They lie on the ground, and the holes along the side allow for more of a drip irrigation, which is better for conserving water.
  • Traveling sprinklers are a tractor shape that hook directly to your garden hose and will move across your lawn flinging water in a circular motion.

Does Soil Type Matter?

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

ClaySandLoamy
Holds more waterExtremely porousModerately porous
Slow to absorb waterHolds water poorlyRetains moisture
Slow to release waterAllows quick water flowIdeal soil for grass
Key advice: To avoid runoff, do not water faster than the soil can absorb; water in cycles.Key advice: Water in 1/2-inch increments to saturate soil 6-8 inches deep.Key advice: Water as needed.

Source: LawnStarter

Clay Soil

Clay soils retain water better than others, so be careful not to give it too much water. Generally, it needs less water than other soils. 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.

The cycle and soak method is one of the best ways to avoid overwatering and runoff in clay soils. Water in increments so the soil has time to soak up the water, allowing the water to reach further into the root zone. You can do this by scheduling your irrigation system to have multiple start times while reducing the watering times. Leave an hour between watering sessions.

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. “Therefore, watering sandy soil takes less time than watering clay soil but must be done more frequently,” as often as two or three times per week.

Loamy Soils

Loamy soils have a density between sandy and clay soils. Water loamy soil at a moderate volume, for a moderate length of time. If you prefer to water regularly, once per week works well for loamy soils. But remember to let the grass tell you when it needs watering. Watch for wilting or discoloration before you water.

Do Grass Types Make a Difference?

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. 

Also, consider that cool-season lawns require up to 20 percent more water than warm-season lawns in the summer.

Drought tolerance of common types of grass
 Warm-season grassesCool-season grasses
ExcellentBuffalograssWheatgrass
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, then that’s less often you have to foot a massive water bill just to keep your lawn green. It’s not just money on your water bill you save, though. 

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.

Why it Saves Time

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

Time-saving recommendations:

  • 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 who can calibrate your system for maximum efficiency.

  • 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 advice from a sprinkler system professional to set it up correctly for the best reduced-water use, too.

FAQ About Lawn Watering

How Frequently Should You Water Your Lawn?

Most lawns should be watered once or twice a week. Circumstances such as rainfall, climate, grass type, and soil type may affect how frequently you need to water. Generally, lawns should get 1 to 1.5 inches of water each week. If you get a lot of rainfall during one week, you might not need to water at all.

How Much Does a Sprinkler System Cost?

In total, the average cost for an installed sprinkler system is around $3,150 or $0.60 per square foot. The cost will depend on the service installing the sprinkler, what kind of system you want, and the size of your yard.

● The typical cost for a ⅛ acre is between $1,000-$5,000.

● The average for a ¼ acre is $2,000-$11,000.

● The cost for a ½ acre comes to $4,000-$20,000.

How do you Water a Lawn During a Drought?

During a drought, you want to be careful of wasting water. Watering less means your grass will likely go dormant. Here are a few tips to keep it alive throughout the dry spell:

For cool-season lawns, water 0.25 to 0.5 inches every two to four weeks to keep the grass alive while it’s dormant. The best time of day to water is in the early morning.

For warm-season lawns, grass water needs aren’t as high, and watering isn’t as much of an issue since these grass types are used to the heat and go dormant in winter, not summer.

Pro Tip: Mowing high can help your grass by causing less stress to it during droughts.

Call the Lawn Care Professionals

Despite the initial simplicity of watering a lawn, there’s a lot to consider once you start looking deeper into your grass and soil. Don’t let that stop you from giving your lawn the best possible care. Call a local lawn care professional to mow, edge, and give advice on watering your yard.

Main Image Credit: Brocken Inaglory / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

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.