Telltale signs that you're overwatering your lawn

Frequently soaking the grass can do more harm than good

Published: August 18, 2014 05:00 PM

If you’re watering your lawn every day, you’re doing it wrong. Healthy lawns don’t need that much water and in fact can be damaged by overwatering. By watering less you’ll have healthier plants, save money on water bills, and conserve water by giving your lawn just what it needs, not more. Here’s some mid-summer advice from the experts at Consumer Reports and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Overwatering damages the plant’s roots. An established lawn needs about 1-inch of water per week in the growing season. A light daily watering will encourage root systems that are too shallow. Instead, water thoroughly once a week, using a 1-inch deep empty tuna can as a makeshift measuring device. Early morning before 8 a.m. is best when evaporation rates are low and more water is absorbed into the soil.

Frequently watered lawns have more weeds. Most plants do best if the soil is allowed to partially dry out between waterings. Soaking your lawn deprives the roots of the oxygen they need to survive leaving the grass susceptible to disease and insect damage. In addition, weeds thrive and may become difficult to control if the overwatering continues.

Overwatering wastes water and hurts the environment. Watering your lawn so much that it creates runoff not only wastes water but the excess water can carry harmful fertilizers into storm drains and then into rivers and lakes.

Don’t be afraid to let your lawn turn brown. The color change is merely an indication that the plant is entering a natural state of dormancy designed to conserve nutrients. Most species of grass can easily go a month without water. It’s time to water again when the grass goes from tan-brown to straw-colored.

How to use even less water
Cut your lawn size. Switching from an all-lawn yard to one that’s 40 percent lawn and 60 percent trees, shrubs, ground cover, and hardscape will cut your water needs by 20 to 50 percent, according to the EPA. In a typical yard, that leaves 2,500 square feet of lawn, which is plenty of space for kids to play.

Try low-maintenance grass. Slow-growth, drought-resistant grass species save water, fertilizer, and time. Check with your local cooperative extension office or nursery to find species that fit your climate.

Bulk up your soil. Build your soil with compost and mulch, which hold water and reduce evaporation.

Collect water in a rain barrel. The typical single-family suburban household uses at least 30 percent of its water outdoors. Rooftop collection systems are available, but simply diverting your downspout into a covered barrel with a spigot is an easy, low-cost approach. Cover or seal barrel tops to prevent animals and children from entering and mosquitoes from breeding. Use the rainwater to wash your car or water your plants.

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Best mowers from our tests
Of course, the best way to have a good-looking lawn is to mow it with a well-maintained mower with sharp blades. That will cut the grass instead of tearing it. Turf specialists say it’s okay to let your lawn grow 5-inches tall and then cut the blades in half. Here are the push and self-propelled mowers that did best in Consumer Reports’ tests.

—Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

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