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Watering Your Lawn The Right Way For The Wisconsin Weather

Watering Your Lawn The Right Way For The Wisconsin Weather

A lush green lawn depends the proper lawn care and also on an efficient watering system. Gardeners who live in areas that receive frequent summer rains will only need to supplement the natural moisture during occasional dry spells, but those who live in hot dry climates or areas that seldom receive summer rains will need to water on a regular basis. In either case, an understanding of how water, soil, and plant roots interact will be helpful.

Perhaps the most common question asked by gardeners is “How often should I water my lawn?” The answer depends on several factors: your soil type; the type of grass you have and how deep its root system can go; your climate; the season; and how you apply the water. The best rule of thumb for lawn watering is this: water thoroughly and infrequently.

How Wisconsin Soils and Water Interact

When you apply water to soil, the water moves down through the soil by progressively wetting soil particles. Each soil particle acquires a film of water; then any additional drops move down to wet lower particles. Water always moves downward, with very little lateral movement except on the surface.

The amount of water a particular soil can hold is called its holding capacity or field capacity. Only when the topsoil layer has acquired its holding capacity can remaining water move down to the next soil layer. Field capacity varies according to soil type; each type retains a certain amount of water before allowing the rest to sink deeper. Clay soils have many fine particles and can hold more water than sandy soils, which have fewer, coarser particles. Field capacity for loamy soils falls somewhere in between that of clay and sandy soils.

Because of the difference in holding capacity, you will need to add more water to clay than to sandy soil to moisten the lower soil layers. It will take more time, but clay soils need water less often.

How to Water Thoroughly

As the leading landscaping company in Madison, WI we have found that a little water wets only a little soil. You can’t dampen soil to any depth by watering it lightly. You can have damp soil only by wetting it thoroughly, then letting it partially dry. Plant roots develop and grow in the presence of water, air, and nutrients, and most grasses will send roots down into all the soil layers that contain these essentials. If you keep only the top few inches of soil moist, the root system will remain shallow-and turf with shallow roots can be severely damaged in a sudden hot spell since the roots can’t go deeper in search of water. If you water deeply, roots will be encouraged to grow deeper and can search out moisture in lower soil layers. This chart, prepared by the University of California, shows how deep various grasses can send their roots:

Cool-season grasses       Root depth

Annual bluegrass             1 to 4 inches

Creeping bentgrass         4 to 18 inches

Colonial bentgrass           9 to 18 inches

Kentucky bluegrass         9 to 30 inches

Red fescue                      9 to 30 inches

Tall fescue                       18 to 48 inches

Warm-season grasses     Root depth

St. Augustine                    1 to 6 feet    

Zoysia                                1 to 6 feet

Bermuda                             1 to 8 feet

Lawns can be kept green with daily light sprinklings, but this practice produces shallow root systems and necessitates continued daily light waterings during the growing season. If you water deeply, grass roots will extend deeper into the soil; you will have to apply more water with each sprinkling to moisten the lower soil layers, but you can water less frequently since the soil will lose moisture more slowly.

How The Madison WI Climate Affects Watering

If temperature, humidity levels, wind, and day length never varied, you could water according to a calendar. But climates do differ and so must watering. Plants need more water during their growing season than when they’re dormant. They also need more water during hot or windy weather since heat and wind cause rapid evaporation. Conversely, plants need less water on cool or humid days when moisture loss is reduced.

One watering rule that can be applied to all types of soils and climates is this: test the soil. If the top 3 to 4 inches are dry, especially if it’s the growing season, you probably need to water. The best way to test the soil is to plunge something long, such as a trowel, a spade, or a sharp stick, into the lawn to see how far down the wetness goes-ease of entry means the soil is adequately moist.

Some Watering Tips For Your Landscaping Madison WI

The following pointers may help you solve any watering problems you might encounter:

  • The best time to water your lawn is early morning or late at night when there’s no wind and when water pressure will be high.


  • If you live in an arid climate where water shortages could occur, but you still want a lawn, consider planting more drought-tolerant grasses. If you live in a cool-season area, try tall fescue varieties. In a warm-season area, plant Bermuda grasses, St. Augustine grass, Zoysia grasses, Bahia grass, or Centipede grass. Bermudas are the most drought-tolerant grasses because of their very deep roots.


  • If you have a water runoff problem due to heavy clay soil or dry subsoil, you can have the lawn aerated with an aerator that removes plugs of soil. (Spiking soil isn’t recommended because the spikes are likely to com- pact the soil around the holes they drive.) Other solutions to runoff problems include slowing down the delivery rate of your sprinkler so the soil can absorb the water, or selecting a sprinkler that emits water more slowly. Another good solution is to run sprinklers at full rate until runoff starts, shut them off for a half-hour so the soil can absorb the water, then repeat the process.


  • An observant turf gardener may be able to judge when a lawn needs water by its appearance. Grass shows its need for water first by loss of resilience. When you walk across it, the grass doesn’t spring back. Next, the color changes from fresh green. And takes on a dull, gray green overcast. Then grass tops turn brown and die. Once you can sense this timing, try to water just before the loss of resilience. Don’t let your lawn get to the brown stage; it will take considerable time to come back from the crowns.
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