On average, it is best to water your established lawn about 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week to maintain color and active growth. A lawn under water stress is more prone to disease, weeds, and insect problems. Frequent and light watering favor shallow roots, lawn, or plants newly seeded or unable to tolerate dry periods. No specific daily schedule of how frequently you should water your lawn can be given. This is due to the fact that different areas and lawns species will retain different rates of moisture. Lawns also require altered watering frequencies at various times of the year. Letting your grass tell you when to water is the most effective way to know. Watch for symptoms of wilting that are a indicator watering is needed. Blades bending over half way or footprints remaining on the lawn after walking across it are ways to tell if your lawn is experiencing mild drought stress. Watering too frequently will cause the soil to be too damp promoting weed growth and damaging roots. On the flip side, not watering frequently enough will result in dead areas and weeds, such as sandspurs, which favor dry conditions.
The amount of watering is crucial in detecting if there is ample water supply to wet your lawn’s complete root zone and to how deep the root system will grow. Most established lawns need at least 1 inch of water per week to avoid stress. To determine how long it takes to dispense an inch of water to your entire lawn, scatter a number of empty tuna/pet food cans (any cans that are 1” deep) to different areas of your lawn. Run the sprinklers. Then using a ruler, measure the depth of water attained in each container. When your containers average an inch of water, note the time. Check all of your zones and set each one to the time recorded. This is important in order to have an even disbursement of water. Different sprinkler heads put out different amounts of water, this is another factor that makes this process so crucial. You want to saturate your lawn to a depth of 6-8 inches when you water.
The first few warm days of summer are not an automatic indicator to water your lawn. In fact, allowing lawns to start to go under mild drought stress actually increases your lawn’s rooting. But again, watch for signs of wilting. The ideal time of day to irrigate is in the early morning hours after the dew forms, but before sunrise. This schedule allows for watering at a time that does not extend the naturally wet period. Extending the naturally wet period provides an increased opportunity for airborne disease spores to attach to the leaves of the plant. Watering at the proper time washes off the dew that has formed on the grass and also allows the leaves to dry off quickly as the sun rises. In addition, the air is usually calm at this time and evaporation is kept to a minimum. Homeowners with manual systems that do not want to get up early to water should nevertheless finish irrigation as early as possible, preferably before 9 A.M. Water as infrequently as possible. When you do water, thoroughly water so the moisture soaks down to the roots. An exception to this general rule would be for newly seeded lawns, otherwise, avoid frequent watering that promotes shallower root systems and weeds.
It is important to regularly inspect your sprinkler system for even coverage. Brown areas of a lawn may be noticed during prolonged periods with no rain. These areas may be where sprinklers are not covering, or they may also be from inadequate water coverage to the entire root zone. For example, if your sprinklers were to apply 1/2 inch of water only 3 inches of soil would become wet. This area would dry out much more quickly than an area that receives the proper amount of water. You cannot tell if an area of lawn is receiving an adequate amount of water by just simply watching your sprinkler system. It is important to again measure the amount of water being distributed in the area using the same can method described previously. Localized dry spots can also occur if your soil becomes hydrophobic. This is a very common condition where the soil begins to repel water. To determine if your soil is hydrophobic, place some soil in the palm of your hand. Gently run water over the soil. After a few seconds, pour the water off. If the soil is still dry, it is hydrophobic. This condition can be temporarily corrected by applying a mild soap and water mixture over the area. The soap breaks the surface tension of the soil and allows for the water to be more readily absorbed. Also, it is important to recognize that more water is needed along curbs and pavements. These areas heat up more and the soil will dry out faster. Try to avoid over spraying paved areas if possible.
Weeds are simply defined as unwanted plants. Typically, weeds that are growing well in your lawn are native plants that have room to grow and the environmental or cultural conditions that favor their development. Very often, the conditions that favor the development of the weeds are also conditions that lead to the decline of the turfgrass. The decline of the turfgrass provides the weeds room to grow. As an example, crabgrass and dollar weeds thrive under very wet conditions. St. Augustine and Bahia turfgrasses will usually become infected with various fungi under very wet conditions. In this situation, the wet conditions lead to the decline of the turfgrass giving the weeds the room to grow and provide the perfect growing environment for the crabgrass and dollar weed. It is a well-known and documented fact that the first step of weed control is a thick and healthy lawn provided by the implementation of good cultural practices. The most common environmental or cultural conditions that favor weed development are excessive moisture, inadequate moisture, mowing too low and insufficient sunlight. Weeds that thrive under very wet conditions include crabgrass, dollar weed, sedge, and many more. Weeds that thrive under dry conditions include Alexandergrass, Florida and Brazil pusley, and spurge. Many weeds will thrive under low mowing conditions since this practice will directly thin the turf. Weeds that thrive under low light conditions would include annual jewgrass and many of the typically winter annual broadleaf weeds such as Asiatic hawksbeard. Correcting these cultural conditions can be as simple as reducing or increasing your watering, or raising your mower blade. Or it may be as involved as installing an underground system to improve drainage, or thinning the canopy of your trees. There are even situations where an area may simply not be suitable for growing turfgrass such as areas where it is not possible to increase the amount of light the lawn is receiving. In these cases planting a different plant material may be the best approach. The foregoing information regarding proper watering and mowing practices is extremely important in regards to weed control.
Proper mowing is also essential for good quality turf. The amount of leaf surface determines the amount of food that the root system will receive through the process of photosynthesis. More leaf surface will provide for a healthier root system. A more extensive root system will mean better access to water and will reduce the need for supplemental irrigation. Mowing at the proper height also improves the ability of the turf to compete with weeds. When a turf is mowed too short, it will be less dense, have a brownish appearance and the root system will be weakened. A thick and healthy lawn is fundamental to the control of weeds. Proper mowing height is particularly important when in a shady environment where the amount of sunlight is already limited. Most St. Augustine lawns should be cut at 3" to 3 1/2", Seville St. Augustine at 2 1/2" and Bahia at 3 1/2" to 4". According to the University of Florida, mowing turf too low probably ruins more lawns than any other turf management practice.
A smooth, dense turf surface is attained from frequent and regular cutting of grass blades at a constant height. Mowing causes changes in the metabolism and appearance of the grass. Whenever a grass is mowed, plant respiration increases and root growth temporarily ceases. The primary factor in how much stress is incurred is the percentage of leaf area that has been removed. A glass blade should never be mowed of more than 1/3 of it's leaf surface at any given time. In other words, if a St. Augustine lawn is being maintained at 3" to 3 1/2" it should be mowed when it reaches a height of 4 to 4 1/2". Proper mowing also involves keeping the mower blade sharp and well balanced. A cleanly cut leaf blade heals easier and looses less water. Also, don’t mow during the heat of the day, especially when conditions are hot and dry; newly cut grass blades lose water quickly.
Is it beneficial or harmful to mulch your grass clippings? According to the University of Florida, there are great benefits to removing the bag from your lawn mower and dropping the clippings. In fact, they say that the dry weight of grass clippings contain about 3% Nitrogen. That means that 100 pounds of dry grass clippings contain about the same amount of Nitrogen as a 50-pound bag of 6-6-6 fertilizer. Dropping your grass clippings returns valuable nutrients to the soil such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Iron, and Manganese. Dropping your grass clippings does not contribute to thatch buildup. As a matter of fact, grass clipping contain sugars which stimulate microbes which help decompose thatch. It could actually be called a bio-dethatcher. As you can see, not removing your grass clippings is beneficial to your lawn. It is also beneficial to our environment. It has been said that we could save more than 10% of our land fill space simply by not bagging our grass clippings. Since this practice also results in less mowing time, go ahead and remove the bag. Be sure to use a mulching blade. Mulching blades cut the grass into smaller pieces which speeds up decomposition. Most mowers can be fitted with a mulching blade if not originally equipped with one.