Fix an Overwatered Lawn

You’re experiencing hot, dry weather and receiving very little to no rainfall from above. The solution seems easy - just water your lawn, right? Well, not always. If your lawn is showing signs of drought stress even though you are watering your lawn very frequently, then your lawn is likely not receiving the appropriate amount of water. In fact, it’s likely receiving too much. At Sunday, we’ll help you fix an overwatered lawn and get you on track with the best watering practices for your region.

Drought Stress in Your Lawn

Drought stress occurs during hot, dry weather conditions and usually during periods of insufficient rainfall. During this time, you may see brown spots, thinning or bare patches across your lawn. It may seem as though watering frequently might solve the issue, but overwatering during this time will make symptoms of drought stress worse. It can even cause further issues like fungus or other lawn diseases. Drought stress can occur anywhere and can affect lawns differently depending on your region. 

First, What is Healthy Grass?

Healthy grass has deep roots which help the grass dig deep for nutrients and water. Deep roots also buffer the grass against heat. If your grass does not get the water it needs to support its leaf and root system, the roots will start to shrink and top leaf growth slows. If the grass is losing more water than it is receiving, that grass will go dormant or continue to shrink and thin.

What Happens When You Overwater Grass?

Roots need oxygen to be healthy. Overwatering can flood the soil with water which over time replaces the air pockets in the soil. If there is not enough air in the soil, grass roots stay close to the surface where there is the most oxygen and airflow. This is where they are more susceptible to drought stress. If the roots are too short, they are more likely to dry out in the hot summer sun, even if you are watering daily. 

 

What Does Overwatered Grass Look Like? 

If any grass is overwatered for a long period of time, the grass can actually show signs of drought stress during times of excessive heat. Drought stress can be exhibited through the following lawn issue symptoms:

 

Brown Spots

 

Thinning

 

Bare Patches

 

 

How-to Fix Overwatering

Northeast and North Central. If it hasn’t rained in a week or two and your lawn is starting to brown, give it a deep watering of 0.3-0.5 inches every two weeks until rain returns. It will not bring your lawn back to fully green, but it will help your lawn survive and will reduce the risk of fertilizer burn and other issues associated with periods of drought. Be very careful not to overwater in hot, humid weather. It will cook the soil and grass, can result in run-off issues, and can encourage fungal or other lawn diseases.

 

Southeast. Usually, rain in this region is enough. Plus most lawns here are warm-season grasses, the most drought-tolerant of all turfgrasses. However, when your lawn is experiencing drought stress, your goal should be to water less than what your plant actually needs just to get it to survive. Pending rainfall, between 0.3-0.5 inches per session once a week is best. This will only get your grass to 50%-75% green cover, but it’ll help conserve water and keep your grass alive.

 

Western. When drought conditions hit this region, the demand for water is at its greatest. You’ll need to supply your grass with just the right amount of water, without overwatering or interfering with any local water restrictions in place. While your lawn is in dormancy, supplying the right amount of about ¼ inch every two weeks is enough to keep your lawn alive. Every lawn is different and may respond to environmental stressors differently. Altering your watering practices temporarily will help your lawn survive drought conditions.

 

So, what does an underwatered lawn look like?

A lawn doesn’t just suffer from overwatering. Underwatering your lawn can also lead to significant issues if not corrected. Symptoms of a dry, underwatered lawn can first be seen with changes in color. The lawn will first turn gray then bluish in color. If the lawn continues to be underwatered, it will turn yellow and finally, brown. When a lawn is underwatered, it eventually turns dry, crisp, and/or crunchy.

Better Watering Practices with Sunday

Without the proper amount of water year-round, your lawn will struggle to look its best and maintain resiliency. This will result in more regular brown patches or dry grass that is more susceptible to nitrogen burn from fertilizers. We recommend practicing deep and infrequent watering, plus auditing your irrigation or watering system. 

 

Deep and infrequent watering. 

Try to get water to penetrate as deeply as possible into the soil for deep rooting. 

  1. Water between 0.3-0.5 inches per watering session in most conditions. Shady areas may require less water and sunny/exposed areas may need more.
  2. Allow the soil time to dry in between irrigation sessions.
  3. Don’t overwater your lawn and continue to make adjustments when they’re needed (like if it rains), as overwatering leads to shallow root systems.

 

Audit your irrigation system. 

Ensure you’re not wasting water and applying the right amount in the right places. 

  1. Check for leaks or broken irrigation heads and fix any issues.
  2. Place rain gauges or tuna fish cans throughout your lawn.
  3. Run your sprinkler for a specified amount of time
  4. Measure how much water was collected in the cans. 
  5. Then calibrate your irrigation clock so it waters between 0.3-0.5 inches.

When Do I Know My Lawn is ‘Recovered’?

During periods of drought, your lawn will not recover entirely (it’s okay for your lawn to stay golden!). Adjusting the watering practices for your lawn will help your lawn survive during this time. Recovery for your lawn is all in the long game. If you follow Sunday’s basic lawn care practices and water appropriately during these periods of stress you’ll reap the benefits of a more resilient lawn. Your lawn will: 

  1. Stay greener for longer.
  2. Be able to handle environmental stressors better
  3. Have deeper rooting depth (remember, overwatered lawns will have shallower roots!).
  4. Grow denser and have fewer weeds.

Cited Sources

Avoid Overwatering Lawns & Landscapes. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Drought Resources. 

How often should grass be watered? Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.

Irrigation Practices for Homelawns. Purdue University Extension.

Don’t let watering your lawn be too much of a good thing. UGA Cooperative Extension – Bulloch County Extension.     

Water-saving strategies for home lawns. UMN Extension.