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Does Your Lawn Need Winter Watering?

Lawn & Yard Care

By Marty Ross

There’s an easy way to tell whether you need to water your lawn during the winter months. As long as you’re still mowing—and your grass is still growing—then you may need to water.

You’ll have to watch the weather and your garden and perhaps do a little research to help decide what’s best for your own lawn. Here are some guidelines:

Even if you have to water in the winter, you can normally water less often than you would in the summertime. All plants, including grass, lose less moisture to evaporation in moderate temperatures than they do when the weather is hot. If winters are mild, but not hot, grass plants transpire less and the soil holds moisture longer. Make sure you’re not overwatering in winter with these tips.

Test Your Grass
Let your lawn show you when it’s time to water. Walk across the grass and turn around to look at your footprints. If they have already disappeared by the time you turn around, you don’t need to water. If you can still see your footprints, especially after as much as a couple of hours, it is probably time to turn on the sprinkler. Look at individual blades of grass for signs of wilt. A little bit of stress is fine—it helps the lawn develop the root system necessary to adapt to your conditions—but don’t push it too far.

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Sprinkler Choices: It’s Adjustable
When it’s time to water, choose an appropriate sprinkler for your lawn to save on water use. Gilmour’s Adjustable Pattern Master Circular Sprinkler will water an area up to almost 6,000 square feet, reaching a circular area about 86 feet across. But most lawns are not perfectly round, or square, so the Pattern Master Sprinkler can be adjusted to water only part of a circle. The length of the spray can also be adjusted, right on the sprinkler.

The spray’s distance is adjusted by pushing the red pegs on the sprinkler up or down. You can make this adjustment all the way around, or on one side only, or in segments of a circle. If one part of the lawn extends 20 feet from the sprinkler, and another area stretches 35 feet, you can set the sprinkler so it reaches the whole lawn from a single position.

To change the spray so it only travels in a partial circle instead of all the way around, adjust the collar of the sprinkler.

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Less Can Be More
If you only need to water a small area (like an area of new grass), a stationary sprinkler may do the trick. These small sprinklers are great on-the-spot sprinklers. The square and round sprinklers spray a pattern up to 15 feet on a side. The rectangular sprinkler, with a narrower pattern, sprays up to 15 by 30 feet. In all three cases, you can cover even less area by simply turning down the water at the spigot.

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Get the Timing Down
Whichever sprinkler you use—and it is nice to have a choice—go ahead and water deeply, so the moisture soaks down into the grass’s roots. Occasional, deep watering encourages the grass to develop deep roots. Frequent light watering actually encourages shallow roots.

To get it right and save water, use a timer. Gilmour’s electronic timer attaches at the spigot and is easy to set. You can decide what day of the week and what time of day to water, and how long you want the sprinkler to be on.

You can even hook up two hoses to the timer, so you can water the front and back yards at the same time, or first one and then the other. Gilmour’s timer also has a Rain Delay feature, so you can temporarily override the watering schedule if nature beats you to it.

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How Much Water?
After you water for about half an hour, turn off the sprinkler, take an old screwdriver and poke a hole in the soil big enough to get your finger down into the hole. The soil should feel moist several inches down. Or, make a simple rain gauge: Set two or three coffee mugs out in the lawn, where the sprinkler will reach them. When the mugs have about an inch of water in them, you have probably watered enough. One inch in a coffee mug is the equivalent of several inches of moisture in the soil, depending on the character of the soil.

Overwatering in winter is bad for your lawn, and it wastes water and money. Getting to know your lawn’s watering needs in winter will help you save both.

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