Beat the Heat: Summer Watering Tips for a Lush Lawn

Sunshine, warm breezes, and those long stretches of daylight – summer is a blast for most of us! But while you’re busy soaking up the fun, your lawn may be begging for mercy.

During those hot stretches with barely a sprinkle of rain, it’s up to you to provide your lawn with the moisture it needs to survive. With a few simple summer watering tips, you can keep your yard cool, lush, and thriving all summer long.

In this Article

  • Discover the critical signs of lawn distress, from lingering footprints to color changes, so you can act fast to save your yard from summer heat damage.
  • Learn the surprising truth about watering dead patches and how to revive heat-stressed grass, potentially saving you from costly lawn replacements.
  • Uncover the often-overlooked dangers of both under- and overwatering, how to spot them, and what to do if your lawn isn’t getting the right amount of water.
  • Master the art of perfect lawn hydration with expert tips on timing and quantity, ensuring your grass stays lush without wasting water or inflating your bill.
  • Explore the pros and cons of various watering methods, from high-tech irrigation systems to manual techniques, helping you choose the best approach for your unique lawn and lifestyle.

How Types of Grass Affect Watering Needs

Not all lawns are created equal, especially when it comes to the amount of water they need.

Knowing your grass type is the first step to keeping it happy. There are two main types – warm season and cool season grasses.

Because summer here in the Great Lakes Bay Region begins promptly after Memorial Day and quickly vanishes after Labor Day, cool season grasses are the more popular choice. Why? Because they thrive in cooler temperatures, staying green longer than warm-season grasses.

The most popular cool season and low maintenance grass types in our area include:

  • Kentucky Bluegrass: This classic green lawn forms a dense, lush carpet. It prefers sunny to lightly shaded spots.
  • Perennial Ryegrass: Similar to Kentucky bluegrass but a little fussier. It needs full sun and doesn’t handle extreme heat, cold, or drought well.
  • Tall Fescue: This low-maintenance option is a lifesaver for busy homeowners. It tolerates drought well and stays green through most Michigan summers, needing less frequent watering than Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass.
  • Fine-leaf Fescue: Often mixed with other cool season grasses, this shade-tolerant type is perfect for drier areas. It’s low-maintenance and requires watering only when necessary.

A close-up of a lawn showing brown, wilted grass blades and dry soil, indicating signs of underwatering.

Signs Your Lawn Isn’t Getting Enough Water

Not giving your grass enough water can lead to increased weed growth and, in extreme cases, early dormancy of your lawn, which can take some time for your grass to recover from. To prevent underwatering, there are a few signs you should look for.

Wilting Grass Blades

This is often the first sign of underwatering. Your once-perky blades of grass will start to droop and lose their springiness, looking limp and lifeless.

Footprints Linger

If you walk across your lawn barefoot, does your footprint stay visible for a long time? If so, it’s a good indication the soil is dry, and the grass can’t recover quickly.

Color Turns Yellowish-Brown

A healthy lawn should be a vibrant green. Underwatered grass starts to lose its color, turning a dull yellowish-brown. You might even notice patches of brown where the grass has already died completely.

Dry, Hard Soil

Stick your finger a few inches into the ground. If it feels dry and hard, even after digging down a bit, your lawn is thirsty. Cracks can also appear as the soil dries out, especially in sunny areas. These cracks can be a few inches deep and are a clear sign your lawn needs a good soak.

Will Watering a Dead Lawn Bring It Back?

Unfortunately, watering dead grass will not bring it back to life. However, if the dead patches aren’t widespread, you might only be dealing with heat-stressed grass. With a little TLC, heat-stressed grass can regrow on its own, especially if the roots are still alive.

Here’s how to give your stressed out lawn a helping hand this summer:

  1. Increase Watering: The key to reviving heat-stressed grass is to provide consistent moisture. Avoid short, frequent watering that only wets the top layer of soil, encouraging the roots to stay near the surface.
  2. Reduce Foot Traffic: Give your stressed grass some breathing room! Limit foot traffic on the affected areas to allow the grass to focus its energy on recovery.
  3. Raise the Mower Height: When mowing your lawn, raise the mower blades to the highest setting. This will help shade the soil and retain moisture.
  4. Avoid Fertilizing: While fertilizing is usually helpful for lawns, hold off on feeding heat-stressed grass. Fertilizer can stress the grass even further during this recovery period.

water puddling on a crappy looking lawn.

Signs Your Lawn is Getting Too Much Water

Underwatering during summer is a common concern, but overwatering can be just as damaging. Both underwatered and overwatered grass can show similar signs at first, making diagnosis tricky. But we’ll help you differentiate between the two and get your lawn back on track.

Wilting & Discoloration

Overwatered grass can wilt and turn brown. The constant moisture can suffocate the roots, preventing them from taking up nutrients. The result? Weak, wilting blades that lose their healthy green color.

Mushy Patches

Healthy soil should feel crumbly and moist, not soggy. If you step on your lawn and feel squishy patches, it’s a sign you’re overwatering and/or the soil can’t drain properly (either way, the result is the same – the grass is exposed to too much water for too long).

Thatch Buildup

Thatch is a layer of dead grass stems, roots, and debris that accumulates at the base of turfgrass plants. While a thin layer of thatch is normal, excessive watering can accelerate thatch buildup, preventing water and nutrients from reaching the roots.

Fungus Growth

Mold thrives in damp environments, and overwatered lawns become a breeding ground for various mold species. Mold growth can compete with your grass for nutrients and make it difficult for the grass to absorb water properly.

Yellowing Leaves on Surrounding Plants

If you have flower beds or shrubs near your lawn, keep an eye on them. Overwatering your lawn can also affect the surrounding plants, causing them to develop yellow leaves.

Can You Save an Overwatered Lawn?

Seeing brown patches or wilting grass can be a real bummer. Especially after putting in the effort to water your lawn, a precious resource at that, and the lawn still isn’t happy.

Thankfully, cool season grasses are pretty resilient and can usually be revived with a few changes to how you care for your lawn for the rest of the summer.

  1. Stop Overwatering: The first step to saving an overwatered lawn should be obvious – stop! Adjust your watering schedule to provide only the water your lawn needs.
  2. Aerate for Better Drainage: Overwatering can compact the soil, making it difficult for water to drain properly. lawn aeration punches small holes in the soil to improve air and water circulation.
  3. Provide More Sunshine: Since mold thrives in shady, damp conditions, the best way to improve those conditions is to increase sunlight penetration to the affected areas. Pruning or trimming any overhanging trees or shrubs that create large areas of shade can help dry out the lawn.
  4. Be Patient: Reviving an overwatered lawn takes time. Don’t expect overnight results!

A perfect yard showcasing lush green grass, vibrant flowers in bloom, and healthy mature trees.

How Much Water Does My Lawn Need in Summer?

An established lawn of cool season turfgrass needs a minimum of 1 inch of water every week for optimum health. Although you can sometimes get away with as little as half that amount, we don’t advise making it a regular practice. During the summer, we recommend giving your lawn 1/8 inch of water every day.

PRO WATERING TIP: How much you actually have to water your lawn depends on several factors:

  • Weather & Temperature: Hotter and drier periods require more frequent watering than rainy and cooler periods.
  • Soil Type: Sandy soil drains quickly and needs more frequent watering than clay soil, which retains water more easily.
  • Sun Exposure: Lawns that receive full sun will need more water than those in partial shade.

When Is the Best Time of Day to Water Turfgrass?

The best time to water your grass is early in the morning, between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Too much heat and direct sun can cause the water on your lawn to evaporate faster, leaving less water to be absorbed into the soil.

Watering in the morning also allows the grass blades to dry throughout the day, which helps prevent fungal diseases that thrive in moist environments.

But, if you don’t have a programmable irrigation system, watering mid-day is fine. It’s better than watering in the evening (avoid that if you can) and definitely better than not watering at all.

How to Tell if Your Lawn is Getting Enough Water

There are two ways to tell if you’ve watered your lawn enough. Both are simple yet effective methods to check your lawn’s moisture levels.

1. Soil Moisture Check

This is the most reliable way to determine if your lawn has received sufficient water. Grab a screwdriver or soil probe and stick it a few inches deep into the soil. If the soil is too hard to push your tool into the ground, or feels dry and crumbly even after a few inches, your lawn needs a good watering.

On the other hand, if the tool slides in easily and you can feel moist and cool soil several inches down, you can hold off turning on your sprinkler for another day or so.

2. The Can Test

The can test method helps determine if your sprinkler or other watering method is distributing water evenly across your lawn. Place short, empty cans (pet food or tuna tins work well) or similar containers around different areas of your lawn, especially in areas that frequently produce brown patches of grass.

Run your watering system for your usual time and measure the depth of the water collected in each can. Ideally, you’ll have about 1/8 of an inch of water in each can.

If you notice a significant difference in the amount of water collected in different cans, you need to adjust your watering method to ensure it covers all areas of your lawn evenly.

PRO WATERING TIP: Just because we’ve had some rain doesn’t mean your turfgrass has gotten the water it needs! We often get 1/10th inch or less of water during a rain event, even if you see puddles on paved areas.

A rain gauge placed in your lawn or another spot without overhanging branches or buildings will tell you exactly how much water the lawn received.

A metal impact sprinkler watering a green lawn with the sun shining.

The Best Way to Water Your Lawn

Every yard is different, and what works for one person might not work for the other. Here are the most common lawn watering methods, each with its own pros and cons.

In-Ground Irrigation Systems

Sprinkler systems consist of a network of pipes and sprinkler heads that spray water on your lawn. They can be programmed for automatic watering, and many of the recent smart sprinkler systems can even adjust your watering schedule based on real-time weather data.

Pros of Irrigation Systems

  • It’s convenient, saves you time, and never forgets to water the lawn!
  • Sprinkler systems can easily cover large areas of lawn.
  • Different types of sprinkler systems are available, allowing you to choose one that best suits your lawn’s shape and size.

Cons of Lawn Irrigation Systems

  • Uneven watering can occur, especially with older systems.
  • Many sprinkler heads aren’t properly adjusted, wasting water due to overspray onto sidewalks, driveways, or buildings.
  • These systems require installation and maintenance, which can be costly.

Manual Watering with a Hose and Sprinkler

With a long hose and reliable portable sprinkler, you can water your entire lawn without an in-ground irrigation system. You can also use a hose with a spray nozzle to hand water specific areas of the lawn. Both are simple but also time-consuming.

Pros of Manual Lawn Watering

  • Using a hose and sprinkler is far more cost-efficient than installing an irrigation system.
  • You can use different types of sprinklers on different parts of your lawn to avoid overspray and ensure adequate coverage.
  • Consider placing a simple timer between the hose and faucet to automatically turn the water off after a set period of time.

Cons of Using a Hose and Sprinkler on Your Lawn

  • To ensure your hose lasts the entire summer, you’ll need a high-quality rubber hose, which can be fairly expensive, particularly if you need a long hose (or two shorter ones connected together) to reach all parts of your lawn. Expandable hoses are not a good option for lawn irrigation.
  • There are so many sprinkler styles to choose from that it can be difficult to know which to buy. If in doubt, buy a metal (brass is best) impact sprinkler with a stake to hold it in place. These tend to lose less water to evaporation and stand up to harsh summer sun much better than sprinklers with plastic parts.
  • Watering a large lawn this way will require you to manually move the sprinkler around to ensure complete coverage. And, to do that, you have to remember to do it!
  • Dragging a hose around a large yard can be physically demanding.
  • Hand watering is useful for spot-watering but is labor-intensive and inefficient for large lawns.
  • Watering is inconsistent, and your lawn will suffer if you forget to water, neglect to turn it off, or go out of town.

Keep Your Lawn Looking Great This Summer with Help from Bay Landscaping

Even with these summer watering tips, keeping your lawn lush and green during this scorching hot season can be a chore. If you’d rather take the guesswork out of lawn care, call Bay Landscaping at 989-893-0000.

With more 75 years of experience maintaining lawns in the Midland, Bay City, and Saginaw area, our team has seen it all. From diagnosing stubborn brown patches to reviving drought-stressed lawns, there’s no challenge we can’t tackle.

Whether you’d like a new, efficient sprinkler system installed, want to explore native landscaping options that require less water or maintenance, or if you’d prefer to hand off all lawn maintenance to someone you can trust, Bay Landscaping has got you covered.

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Jerry Somalski

Jerry is a Landscape Designer, Project Manager, and the President of Bay Landscaping. He began learning about plants and landscape design as a young boy, hoeing in the family nursery and tagging along with the landscape crews who taught him the tools and methods of the trade. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at Central Michigan University, he returned to the family business. Jerry has an enthusiastic yet practical approach to landscape design, focused on choosing the right plants (ones that thrive in the mid-Michigan climate) for the right place to create sustainable and spectacular landscapes. He loves to share what he knows with gardeners throughout Michigan! Learn more about Jerry >>

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