Some helpful information on watering and shade is below. An in person consult with Helmke’s professional lawn care experts is always very valuable in helping to understand your next steps for a healthy lawn. These consultations are always free in Bergen County and Rockland County. Please contact John at Helmke Industries if you have questions about any of the following information on proper watering and growing grass in shade or shady areas.
When? Never water at night. The best time to water is early in the morning, between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. Evaporation is low at this time so more of the water makes it into the soil. Also, leaves will begin drying quickly in the morning sun, reducing the chances of diseases. Avoid watering on cloudy days.
How much? It’s tough to say. It depends on the soil type, cutting height, lawn use, temperature, wind, and a host of other factors. In general, a healthy lawn loses about 1 inch of water per week during summer. (The water lost from the soil through the leaves and through the surface of the soil is called evapotranspiration, or ET.)
If you receive an inch of rainfall every week through summer, chances are pretty good that your lawn should come through with little moisture stress. If you get less, you can make up the difference with sprinklers or an irrigation system. Your water application rate should supplement what you receive as rain. If you get ½ inch of rain one week, only apply another half inch.
Use a rain gauge, coffee cans, or other containers to measure rainfall and supplemental water.
It’s also important not to apply water faster than your soil can take it up. How fast your soil can absorb water is called its infiltration rate. When your irrigation rate (how fast you are putting it on with the sprinkler) is higher than the infiltration rate (how fast your soil can soak it up), puddling occurs on level areas. On slopes, the water will run off and can carry sediments and other pollutants with it.
To avoid this, measure your soil’s infiltration rate by cutting off both ends of a coffee can and inserting it several inches into the soil. Pour about 1 inch of water into the can and time how long it takes to soak in. Then measure your irrigation rate by placing a coffee can (with the bottom intact) in the area watered by your sprinkler and time how long it takes to fill the can with 1 inch of water. Your irrigation rate should not exceed your infiltration rate.
What about drought? It is normal for cool-season grasses to experience “summer dormancy” in response to lack of moisture. Studies show that very little water over a three week period can be enough to keep the sod from dying.
Under all but the most severe conditions, it is better to avoid lawn watering, especially if your watering system isn’t precise. Too much or too little supplemental water can weaken plants, making them more susceptible to pest problems and less likely to recover when cool, moist conditions return. Please have our experts look at your property and assess things with you. John Helmke has 30 years experience and will be able to tell you how to proceed.
What to do when there’s not enough sun.
Grasses are sun-loving plants, for the most part. For healthy growth, lawn grasses need at least 4 hours of direct sun a day. If they receive much traffic or wear and tear, they need a minimum of 6 hours.
In addition to being weak from lack of sun, grass in shady areas can suffer more diseases because of cool, moist conditions and lack of air circulation. Poor grass stands in shady areas are vulnerable to erosion, which can carry sediments and other pollutants into surface water.
Here are some options for coping with shady areas:
Choose the right grass. In spots that get marginal light, plant fine fescues, which are more shade-tolerant than other lawn grasses.
Grow other ground covers. Grass isn’t your only choice. Consider attractive and vigorous shade-loving groundcovers such as:
- Lily of the valley
- English ivy
- Creeping myrtle
- Sweet woodruff
Plant a shade or woodland garden. There are hundreds of herbaceous perennial flowers and foliage plants that will thrive in shade, as well as annuals such as impatiens.
Mulch around trees. If you don’t have the energy to maintain a shade garden, consider using about 3 inches of wood, bark, or stone mulch around the base of trees. (Don’t pile mulch against the base of the tree trunk.)
Build paths. If grass grows fine in your shady areas except where people walk, put in a stone, gravel, or other type of path to concentrate wear and tear in one area.
Fertilize and water less. Grass in shady areas grows slowly and needs less fertilizer and water.
Let in more light. Remove lower branches and selectively prune other branches or remove entire trees to let in more light.