Don’t Be a Lawn Watering Dummy

July 12, 2011 | By | Comments (54)


Following up last week’s strident defense of every American’s right to grow a lawn, Grumpy needs to educate his countrymen on how to do so wisely, responsibly, and efficiently. Because when it comes to lawn care, there’s a lot of dumbness going on.

Nothing is stupider than the way people water. People water too much, too often, at the wrong times, and the wrong way. Not only does this waste a valuable and increasingly scarce resource, it also makes your lawn look worse by increasing disease, insect, and thatch problems. How many of the following have you seen in your neighborhood?

Stupid Lawn Tricks

Using sprinklers in the blazing hot sun. Hello? Using sprinklers when it’s sunny and 95 degrees is dumber than swimming with polar bears. Practically all the water applied will evaporate into the hot air before ever reaching the roots. You might as well water the storm drain.

Using sprinklers when it’s raining. Most people guilty of this use in-ground sprinklers set by a timer. Having to eat boiled yak every day for a year is not too harsh a punishment.

Using sprinklers to water the street. Again, in-ground sprinklers are the culprit. People set them to go off in the middle of the night and never see where the sprinklers are pointed. As I’ve said before, you can water asphalt all you want, but that stuff just ain’t gonna grow.

Giving your flowers, shrubs, and trees the same amount of water that you give your grass. Different plants have different water requirements. Treating them all the same means one will be happy and the others will hate you. Who practices such idiocy more often than anybody else? Owners of in-ground sprinkler systems.

Watering the grass every single day for 15 minutes. This turns the lawn into a shallow-rooted water junkie that demands a water fix every day just to soldier on. Instead of watering shallowly every day for 15 minutes, water deeply once a week for an hour or so (or how ever long it takes to apply an inch of water). You can also look into treating your water if you are a fanatic like me, check out some Water Softener Reviews, your grass will never be greener. Your lawn will be healthier and more drought-tolerant. It will also have fewer loathsome weeds like dollarweed and nutgrass (nutsedge) that thrive in overwatered lawns.

Let’s All Water Less

Ripper “Dr. Strangelove” is one of Grumpy’s all-time favorite movies. In it, Air Force General Jack D. Ripper, convinced that Communists are using fluoridation to pollute “our precious bodily fluids,” launches a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. He correctly points out that most of our bodies are water and that fresh, pure water is essential to our survival. If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to say that if you’re terrified of dark, confined spaces, you’ll be thrilled that the Cold War is over.

Ripper was right. Pure, fresh water is fundamental to human life, yet we waste it in so many ways — from building humongous, bloated desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas that have to steal their water from distant rivers to average folks who overwater their grass. So how can you have a nice lawn while using a modicum of water? Grumpy shall elucidate.

Choose a grass well-adapted to your region. Here in north-central Alabama, most people grow either Zoysia or Bermuda. Both are naturally drought-tolerant and don’t need regular watering. Grumpy has a Bermuda grass lawn that he almost never waters. When it doesn’t rain, the grass goes dormant and turns brown. OK, fine. Eventually, it rains and the grass wakes up and turns green again. Simple. Now you can try to grow tall fescue here, but unless you water it regularly, it dies in a heartbeat. St. Augustine grows well here, but needs more water than Zoysia and Bermuda. Bottom line — pick a grass suited to your climate that doesn’t need a lot of water.

Don’t make the lawn bigger than you need. Devote more area to natural areas and drought-tolerant plants and ground covers. Watch your water bill shrink.

Water at the right time. The best time to water is very early morning before it gets hot. Most of the water will make it to the roots. Plus, the grass blades will dry quickly, preventing disease problems.

Don’t mow your grass during droughts. Cut grass loses lots of moisture through cut blades and turns brown if you don’t water it. So don’t cut. Grumpy’s rule during hot, dry summers is, don’t cut the grass until it rains two days in a row.

Cut your grass at the highest recommended height for your grass. Taller grass shades and cools the ground, reducing moisture loss. In a drought, taller grass always stays greener longer than shorter grass. So cut bluegrass at 2 to 3 inches, tall fescue at 3 inches, perennial ryegrass at 2 inches, Bermuda at 1-1/2 to 2 inches, Centipede at 2 inches, St. Augustine at 3 to 4 inches, and Zoysia at 2 inches.

If you don’t have in-ground sprinklers, don’t get them.People with sprinkler systems always use more water because watering is so easy. You don’t have to drag hoses. You just set the timer and forget it. For more convienence in the garden, Top9Rated has reviews of garden products from ride on lawn mowers to outdoor tents. Take a look today to find something that could save you time in the garden.


Just look at the Atlanta metro area to see the consequence of sprinkler systems gone wild. For 10 years, practically every house built came with lawn sprinklers. No one really thought about how much water they’d need. Then Atlanta had a terrible drought and its principal water supply, Lake Lanier, nearly dried up. They had to ban all outside watering, unless you carried gray water outside. Water junkie lawns dried up and died.

Finally, if you live in an arid place like Phoenix or Las Vegas, don’t plant grass at all. Stay indoors and watch Netflix. Choose movies with “green” in the title. My son’s favorite: “How Green Is My Toilet.”


  1. H2O…And Then Some | Long Island Pulse Magazine

    […] Those actions may seem obvious, however, they are often easier said than done. When it comes to using less water, you probably already know not to leave the faucet on while brushing your teeth, but experts like the National Resource Defense Council and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program also recommend that people try to only run the washing machine and dishwasher when they are full. The lawn doesn’t need to be watered every day. In fact, grass, trees and plantings are healthier when they’re watered once per week as long as they get an inch of water. […]

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  3. Robert W Eucare

    The Cold War isn’t over. We just said that so the Soviets would drop their guard.

    August 11, 2016 at 11:40 am
  4. Vince

    Hello, I live in Fresno CA and I must say I really like your facts. But I have one question.

    My grass is very patchy and some parts get green I’m trying to water as much as I can around 6 AM with a sprinkler system. My water source is from a well so I have no water bill. But it does make my electricity go up. Do you have any advice for me?? Please help. Thank you.

    July 20, 2016 at 1:56 pm
  5. Joseph Gadberry

    We live on a lake with irrigation and only water about once per week for an hour or when the grass doesn’t bounce back up quickly after walking on it. Our neighbor waters everyday for about an hour and our grass is much greener and full. I also mow our St Augustine at 3.4″.

    July 15, 2016 at 7:16 am
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  8. Steven

    I just love your article. Learned a lot!

    June 2, 2016 at 2:36 pm
  9. P Martin

    Thanks Grumpy , i”ll take your advise

    May 22, 2016 at 9:56 pm
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  16. Elaine Vigneault

    I live in Vegas and came here to read an article about how to best water my lawn. The seasons have changed and I was wondering if it was best to water 3 days a week at 9am or at 11am. I don’t need to be told not to have a lawn. I have dogs and children who enjoy our small lawn. The rest of our landscaping is low-water. And we conserve water in many ways in our home. Do your research! Many of the large lawns in Vegas (golf courses and many parks) are watered with gray water. In fact, Nevada has a much better water conservation program that California.

    October 12, 2015 at 1:48 pm
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  23. Jim

    I live on the coast of SC about one mile of the ocean on the east side and the intercostal on the west. We live on a golf course as well.
    Trees everywhere and shade. My backyard lawn is always wet. I don’t water at all in that area.
    What type of seed will work best. It really looks bad.
    Desperate in Pawleys Island.

    April 16, 2015 at 6:18 am
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    What an idiotic article. Geez, my second grader could have wrote this fictional crap.

    September 19, 2014 at 8:05 am
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    Best advice here is the one they gave for people that live in desert areas like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas. These areas shouldn’t be allowed to have water sucking lawns. It’s stupid.

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    Don’t mow unless it rains 2 days in a row? Grumpy obviously doesn’t live in the West.

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  34. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    If you’re concerned about looks, I seriously suggest you replace the Bermuda with Zoysia. It costs a lot more, but it looks a lot better, is even more drought tolerant, takes a lot more wear, and grows so densely that it chokes out weeds. I recommend the varieties ‘Empire,’ ‘Cashmere,’ or ‘Meyer Z-52.’

    September 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm
  35. Stephanie

    Grumpy, what type of grass should I plant in my yard? Currently, we have mostly dead Bermuda in the front and possibly 1/2 dead St. Augustine in the backyard. Obviously, the St. Augustine will come back with more watering (and when the temps get below 100) but my Bermuda in the front is atrocious. It’s hardly even rooted into the soil and it’s brown all the time. We want to resod in the spring, but want something that will look nice year-round. We will probably put in a watering system, but we are EXTREMELY water conscious and will monitor our watering closely. What do you think? I am in San Antonio – aka, a HOT zone! Thanks!!

    September 4, 2011 at 11:16 pm
  36. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Let them blow into somebody else’s yard.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:36 am
  37. Linda Vater

    But if I don’t mow, how will I clean up all the dead leaves on the lawn from the drought sressed trees, hee hee. Too hot to rake!

    July 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm
  38. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I would recommend the pulse-type sprinkler. It shoots out a staccato jet of water, can be set to water differently shaped areas, and shoots water relatively low to the ground, reducing evaporation.
    The key here is proper use. Most homeowners don’t have a clue how to properly use in-ground sprinklers to minimize wasting water. They just set the timer for 20 minutes a day at 4AM, push the button, go back to bed, and have no idea where the water is going.

    July 22, 2011 at 10:24 am
  39. Joy

    Bought older home and not until the huge 3rd remodel (14 yrs. later) did we get an irrigation system… dragged hoses (“5 zones”) for years. Please tell your husband that it so much easier… five lawn zones and three garden bed zones; all are set for the proper time/equipment for the particular areas. You must plan your system w/ reputable people and possibly consult a nurseyman for proper watering for the areas. Hope this helps!

    July 19, 2011 at 6:17 pm
  40. Maggie

    My husband will never believe that an underground sprinkler is easier. I have fought about it for years and finally just drag the hose where water is needed.

    July 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm
  41. Sandi in NJ

    Do not have in-ground watering system…do drag hoses all over the yard, and live on a corner lot with Zoyzia grass (last in/first out, but love it).
    NEED ADVISE on the best and most durable sprinkler to use.
    Can anyone help?

    July 19, 2011 at 2:57 pm
  42. UrsulaV

    My issues with lawns is really that they’re the default setting for America–seems like “House = Lawn” in most people’s minds. Having lived for a number of years in Arizona, I find this sort of appalling. There are places in the US where you can have a lawn without shame, but you don’t grow cactus in Alaska and you don’t grow lawns in the desert. Egad.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm
  43. Carl Smith

    When will sprinkler companies learn to set timers properly and teach people how to water efficiently? It took me years to change my Dad’s from 3x week as set by installers to once a week (several short rounds to prevent runoff during the night). And now his Texas grass is so much healthier (well not right now as we are in a drought).

    July 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm
  44. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    St. Augustine is the grass for you. I recommend the varieties ‘Palmetto’ and ‘Sapphire,’ because they need less watering, fertilizing, and mowing than others. Here’s a link for more info:

    July 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm
  45. JDC

    Grumpy, can you recommend a grass for Zone 8B in north central Florida? All I can seem to grow is patches of dirt in shaded areas, and weeds in sunny areas.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm
  46. Jean

    Living with quite a bit of shade…I was told I would have to plant fescue. They didn’t tell me that if you mow it when its hot and dry that stuff dies like crazy. I learned that he hard way. Now its a rather strange color of green and it will not get mowed no matter what.I do have Zoysia in some places and love it.

    July 14, 2011 at 11:55 am
  47. Benjamin Vogt

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    July 14, 2011 at 8:30 am
  48. Leita

    “Don’t mow your grass during droughts.” This is great advice until the Neighborhood Nazis (aka HOAs) scotch tape a snooty letter on one’s front door.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:54 am
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  50. Henry H.

    “Grass Without Guilt (or How I Loved to Love the Lawn” Its funny you mention Dr. Strangelove because when I saw this title I figured you must have just got done watchin it. Maybe you can sell Kubrick on your watering position and he can make yet another strange but captivating movie about a band of young punks go around beating up yuppies who water their lawn too much and perform crape murder…..(we can call it “Clockwork Mock Orange”)

    July 12, 2011 at 2:35 pm

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