Smart Earth Sprinklers

Does My Grass Need Water During Fall & Winter?

Does My Grass Need Water During Fall & Winter
Many homeowners stop watering their lawns when the temperature falls to 60°F, thinking it’s time for the grass to go dormant for the colder months. The lawns then turn brown, not because they’ve gone dormant for the winter but because they’re actually starved for water. If you’ve stopped watering your lawn, it will go to “sleep” or into a dormancy state to preserve moisture and nutrients, just as it would during a drought. You need to “wake” it up by starting to irrigate again so your lawn doesn’t die and you have to replace it.

When Do Lawns Go Dormant For The Winter?

Warm-season lawns start to lose their color when the temperature drops below 55°F, and they go dormant after the first hard freeze (when the air temperature falls to 28°F or lower long enough to freeze vegetation and cause ice formation in standing water). Dormant doesn’t mean dead — it just means the grass has gone into hibernation to protect itself from the seasonal elements. The crowns and roots remain alive, although the blades have turned a brown or tan color.

Fall and Winter Irrigation & Sprinkler Use

Your lawn needs water in the fall and winter to keep the roots healthy for strong growth in the spring. However, grass needs less water in cooler fall weather than in the summer, and even significantly less water in the winter. You can use the “seasonal adjust” feature on your irrigation controller to change the zone run times to a percentage of the programmed schedule set up for the summer months. It will adjust your fall and winter watering times. Various sensors connected to your controller (e.g., rain and freeze) will also help regulate sprinkler system operations by shutting it down when it starts to rain or when freezing temperatures are reached. When your lawn goes dormant, irrigate once or twice a month. Winter irrigation keeps the grass root cells full of water and acts as an insulator, giving the cells a better chance to withstand freezing temperatures. And moist soil adds even further protection to the roots because it stays warmer than dry soil. Watering your lawn in the winter not only benefits your lawn, but it can also save you money for repairs to your irrigation system in the spring. Your system needs to run regularly to keep valves and seals lubricated so they don’t deteriorate. All the seals are lubricated by water. Turning the system off can cause premature wear and with older systems it can trigger a problem right away. 

Turning off Your Sprinkler System

So when should you turn your sprinkler system off? The answer is: during hard freezes. Because our winters in this part of Texas are relatively mild, you can winterize your irrigation system to protect it, and continue irrigating throughout the winter.  When a hard freeze is forecast, turn your irrigation controller to the “off”, “rain”, or “delay watering” setting. With some controllers (Hunter Hydrowise) you’ll have to suspend the zones to get the system to shut down. Shut off water to the system at the isolation valve and drain any above-ground gear-drive rotor sprinklers to prevent freezing and rupturing. You must also insulate some above ground components if you haven’t already done so. For more details see Winter Lawn Care. A hard freeze is characterized by temperatures falling to 28°F or lower and remaining below 32°F long enough to freeze vegetation and standing water. To review the extra precautions you need to take to protect your irrigation system:
  1. Turn off the water supply to the irrigation system at the isolation valve.
  2. Shut down the controller using the “rain”, ”delay watering” or “off” setting. Some controllers require you to “suspend” the zones for a selected time period.
  3. Inspect sprinklers with check valves to ensure all water has drained out. Remove and shake them if necessary, before replacing them.
  4. For drip systems, flush out water by opening flush clips or loosening end caps to allow water to flow out. Reattach the clips or tighten the end caps when water is completely drained.
  5. In drip systems, also drain water from the filter by loosening the filter cap, emptying any water, and cleaning the screen or discs. Reinstall and tighten the filter cap.
While it’s not possible to guarantee a freeze won’t damage your sprinklers system. By following these best practices, you can effectively winterize your sprinkler system and prevent the majority of damage caused by freezing temperatures. It’s best to do this every year to ensure the longevity of your sprinkler irrigation system.

Mowing Your Lawn

As the temperature cools down in the fall, your lawn doesn’t grow as quickly. However, continue to mow it to the proper height for your grass type.  It’s recommended as well to keep your grass type closer to the tallest height in its range. And never take more than 1/3 of the height when you mow. For example, if your ideal height is 2 inches, then mow before the grass is more than 3 inches high. Mowing your grass for the last time before winter depends on when the grass stops growing, and the first freeze. It’s best to do the last cutting after the lawn has gone dormant, and before the first freeze, but this can be difficult to determine. Just be sure not to mow during a freeze, as this can stress and damage the grass to the point where it might not recover.

Repair and Upgrade Your Irrigation/Sprinkler System and Save Money

Now that cooler weather is on the way, it is the perfect time to upgrade outdated sprinkler systems or repair dysfunctional sprinklers because watering is now done less frequently. Such repairs and upgrades ultimately save water and money on the utility bill. It also ensures you don’t run afoul of water restriction regulations. Here are a few of the things we suggest to be done:

Replace Old Sprinkler Heads

To save money and get optimal use from your sprinklers, replace old or worn sprinkler heads. Worn sprinkler heads will often not raise or lower as they should so that your lawn doesn’t receive the best water angle. Replacing all the sprinkler head at once is the most economical way to make the system perform like new. A high-performance sprinkler head will water as close to the turf as possible to allow water to soak into the ground and grassroots to avoid evaporation and waste. The ideal sprinkler head will suit the needs of your lawn with the ideal water flow and correct projection of the stream.

Update Your Irrigation Control System

The technology is there so you might as well use it. Replace outdated analog irrigation control systems with a smart system. A smart system can save you up to 50% on your utility bill! Smart technology allows you to schedule irrigation cycles based on soil and plant types, sun exposure, temperature, and even the local rain forecast! The smart controller will water when your yard needs it. Scheduling is good for your yard since the controller will prevent overwatering. You can set them to “cycle and soak” so you get deep watering and thus deeper and healthier roots. You will see the results in your water bill, as well. Meanwhile, you are doing your part to conserve water and not run afoul of water restrictions.

Now might be a good time to sign up for yearly savings with Smart Earth’s Aqua Advantage Club Sprinkler System Maintenance Plan:

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