Watering and Aerating Your Lawn

Cathie Lavis is a professor of horticulture at Kansas State University. Her expertise includes landscaping, arboriculture, irrigation, and landscape contracting. She provides insight for homeowners and gardeners on plant care, selection, and more.

Water and air are necessitates of life, not only to you and me, but also to the grass that grows in our lawns. Keeping your lawn well aerated and properly watered is key to its ability to thrive. Here are a few tips and insights to help you help your lawn catch its breath and quench its thirst.


Lawns by their very nature invite foot traffic; however, with foot traffic comes the potential for soil compaction. The more traffic, the more compaction – in other words, a football field probably suffers from soil compaction more than your front yard. Plant roots need oxygen but when the soil particles in the top few inches become compacted less oxygen can enter and less carbon dioxide escapes. As a result, grass will thin out while many weeds actually thrive causing even more stress on the turf plants for moisture, nutrients and oxygen.

To solve the problem, special machines called aerifiers can be used to relieve soil compaction. These machines have tines that are approximately 1/2” in diameter that penetrate the soil to a depth of 3-4 inches removing soil cores and leaving small holes. The small soil plugs lay on the soil surface and breakdown rapidly contributing organic matter. The small holes allow oxygen to move through the soil while carbon dioxide escapes. Root growth around these holes is enhanced and plants are more vigorous. The frequency of soil aerification is dependent upon the amount of foot traffic and the soil texture of the site. Aerification should be performed when the grass is actively growing, because this allows the roots to fill the holes and the turf recovers faster.

Watering your lawn

Proper watering is critical to survival and aesthetic appeal of lawn grass; the frequency and quantity is influenced by many factors: soil texture, turf type, geography and, of course, environmental factors.

With the keen awareness of water scarcity, proper watering is critical. The soil should be watered to a depth of 4- to 6-inches, but soil type will influence how much water is needed to reach this depth. Generally, sandy soil requires one-half inch of water to achieve the desired wetting depth, a nice loamy soil typically requires three-quarters of an inch of water, and a heavy clay soil requires at least an inch of water.

The rate at which the water is absorbed decreases with a heavier clay soil. Therefore, water may run off before the proper watering depth is reached on a heavy clay soil so cycle and soaking is the best method of watering. In order to determine the actual amount of water a sprinkler puts out requires this simple check:

  • Set out 4 to 6 empty cans in a straight line, evenly spaced going away from the sprinkler with the last can at the edge of the sprinkler throw.
  • Run the sprinkler for a set time, perhaps 15-30 minutes. Measure the amount of water obtained.
  • Now run the sprinkler long enough to get 1-inch of water but not until water runoffs. If the soil is heavy and water runoff occurs, stop the sprinkler; allow the water to soak in for at least 30 minutes than begin watering again.

In summary, apply water to a depth of 4-6 inches, avoiding light frequent applications. It is best to water early in the morning when the water pressure is best and the water is evaporated off the foliage to avoid diseases.

Categories: Gardening Plant Care Uncategorized
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