As Justin Timberlake would sing, it’s May – it’s that time of year that our Central Texas gardens explode and those of us itching to get out and get dirty are in gardening heaven. First things, first, though: that lawn needs your attention.

Sure, this is the time to apply the first dose of fertilizer to warm-season grasses and the time to withhold food from their cool-season cousins. We have probably started mowing in May and it’s definitely time to apply weed control to stop those broadleaf nasties.

I personally have gone from one extreme to the other. Our last home had a pristine St. Augustine lawn. Years of adding compost, organic fertilization and frequent cutting allowed us a lawn that was the envy of all our neighbors. Now, with more land and rainwater as our only source, we have embraced the natural, native Central Texas landscape as our new norm. But, with a lawn, watering is essential – either too much water or too little can be detrimental to the lawn’s health and beauty. As a general rule of thumb, our lawns require 1 inch of water per week. Now this advice doesn’t hold when the weather is hot and/or windy – grass needs more water during these periods.

So, how can you be sure that your lawn is getting its weekly dose of water without wasting the precious liquid in the process?

The basics

It’s common sense that the lawn needs less help from you when it rains. And, if you truly want to harness the power of rain to tend to the grass, turn the downspouts toward the lawn during rainy periods. Don’t allow the downspouts to drain onto sidewalks and driveways. Inexpensive piping from Lowe’s and Home Depot can be used to extend and divert the downspouts.

But, when there’s not enough rainfall, you’ll need to step in. To determine if it’s time, walk across the lawn and if your footprints don’t spring back but remain visible, it’s time to water.

When to water your lawn

Deeply and infrequently are the two most important words to remember when you’re considering when and how often to water your lawn. In addition to the footprint test mentioned earlier, you can check the soil to determine if it’s time to water by sticking a screwdriver or other long, sharp object into it. If it goes in easy and comes out damp, don’t water and try the test again in a day or two.

Then, avoid watering during the hottest part of the day, or, when the lawn gets the highest amount of direct sunlight, typically between noon and 3 p.m. Water is wasted by evaporation during this period. Water instead early in the morning (before sunrise if possible), before it gets hot.

That 1-inch of water rule per week? Split it in half and apply it twice a week.

Don’t waste even one drop of water

So, you know when to water – and about how much water the lawn needs per week. Determining how long to run the sprinkler, drip system or other irrigation system to deliver one-half inch of water twice a week will require some testing.

Grab a half-dozen or more empty cat food or tuna cans and place them, evenly spaced, around the area to be watered. Turn on the irrigation system and allow it to run for 20 minutes. Then, measure the amount of water in each can and add up those numbers. Divide the result by the number of cans you used and then multiply that number by three. You now know how much water your lawn gets in one hour. You can then adjust the timer to ensure the lawn receives the required amount of water on irrigation days.

Two additional things to keep an eye on include avoiding puddling in the lawn. If the water puddles, the system is applying too much water, too quickly, and the soil can’t absorb it. Then, check the area that the sprinklers are hitting. You may need to adjust them to avoid wasting water on hardscape surfaces. Restrict the irrigation area only to the lawn.

Cut your grass correctly

Knowing what type of grass you have and how to cut it makes a huge difference. Leaving your lawn taller will help shade and cool the ground below in addition to maintaining enough leaf area to produce the food your grass needs to stay strong. St. Augustine lawns should be maintained at about 3.5 inches in length. Bermuda, around 1.5 inches. Zoysia, 2.5 inches and buffalo, a long 4 inches. In addition, you should mow often enough as not to place stress on the plant by cutting too much at one time. In general terms, you should cut no more than 1/2 inch off anytime you mow. This will mean more frequent mowing, but your lawn (and your FitBit) will be happier as a result. More great info on maintaining your lawn can be found by downloading this guide from Texas A&M Horticulture.

Maintain the irrigation system

A hose-end sprinkler may be fine for a small lawn but it isn’t efficient for larger areas. The ideal system is low-volume with low angle sprinklers, according to the experts at Bayer Advanced. They recommend that you “Angle heads as low as possible to minimize evaporation.”

Inspect the system at the beginning of spring. Check the valve boxes for water (a clue there’s a leak) and the sprinklers themselves for clogs and leaks.

During the hot months of summer, especially here in Central Texas, water conservation is key to not only a healthy lawn but a healthy planet and pocketbook as well.

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