Watering Your Lawn During Drought: Tips for Sprinkler Use

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Drought conditions pose significant challenges for maintaining a healthy lawn. The lack of water can stress the turf, leading to yellowing, thinning, and eventually, the death of grass. However, with strategic use of sprinklers and adopting water-efficient practices, it is possible to sustain a lawn even during periods of water scarcity. This article provides essential tips and techniques for effective lawn watering during drought, focusing on the efficient use of sprinklers.

Understanding Drought and Its Impact on Lawns

Drought occurs when there is a prolonged period of below-average precipitation, leading to a shortage of water. Lawns are particularly vulnerable during drought because they are often composed of grass species that require consistent moisture to thrive. During drought, water conservation becomes crucial, and lawns must be managed with a focus on minimizing water use while maintaining their health and vitality.

1. Assessing Lawn Health and Water Needs

Before making any changes to your watering routine, a thorough evaluation of the lawn’s health and moisture requirements is essential. Drought stress in lawns manifests through several clear indicators. Wilting, where the grass blades fold or curl to minimize surface area and conserve moisture, is a common sign. A bluish-gray hue often appears on grass that is suffering from severe water deficiency, indicating that the plant’s natural green color is fading due to stress. Additionally, if footprints or tire tracks remain visible on the grass for an extended period, it shows that the lawn’s resilience is compromised due to lack of moisture.

However, assessing lawn health goes beyond visual cues. The texture and color changes in grass can sometimes be subtle and vary between grass species, so understanding the specific characteristics and water needs of your lawn’s grass type is critical. Regular monitoring helps in identifying the early signs of drought stress, allowing for timely interventions to prevent permanent damage to your lawn.

Soil Moisture Check

To accurately assess the lawn’s water requirement, checking the soil moisture content is a reliable method. A simple tool like a screwdriver or a soil probe can be used for this purpose. By inserting it into the ground, you can gauge the moisture level: if it slides in easily, the soil is likely moist enough; if insertion is difficult and the soil feels compacted, it indicates dryness and the need for watering. This method provides a direct measurement of soil moisture at root level, where it matters most.

Performing this check in various lawn sections is important, as moisture distribution can be uneven, especially in larger or irregularly shaped areas. Regular soil moisture assessments can guide your watering schedule, ensuring that you provide enough water to meet the lawn’s needs without excessive use.

2. Choosing the Right Time to Water

During a drought, the timing of irrigation becomes even more critical to maximize water usage efficiency and minimize waste. Early morning, preferably just before or at sunrise, is the optimal time for watering the lawn. This practice takes advantage of lower temperatures and less wind, reducing the rate of evaporation and allowing more water to soak into the soil and reach the grass roots. Early morning watering also ensures that the lawn has enough time to absorb water before the heat of the day, which can significantly reduce water stress and promote healthier growth.

Avoiding Evening Watering

Evening watering should be avoided when possible. Watering late in the day can result in the grass staying damp throughout the night, creating a favorable environment for the development of fungal diseases and other lawn health issues. If there are constraints that make evening watering the only option, it should be completed early enough to ensure that the grass blades have time to dry before nightfall. This can help minimize the risk of disease while still providing necessary hydration to the lawn. In managing lawn care during drought, flexibility in watering times might be necessary, but the focus should always be on optimizing water use and ensuring the health of the lawn.

3. Efficient Sprinkler Use

The efficiency of watering your lawn during a drought significantly depends on the type of sprinkler system you use and how you operate it. Selecting the appropriate sprinkler type and carefully managing its placement and timing can lead to substantial water savings while ensuring your lawn remains healthy.

Sprinkler Types

  • Rotary sprinklers have arms that spin and release water in a circular pattern. They are most effective for watering large, open areas because they distribute water evenly over a wide radius. Their slow application rate is beneficial for heavy soils like clay, allowing water to infiltrate the ground without causing runoff.
  • Oscillating sprinklers have a bar with several nozzles that move back and forth, spraying a fan-shaped water pattern. They are ideal for rectangular areas and work well on flat landscapes and lighter soils, such as sandy soils, where fast absorption is needed. The gentle, rain-like sprinkling minimizes compaction and is suitable for delicate plants and new grass seed.

Choosing the right sprinkler involves understanding your lawn’s specific needs, considering soil type, lawn size, and shape. A well-selected sprinkler will distribute water uniformly, preventing waste and ensuring every part of your lawn receives the necessary moisture.

Sprinkler Placement and Timing

Place sprinklers to avoid watering sidewalks or driveways. Adjust the watering schedule according to the weather; reduce frequency during cooler or cloudy periods and increase during hotter periods. Always aim to water deeply and infrequently rather than lightly and frequently, as this encourages deeper root growth and drought resilience.

4. Adopting Water-Saving Practices

Beyond sprinkler efficiency, several ground-level practices can enhance your lawn’s drought resilience and reduce its overall water demand.


Mulching plays a crucial role in conserving soil moisture and improving soil quality:

  • Types of mulch: Organic mulches, such as wood chips, bark, or compost, are beneficial as they break down over time, adding nutrients to the soil. They help maintain soil moisture by reducing evaporation and providing insulation from heat.
  • Application: Apply mulch around the base of plants, trees, and in garden beds. A layer of 2 to 3 inches is generally sufficient to reduce water loss and suppress weeds that compete with your lawn for water.

Drought-Tolerant Grasses

Switching to drought-tolerant grass species can significantly reduce your lawn’s water dependency:

  • Species selection: Grasses like Bermuda, Zoysia, Buffalo, and certain fescue varieties are known for their ability to withstand dry conditions. These species have deep root systems that extract moisture from deeper soil layers.
  • Benefits: Drought-tolerant grasses require less frequent watering, saving time and resources. They can remain green and healthy in dry conditions, reducing the need for supplemental watering.

Incorporating these water-saving practices not only enhances your lawn’s drought tolerance but also contributes to sustainable water management in your community. By optimizing sprinkler use and adopting practices like mulching and choosing the right grass species, you can maintain a vibrant, healthy lawn even during periods of water scarcity.

5. Monitoring and Adjusting

Regularly monitor the lawn’s response to watering and adjust practices as necessary. Overwatering can be as harmful as underwatering, leading to shallow root systems and increased vulnerability to drought stress. Adjust sprinkler run times and frequencies based on the lawn’s appearance and soil moisture levels.

6. Maintenance During Drought

Maintaining a lawn during drought also involves practices beyond watering:

  • Mowing height: Increase the mowing height during drought to reduce stress on the grass.
  • Fertilization: Limit or avoid fertilizing during drought as it can increase water demand.
  • Weed control: Control weeds as they compete with grass for water and nutrients.


Watering a lawn during a drought requires careful management to conserve water while keeping the lawn alive and healthy. By assessing the lawn’s water needs, using sprinklers efficiently, choosing the right time to water, and adopting water-saving practices, you can maintain a resilient lawn even under challenging conditions. Regular monitoring and adjustments to watering practices are essential to ensure the lawn remains vibrant and healthy without wasting precious water resources.

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