Landscape Irrigation & Turf Management Basics

Information on how to water efficiently and wisely

Watering Wisely

In an effort to help you maintain a quality landscape while managing water resources and using irrigation water efficiently, the following basic irrigation and turf management guidelines have been prepared. When properly implemented, these guidelines will help you achieve a healthy lawn while also managing water to stay within designated allocations for each property.

Basic Allocation Information

Each parcel has a contracted allocation for water based on parcel size. These allocations take into account areas that don’t require irrigation, such as your home, driveway, possible sheds, patios, etc. Actual landscape needs vary from year to year, but the average for northern Utah is 28-32 inches needed for landscaped areas. The estimated need report we send to you each month is tracking with the actual water needs for the landscape during that time of the year (tied with real weather data for that period).

Reasons why usage may be high, but lawn and landscape still look bad

  • If you continue to have dry spots, and your water usage is high, the issue is probably the sprinkler head spacing. You will continue to apply too much water if your heads are spaced too far apart. The only fix for this is to physically move the heads and get the proper spacing for adequate coverage of water during irrigation.
  • You may have a leak somewhere and not know it. Check all your valves and sprinkler heads to see if you have soggy areas that don’t ever dry out. Depending on soils you may not even get soggy spots and can be losing 10-20 gallons per hour or more.
  • Double check your sprinkler timer. Some timers allow for multiple programs. We have seen cases where two programs were programmed to water exactly the same, but at different times of the night essentially doubling the amount of irrigation the user thought was taking place. You may not notice this if you are watering in the dark while you sleep. It runs one program then the next right afterword.
  • You simply may be running each zone for too long, or you are watering too frequently.
    1. General guidelines are for fixed pattern spray heads you should water between 10 and 20 minutes per zone to apply ½ inch (each company and nozzle dictates how fast water is applied.
    2. For gear driven or rotor heads (the kind that go back and forth across the area) the rates are usually lower so these types of heads will need about 30-60 minutes per zone to apply ½ inch over the area they cover. You will have to do some fine tuning of the timing for your yard again based on nozzles used and soil types. Completing a water audit of your system will help in determining the proper timing of your watering.
    3. You only need about 1.5 inches of water per week in the summer which equates to 3 times per week. On abnormally hot years, a 4th day per week may be needed but only for a few weeks in late July and early August.
With the exception of a few parcels with very sandy soil, there is no reason to water every day. If you do have very sandy soils, shortened irrigation cycles are needed to manage total water applied. The same volume of water is being applied to the landscape, but the duration of each irrigation is shortened so that the frequency can be increased. You are simply spreading out your half inch each time to a fourth inch and doing that twice as often or six times per week. It is better to water deeper and less frequently for healthy lawn, but in really sandy conditions the soil doesn’t hold the water so spreading it out will help to keep water in the soil and provide enough water for the roots of the lawn when it’s hot.

Basic Lawn Care

The basics of lawn care include mowing, fertilizing, and irrigation. Depending on soil types, aeration can also be important for healthy lawns.
  • Mowing: This is the most basic care practice. Proper mowing can control weeds, increases density and helps maintain overall lawn health.
    1. Mow at a height of about 2.5-3 inches. (yes, is seems a little long but will create healthier lawn). Taller grass means deeper roots, which means overall stronger lawns.
    2. Mow often enough that you don’t cut off more than 1/3 of the plant material at each mowing.
    3. If possible, mulch the grass clippings rather than collect them. This will add nitrogen back into the soil and add organic matter that will help decrease evaporation from the soil.
  • Fertilization: A typical northern Utah lawn will require 2-5 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Timing is the key.
    1. The typical fertilizer times are spring and fall, but if desired a 3rd light application can be made in early summer.
    2. The most important fertilizer time is late fall. It helps prepare the grass for winter and when spring arrives, the lawn will start out the early spring green and full.
    3. Apply fertilizer in April, June and October. Nitrogen is the most needed ingredient for green lawn, but it doesn’t hurt to apply a balanced fertilizer with nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous.
    4. Your bag of fertilizer has 3 numbers (example 16-16-16). The first number refers to the percent nitrogen, the second is percent phosphate and the third is percent potassium or potash.
  • Irrigation: A really important basic guideline for irrigation is to apply about ½ inch of water each time you irrigate (you can measure this by putting a can in the yard and actually measuring the water after an irrigation). The frequency of this application of ½ inch depends on the time of year. Spring and fall, with cooler temperature and shorter days, you may only need irrigation once or twice per week. As temperatures increase, the number of irrigation events increases. For most lawns 3 days per week in mid-summer is sufficient to maintain a healthy, green lawn.

    Proper timing and volume will help you have a healthy lawn. There are several basic guidelines that will help:
    1. Irrigate in early morning or in the evening when temperatures are cool and the wind is not blowing to prevent evaporation losses or wind dispersal. Chose a time when you have adequate pressure to operate your sprinklers correctly.
    2. Don’t irrigate between 10 AM and 6 PM.
    3. Check your irrigation system monthly for leaks, damaged or clogged sprinkler heads or for heads that may have become tilted or not aligned properly.
    4. During the hottest part of the summer, lawn does slow down and will change shades of green (unless you are fertilizing and watering more than necessary). During severe drought, grass will go dormant and take on a straw or golden color but will recover as temperatures cool and water becomes available. Avoid excessive traffic on dormant lawns. Lawns are very resilient and are not dead as they start turning brown.
    5. If you have clay or heavier soils, water in short, repeated cycles (referred to as cycle and soak). You will still apply all the water needed, just in shorter repeated cycles which prevents run off and puddling. Allow one hour in between cycles for water to move into the soil.
    6. Adjust your irrigation controller monthly to meet the actual water requirements of the lawn. Your lawn requires different amounts of water depending on the time of year. More water will be needed during summer months than in the spring or fall.
    7. If you have sandy soil, you may need water more frequently but for shorter run times. (you still only need to apply 1.5 inches per week in mid-summer- it is just applied in shorter more frequent intervals).
    8. If you have just a few small dry spots in the yard, hand water them rather than running the whole irrigation zone longer just to get water to that spot. These dry spots are a result of the lack of uniform irrigation coverage. You may be able to fix this by adjusting nozzles to get more uniform coverage, or your sprinkler heads are spaced improperly, and this would require digging and moving the heads for better coverage.
    9. Sometimes lawns appear to be struggling but it is not a water problem at all. There are several types of grubs and bugs that can cause damage to lawn and no matter how much water is applied, the lawn will still look like is not getting enough. Grub damage and other lawn pests begin to show up in Late June into July. Don’t just water more if something looks like its struggling. Look at the lawn, probe into the soil and see how moist things are. Then if its not a water issue, look into the other problems. USU Extension is a great resource for bugs, treatments, and timing of these treatments, as well as local nurseries.

Landscape Changes

If you are struggling to keep grass looking good, you may consider making some landscape changes that will help keep things looking good but take less water and less maintenance. There are a few basic principles you can follow to achieve this goal. The District also provides classes to guide people through the process to achieve these goals.

Where to start and steps to follow:
  • Eliminate areas of grass that are rarely used and could be replaced with something else. This includes the park strip area, side yards and other narrow or small grass areas that are not being walked on except when mowed (any grass area less than 8 feet wide is difficult to water efficiently). Replace these areas with mulch and other plants that can be watered with drip irrigation and don’t have near the water demand as lawn.
  • Add functional spaces for gathering in the yard by eliminating irrigated landscape and adding in pavers, flagstone, bricks, etc. to create inviting and functional hard surface spaces that don’t need any water.
  • Create other activity zones such as play areas for kids, firepits, other sitting areas, etc. that don’t require water to look good and are easy to maintain and have great uses. Do things in your yard that create outdoor living spaces that you will enjoy and use and become an extension to your home living space. Lawn areas for many people do not get used much and use a lot of water.
  • Remove unnecessary lawn and create additional planter beds that have trees and shrubs. Choosing the right plants for the right spaces can provide beauty and interest, can shade the soil, shade the home, create privacy, screen unwanted views, and create great aesthetic appeal.
There are many ways to make your yard more water efficient. The District offers free landscape classes all throughout the summer and has recorded many of these classes. Please visit the District website at to see the current class schedule and view previously recorded classed and get started today to make your landscape beautiful and healthy while reducing overall water use.