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Laying Down That First Water: Please Do Not!




I’m gonna keep this short. Don’t. That’s right. Don’t. Keep this word and all of its negative connotations in your head. When you are all excited, sitting at the central controller, ready to hit whatever form of on switch you have, remember my word—Don’t.

One of the biggest mistakes I see springtime turfgrass managers make is watering too much, too early. Here we are, spring springing all around us and it just seems like the thing to do, water a little bit. Just a little because it just feels better. I don’t know if it is a rite of passage, a trial of some sort or some kind of application of Tin Foil Mentality that says you’ll never get a dry spot if you water early. If I thought it was just some kind of occasional thing, I wouldn’t write about it, but it is almost universal. In fact, just to make it seem right, I did it too. I remember. That one windy spring day in Denver, where things started to turn a bit and after harassing my pump station, irrigation tech, computer setup and all the rest, we watered. Looking back, I can’t figure out why. As it turns out, a couple of isolation valves were closed and a couple holes didn’t get water for a few more days and guess what? That’s right. They didn’t die.

Are there exceptions? Yes. They are rare. Emerging Bermuda needs not to dry out as it gets going. I think most Bermuda Jockeys know this on some level. And one of things that USGA greens appreciate is a decent early season flush. That’s more to do with air in the rootzone.

As Spring springs, plant energies go into full swing. As does soil biological activity. Cool nights and warm days are just that. And in many parts of the country, some kind of rainfall is around the corner. It’s a great time to let roots go looking for water. It’s a great time not to impede natural evaporative cooling. It’s a great time to condition the plant that it is going to have to toughen up. Pre-Stress Conditioning is one of those highly overlooked things that great Turfheads do well.

For many places, Irrigation Water Quality is a challenge and so being in a hurry to add more salt to your soils just lacks common sense. There again, Don’t becomes the operative word.

To prove this point, I had one of my more irrigation trigger-happy friends purchase a soil moisture meter. He was astounded at the degree of change from morning to afternoon. Yet even more astounded at how much moisture was back after the overnight rise in relative humidity (the ratio of the amount of water vapor in the air at a specific temperature to the maximum amount that the air could hold at that temperature, expressed as a percentage). So at dawn, when the rH is at it’s highest, there was plenty of soil moisture and he didn’t have to add a drop of water. ET? Sure. It’s a factor, but when ET’s are low, it isn’t always the best idea to just trickle out some water.

rainbird_photo1.jpgFor many places, Irrigation Water Quality is a challenge and so being in a hurry to add more salt to your soils just lacks common sense. There again, Don’t becomes the operative word.

So just a tip. When you think you want to water this spring. Think. Think hard. Don’t just make an easy choice. But at the same time, when it is time, it is time and that’s part of the Art of what we do. Everyone knows you have sprinklers under there. Don’t rush to use them.


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