Make Every Drop Count On Your Lawn

Droughts are a normal part of life in the Great Plains and for Nebraska. Many droughts are short-term and may only affect small areas, but multiple-year droughts like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s are relatively common as well. In 2012, the entire state of Nebraska experienced the driest summer in more than 50 years. Conserving water in your home, lawn, and landscape helps to reduce the impact of residential water demand on our natural resources.

Efficient water use on the lawn will provide for plant needs while conserving precious water resources.


Image of lawn irrigation head
Check irrigation heads at the beginning of the growing season and periodically throughout the summer to ensure they are working properly.


Image of footprints in lawn
If footprints remain in your lawn, 15 to 20 minutes after you have walked through, the turfgrass plants are wilting and need irrigation.


  1. In general, existing Kentucky bluegrass lawns require more applied irrigation water in the summer than in spring and fall.
  2. Water to the bottom of the roots. Use a screwdriver, trowel, small shovel, or soil probe to determine how deep the roots are and how far the water has soaked in. Try to keep the soil moist about a half inch deeper than the deepest living roots.
  3. Measure the amount of water applied in a 15-20 or 30-minute periods using collection devices such as tuna or coffee cans. Adjust the runtime to deliver the required amount. Change the runtime seasonally and remember to subtract any rainfall.
  4. Observe your automatic sprinkler system at least once per month. Look for heads that don't turn, that spray the street or sidewalk, bent or damaged heads, and clogged or worn nozzles.
  5. Adjust heads as landscape plants grow larger and begin to block the spray pattern. New installations of benches, decks, etc. also can decrease irrigation efficiency.
  6. When watering on a slope, use "delayed starts." Run sprinklers until you notice runoff, then stop. Wait 3 hours, then resume. Aerate in spring or fall to increase infiltration.
  7. Water in the early morning, 4 to 10 am. Watering is more efficient in the morning due to less evaporation and low wind speed.
  8. Return grass clippings to the lawn using a recycling type mower. Clippings are a good nutrient source, and help to conserve moisture.
  9. Consider allowing Kentucky bluegrass and buffalograss lawns to go dormant. Irrigate dormant turf with ¼ inch applications every two weeks to prevent death of the dormant crowns.
  10. Minimize foot traffic and mowing on dormant turf.
  11. Tall fescue lawns do not recover well if allowed to go dormant in severe drought conditions.
  12. Consider reducing the amount of fertilizer throughout the summer to produce less growth and moisture loss.
  13. Mow Kentucky bluegrass lawns at 2 ½ to 3 inches, and tall fescue lawns in the 3-4 inch range to conserve moisture.
  14. When overseeding, irrigate lightly and frequently. The new turf plants have a shallow root system, so timing should be adjusted accordingly.
  15. Aerate bluegrass and tall fescue lawns in spring or fall to increase water infiltration. Aerate and fertilize in late spring for buffalograss and zoysiagrass.
  16. Reduce thatch layers with a power rake if they exceed 0.75 inches. Dethatching should be done in spring or fall for bluegrass or tall fescue and late spring for zoysiagrass or buffalograss.

For more information, these University of Nebraska - Lincoln Extension resources are available.



For more water saving ideas, see the companion publications:

Produced by University of Nebraska - Lincoln Extension. We wish to acknowledge and thank the following for their collaboration in producing the original version of this publication.

  • Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services
  • Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
  • National Drought Mitigation Center
  • Nebraska Department of Natural Resources
  • Nebraska League of Municipalities
  • Nebraska Rural Water Association
  • Nebraska Well Drillers Association
  • UNL Conservation and Survey Division