Knowing when to winterize sprinklers can make a great difference for a homeowner that is working to establish and maintain a healthy turf type tall fescue lawn. Winterizing sprinkler system set ups is necessary during the winter to prevent water in the irrigation pipes from freezing and breaking anything, but the ideal time at which to have this done may not be as early as you think. An important consideration is also knowing how long to water grass for the greatest lawn health, and that is the whole reason a homeowner invests in an irrigation system to begin with.
For turf type tall fescue lawns like those in the Richmond, Virginia area, overseeding is a standard service performed in the fall each year to maintain a thick and healthy population of grass within the lawn. Because tall fescue is a cool season grass, the worst time of the year for it is summer when high heat and humidity levels cause it to undergo heat stress, dormancy, disease, and other problems. Fall seeding is so important to a healthy and attractive lawn the following year because it replaces the turf that was lost during the summer.
To help fend off the challenges of summer heat where a fescue lawn is concerned, many homeowners invest in the installation of an in ground irrigation system that is specially calibrated to apply an even coverage of water to the lawn. In ground sprinkler systems like this are one of the more expensive investments one can make in a residential landscape, but they are typically more convenient and effective than above ground options that have to be moved and adjusted by hand.
When an irrigation system is on and running, small pipes roughly one foot underground pump water through multiple zones to each sprinkler head. Between runs, water remains in these pipes, just like it does within a house or similar system. For regions that do not have any hard, prolonged freezes, there is no issue with this because the ground never freezes at that depth. However, in Virginia and further north, hard freezes are expected in the winter and can lead to damaged or ruptured pipes if water is left inside of them.
To prevent this damage from occurring, it is a common practice for an air compressor to be used to blow the water out of all of the pipes. This is known as winterizing sprinkler system setups because it makes them able to survive winter freezes. This is why it is important to know when to winterize sprinklers: blowing out an irrigation system renders it inoperable until the following spring when the water is turned back on.
For most lawns, especially tall fescue, being nourished with a proper amount of water is vital to successful and healthy growth and longevity. The typical growing season for a turf type tall fescue lawn in Richmond, Virginia lasts from about April to November, give or take a few weeks depending on the season’s weather. For as long as a fescue lawn is experiencing enough growth to require mowing, it needs to receive about an inch and a half of water every week.
Having a proper watering schedule is important during the summer, but it is even more important during the fall. While knowing how long to water grass can be the difference between a green lawn and a brown one during the summer, proper watering during the fall is the difference between a successful seeding and a poor one. Overseeding is typically performed between early September and early November, and watering is key for at least several weeks after the seed is applied.
This necessity is due to the fact that a moist environment is the biggest factor in both seed germination as well as fast root and blade development. The more efficiently and effectively baby grass is able to develop and mature before the lawn goes dormant in the winter, the better off it will be the following spring. A seeded lawn that does not receive proper watering will be several steps behind its neighbors right out of the gate, and the consequences will be visible in the following seasons.
For this reason, it is vital when deciding when to winterize sprinklers not to do so before the end of your lawn’s growing season if at all possible. In Virginia, it is extremely rare for our region to undergo any prolonged freezes before Thanksgiving. It takes several days of consistent air temperatures for the soil to catch up, so one freeze every few weeks is not enough to freeze the soil. As a result, it is ideal to wait until the end of November or beginning of December for winterizing your sprinkler system set ups.
Unfortunately, because this is a service that most homeowners have done by an irrigation company, it is impossible for everyone’s system to be winterized within the same few weeks. As a result, a lot of irrigation companies will offer a discount on a winterizing service the earlier you agree to have your irrigation shut down. While you may not be able to wait as long as is ideal (and it is better to winterize too early than too late), for the sake of your seeding success, please wait as long as you can.