The most common yard-care mistakes, according to golf-course superintendents

dude yelling at his grass

Harboring yard-care woes? Don't get angry, get educated!

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Water covers nearly three-quarters of the planet, but there’s not enough of it to go around. Its preciousness has inspired the United States Golf Association to launch a $30-million initiative aimed at helping courses reduce water use by 45 percent over the next 15 years.

As the industry seeks to cut back, golfers can, too.

Earlier this year, at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s annual convention, asked superintendents about the most common yard-care mistakes they see. Check out the video here:

“Poor water management,” (or some version of that) was the number-one reply.

So, what are those missteps and how can they be corrected?

We tapped Mark Patterson, superintendent at the Legacy at Lakewood Ranch and Serenoa GC, in Florida, to walk us through the problems and the remedies.

1. Over-watering

The problem: Set it and forget it. Sounds like a new swing aid. In fact, it’s a mistake homeowners commit often: They set their irrigation system on a timer and never give it a second thought, leaving it to switch on, even when it’s raining. That’s a waste of water that’s also bad for grass, which suffers when it gets too much of a good thing.

The fix: Five words: Internet-based irrigation control systems. And now three more words: invest in one. Relatively inexpensive (they start at around $150) and easy to install, these gizmos connect to local weather stations and send you wireless alerts, so you’re only watering when your grass really needs it. This is good for your yard. And great for your wallet. In about a year, Patterson says, the investment will pay for itself through savings on your water bill.

2. Playing a guessing game

The problem: Superintendents have sophisticated tools to measure everything from soil moisture to evaporation rate. Most homeowners are simply winging it, eyeballing their yards and guessing whether and when they need water.

The fix: Simple moisture meters, designed for the home, are readily available and easy to use. And if that’s too complicated, here’s a hack: Patterson suggests sticking a butter knife roughly three inches into your soil. If the tip of the knife is dry when you pull it out, your grass needs a drink.

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3. Bad timing

The problem: It’s not just how you water. It’s when you water. Wait until the sun is up and blazing, and you risk wasting water through evaporation. As the day wears on, winds can kick up, messing with your sprinkler patterns and sending water where it isn’t meant to go.

The fix: Water before sunrise, so the turf has a chance to enjoy a good soaking and then dries off when the sun comes out. Grass left to sit in moisture can develop fungus and other problems, which is why it’s not a great idea to water at night — though warm-season grasses, Patterson says, can withstand that better that their cool-season counterparts.

4. Faulty irrigation system

The problem: Pipes leak. Sprinkler heads malfunction. Water sprays on sidewalks instead of grass. Irrigation systems are no different than the rest of us: they wear down, waste water and, in some cases, leave your yard a wasteland along the way.

The fix: Maybe you’re an irrigation expert. But chances are, you’re not. That’s the bad news. The good news is, it’s not hard to find someone who knows what they’re doing. “I talk to a lot of homeowners who say, ‘There was a guy from a company who dropped by, saying he could check on my irrigation system once a month, but I didn’t think it was worth it” Patterson says. That’s short-sighted. Find a reputable outfit, and spend a little money now to save a lot of headache later.

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.