This method of irrigation applies water to your lawn in short bursts so that the soil actually absorbs all of the water applied. Instead of running each sprinkler zone for 15 or 20 minutes each, each zone only runs for the amount of time that the soil can absorb, preventing runoff.
Fun Fact: Running your sprinklers for 30 minutes uses as much water as a 4 hour shower!
Depending on the slope of the yard, this could vary widely from zone to zone. Each landscape owner will have to test their zone run times to see when the water begins to run off. Generally for our soil type in Frisco (clay), this means no more than a six (6) minute run for a spray zone. View a quick reference guide (PDF).
Once you have determined the maximum amount of water each zone can take before runoff, split the total irrigation time into two or three parts. This involves irrigating the zone, shutting it off to allow time for the water to soak in, and then irrigating the remainder of the time.
Schedule the run times about one hour apart until the soil is moistened to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Most sprinkler system controllers can be programmed to automatically run the cycle and soak method. View how to program your controller.
How do I know it worked?
About an hour after watering, push a soil probe (or a very long screwdriver) into the soil. It will slide easily through wet soil, but will be impossible to push through dry clay. The landscape has been successfully watered when the probe easily slides to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
Why? Our clay soil has a slow water absorption rate (about 0.10 inches an hour). As a result, running your sprinklers for longer than the soil can absorb leads to runoff and water waste.
By using the cycle and soak method, the plant's root system will reach for moisture deep within the ground. This will help protect your plants from the summer heat and reduce the need for frequent watering.
The image shown to the right demonstrates how deep, infrequent watering could have a positive outcome for your lawn. For lawns that have not been watered this way in the past, you should gradually work towards building a strong root system. It is not something that happens over night.