During periods when it is dry and hot, or drought-like conditions, a lawn will slow its growth, wilt, then turn straw-colored and enter dormancy. This is a natural reaction by the grass, but it looks awful to the homeowner.
Most grasses will survive a period of dormancy—the exceptions being Centipedegrass and St. Augustinegrass, which must have water to survive. However, there are several things you should do to help your lawn survive a peroid of severe dryness or drought, and other things you can do so it stays green through a period of limited watering.
- Fertilize—Contrary to popular belief, it is safe to apply fertilizer during a period of drought or dormancy. In fact, it could be more harmful to your grass if you interrupt regular feedings, since the nutrients help the grass fight stress like drought, insects and diseases. Therefore, it is important to continue your Annual Lawn Care Program, and feed with a product that has the nutrients your lawn needs in the summer.
- Mow Higher—Increasing the mowing height on your mower will have several benefits during dry- or drought-like conditions. First, the additional height will help the grass blades retain extra moisture and promote deep, healthy roots. Second, the taller grass will aid the retention of moisture in the soil. Also, use a sharp mower blade to avoid adding more stress to your grass.
- Water—Once the grass starts turning brown, it likely has already started going dormant. Remember, it is OK if the lawn goes dormant. If you do water, be diligent, and patient with the sprinklers and pay attention to any watering restrictions. Infrequent and erratic watering can add even more stress to the lawn. Be sure to review proper watering techniques.
- Follow the Weather—There is a lot of information online to help you monitor the weather conditions in your area. We’ve listed some of the most popular ones at the bottom of this article.
Research conducted after the serious drought in 1988 shows that lawns that are fed with a slow-release fertilizer recover from the drought quicker and are healthier and greener than unfed lawns. The key is to use a slow-release fertilizer. Some companies patented slow-release technology feeds the grass gradually, so it doesn’t need to be watered in, and it won’t harm your lawn (although we suggest watering it in to your lawn when the temperatures are above 85° F.) A well-fed lawn has strong roots and the vital nutrients necessary for it to survive a period of little to no rain.
Remember that grass is like any other living plant—it needs nutrients. Especially when it is being mowed, walked on and the other forms of “abuse” that lawns receive in the summer. A lawn that is well-taken care of will be better prepared to handle dry periods and periods of little rainfall.
For More Information
Additional drought information resources: See the USGS “Water Watch” color-coded drought map of the U.S.A. For state-by-state official reports on current drought conditions, visit the Hydrologic Information Center. There are also weather sites such as weather.com and accuweather.com.