A few simple steps can help your lawn handle tough drought conditions
When drought occurs, it's tough on lawns. The grass can wilt, then dry up and turn brown. But, don't worry; your lawn can bounce back, especially if it's been well cared for. You can take some simple, but important, steps to keep your lawn strong and thick, even during dry spells. Here's how.
Mowing at the right height makes your lawn stronger to withstand heat and drought better. Most grass types, including St. Augustine, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, and bluegrass, prefer your mower set to one of the highest settings, providing a 3-4 inch cut. A few warm season grasses, commonly grown in the south, prefer to be mowed lower. Zoysiagrass and centipedegrass prefer a middle mower setting while Bermudagrass thrives at a low mower setting, providing a 1˝-2 inch cut.
Grass mowed at the proper height develops a deeper root system to find water and nutrients in the soil better. Properly mowed grass can grow and support more roots allowing your lawn to withstand drought-like conditions. Taller grass shades the soil keeping it cooler. Also remember to keep your mower blade sharp. A dull blade shreds the grass, which causes it to lose more moisture than when you use a sharp blade.
Lawns are amazingly resilient and can tolerate drought for up to 2 months if left alone. Grass has a survival mechanism that signals for it to go dormant when moisture is scarce. So, during dry spells, you can let the lawn naturally go dormant and turn brown. It should bounce back when rain returns, especially if it is well-nourished. However, dormant lawns can be damaged by a lot of wear-and-tear. If you plan to be on your lawn frequently, you may want to consider watering if it's not prohibited by local water restrictions.
Let your lawn tell you when it needs water. When grass needs water, it will take on a gray-blue tint, and footprints will remain noticeable in the lawn. If you don't get any rain, water deeply once or twice a week. Early morning, between 6 AM and 10 AM, is the best time since there's less wind, and cooler temperatures cause less water to be lost to evaporation.
A well-fed lawn withstands drought stress better than a hungry, under-nourished lawn. Like any plant, grass needs nutrients to thrive. Feeding not only improves your lawn's appearance, it strengthens and thickens the grass to help crowd out weeds, withstand normal wear and tear, as well as heat and drought conditions. Feeding actually helps the lawn protect itself. If your grass has already gone dormant and turned brown, don't feed it, since it's not actively growing. When the rain returns and your lawn begins to recover, feed it every 6 to 8 weeks with a quality lawn food such as Scotts® Turf Builder® Lawn Food or Scotts® Green MAX Lawn Food.
Drought stress can cause bare spots and thin areas throughout the lawn. Reseeding the spots with grass seed prevents weeds from filling in. You can patch bare spots with an all-in-one product like Scotts® EZ Seed®. Just scratch up the bare soil with a rake, apply, and lightly water every day until the grass fills in and reaches the same height as the surrounding grass. In the South, spring through early summer is the best time to patch bare spots, while both spring and fall are ideal in the North.
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