While I’m writing this article in early June we are already experiencing drought conditions here in New Jersey and the eastern part of the country. California is also going through a long-term drought as well. Meanwhile, Texas is suffering greatly from recent flooding. Well, we all wish we had a crystal ball that would have alerted us to these current conditions we are experiencing, so what’s the answer? The number one thing to always remember is a healthy growing lawn is your best defense against drought conditions. This is achieved by a sound lawn program including proper feeding, mowing and watering. Here are my thoughts on achieving that great lawn.
Thatch, which is dead organic matter, inhibits your lawns growth. Thatch is a great robber of water and nutrients and must be removed. Vigorously rake out thatch or consider renting a de-thatching machine to help. Reduce or eliminate Nitrogen applications which promote leaf growth. Leaf growth when the lawn is under stress increases the stress level further. Also, eliminate weed killer applications during hot, dry weather; this could kill a drought stressed lawn.
Watering techniques are critical too. When you start using your irrigation in late spring be sure to water deeply and infrequently, adding about one inch per week between irrigation and rainfall. This encourages roots to go deeper into the soil to find more water resources. If you are able to water at times of drought stress, water early in the morning while temperatures are cooler. Usually there is less wind during the early morning hours as well. Wind too is a cause of water evaporation. Here’s a tip: you will know your lawn needs water when you walk across it and your foot prints are still visible.
Mowing practices are important too. Mow in the early morning or evening when temperatures are cooler, turfgrass will loose moisture with each mowing. Be sure to set your mower cutting height as high as you can, three to four inches if possible. Do not cut off more than 1/3 of the total blade height at any one time. Studies show that the higher the mowing height the deeper the roots tend to grow combating drought stress. Scalping the lawn will put the lawn in jeopardy of dying. Keep your mower blade sharp. Dull mower blades tear and shred the grass leaf blades rather than cutting them clean. Shredding leaf blades increase water loss and make the lawn susceptible to disease. If you have a mulching mower, the “grass cycling” returns moisture and fertilizer nutrients back into the soil since most of the grass blades are comprised of moisture to begin with. Of course, during times of drought your lawn will not grow as quickly so the need to mow will be reduced.
Traffic is a killer when your lawn is under drought stress! Reduce traffic on the lawns at all times when possible including mowing during the middle of the day. Injury to grass plants can cause dehydration and death of the grass plant. If watering restrictions are imposed, reduce all traffic on the lawn. Restrict watering to the most important areas if possible. Most lawn grasses will go dormant and turn brown during drought and heat stress. Many times an established lawn will bounce back from this dormant, “dead-looking” stage once temperatures cool off and rain returns.
Seeding your lawn with drought tolerant grasses is important too. Tall fescues, such as Black Beauty, tend to hold up very well since they have the ability to grow deep root systems. Seeding in early fall allows your lawn to become well established and resilient to combat the following summer’s drought and heat conditions. Be sure to address soil compaction issues too so the grass roots have a better change of taking hold and becoming stronger than the drought! Apply Love Your Lawn-Love Your Soil to combat compaction.
Remember to include a “drought” lawn care plan each year. You never know when a drought may come and it may be too late to save your lawn. By following these steps you will hopefully have a beautiful lawn to enjoy all summer long.