Hot summer temperatures and a lack of rain can wreak havoc on your lawn. If dry, hot weather persists your lawn will slowly wilt, turn brown, and go dormant. However, a dormant lawn is not a dead lawn. With proper care, your lawn can survive a drought and come back as lush and green as ever.
How to Prepare for a Drought
Droughts are an inevitable part of southern summers, but there are steps you can take prior to a drought to keep your lawn green as long as possible.
The best way to prepare for a drought is by growing a drought-tolerant variety of turf. Certified TifTuf Bermudagrass is exceptionally drought-tolerant and uses less water than other Bermuda varieties. Drought is an ongoing problem in Georgia, and throughout the entire southeast. That is the primary reason why so much research went into the development of TifTuf™ Bermudagrass.
Rain Collection System
If you rely on rainwater to irrigate your lawn, changes in the weather can seriously effect your lawn’s health. Even if you have an irrigation system in place, often during extreme droughts areas can implement water restrictions that prevent you from watering your lawn.
Building or purchasing a rainwater collection system will allow you to plan ahead and save rainwater to irrigate your lawn in times of drought. Just be sure to have enough water storage!
During a drought, local regulations may limit how much you can irrigate your lawn. Obviously, stored rainwater isn’t included in such limitations, but even if you don’t have enough stored rainwater, you can water more efficiently.
One way to water more efficiently is by watering your lawn early in the morning (between 4 – 10AM, ) before the hottest part of the day. Watering while temperatures are lower reduces evaporation so your lawn can absorb more water.
Another way to ensure you are watering efficiently is by purchasing a smart irrigation system. Smart irrigation systems use digital technology to control when and how much your lawn is irrigated. Such systems respond to water and soil conditions to deliver the just right amount of water.
Create Ideal Soil Conditions
Part of preparing for a drought is preparing your soil to handle water as efficiently as possible.
Of course soil types span a wide spectrum, and your soil likely falls somewhere in between these three basic types:
- Clay soil tends to be heavier and prone to compacting, restricting water and airflow.
- Loamy soil is usually dark and crumbly. It allows airflow and holds beneficial water but still allows for drainage.
- Sandy soil lets water and nutrients pass through too quickly, making them less available to plants.
Sandy soil can be improved by adding silty organic matter. Clay soil may be improved by aerating and then adding organic matter to loosen it up.
What to Do During a Drought
If your lawn has started turning yellow or tan during a season when it should be actively growing, it is most likely drought stressed. It is important to remember, when this happens your grass is not dead, just dormant. Dormancy is your turf’s way of protecting itself. During dormancy, grass shuts down non-essential activities such as new top growth and concentrates on storing water and energy to preserve the roots. Most grass varieties can remain dormant for 2-3 weeks. Hardier varieties, such as TifTuf Bermuda, can last even longer.
How you treat your lawn during a drought can affect how it recovers once a water source returns.
Monitors for Signs of Stress & Disease
Watch for signs that your grass is no longer holding as much water as normal. Healthy grass will spring back up after you walk on it. Grass that is stressed by drought will show footprints once you step away.
Also take a look at the white area at the base of the plant. If it remains white, the plant is healthy. If it has begun to turn brown, your grass needs water to prevent it from dying.
Thatch, a brown layer of mainly dead grass that accumulates in some lawns between the green grass blades and the soil surface. A thin layer of thatch may actually have some benefit, helping regulate temperature and moisture, but as the layer gets thicker thatch can keep water from reaching the plant roots.
If your thatch layer already exceeds the 1/2-inch mark, we recommend you call in a trusted professional to dethatch. Most solutions require specialized equipment and heavy labor.
Watering During Drought
During a prolonged drought, your grass will need to be given at least some water to keep it alive. However, it is best not to water dormant grass too often. Waking grass up from its dormancy can actually waste its stored resources. Dormant grass needs one-half to one-quarter of water every two to four weeks to stay alive.
Keep Off the Grass
It is best to keep off the grass during a drought to prevent damage. Minimizing traffic during a drought is crucial as drought-stressed grass does not recover well from foot traffic.
Mowing During Drought
- Mow High
During the early stages of drought it is a good practice to mow higher. Longer grass blades help shade the soil, reducing evaporation and heat damage. Keep in mind that during a drought grass will grow more slowly and therefore not need to be mowed as often.
- Obey the 1/3 Rule
Never cut more that one third of the grass height in a single mowing.
- Leave Grass Clippings
Leave grass clippings on the lawn to return vital moisture and nutrients to the soil.
- Sharpen Mower Blades
Sharp blades give a clean cut, reducing the amount of damage and stress on the grass blades.
Once the grass goes completely dormant, it will stop growing and will not need to be mowed at all.
What to Do After a Drought
Once a drought is over, the most important thing to do is reintroduce water to your lawn. Typically a drought ends when it rains, so your lawn’s first watering will be a natural process. Once you can return to irrigating your lawn, it is important to water properly. Watering deeply and less frequently forces grass roots to grow deep and reach as much water as possible.