Surviving Summer Heat and Drought
As we enter the two hottest months of the year, July and August, it’s important to keep an eye on the thermometer and weekly rainfall totals to be sure our lawns survive the unrelenting summer here in the South. Watering, mowing and other lawn care practices should be adjusted to maintain grass health through times of extreme heat or drought.
Identifying Lawn Stress
Pay attention to your lawn during these crucial summer weeks. When grass becomes stressed, it will turn a dull blue-green color, and you may notice the blades start to curl or even wilt. And when you walk across the lawn, stressed blades will not spring back, leaving visible footprints in the grass. When any of these signs of stress appear, it is time to modify your lawn care routine.
Watering in Drought
As a general rule, the grasses in our area need about a half of an inch of water from rain or irrigation twice per week to remain lush and green. However, when extreme heat or drought strikes, adjust your irrigation schedule to water more deeply and infrequently.
At the first signs of moisture stress, follow your local watering restrictions and saturate the grass roots to a depth of six to eight inches—preferably in the early morning before the dew dries.
The soil type will affect the amount of water required. Sandy soil absorbs water more readily but also dries out quicker, so lawns in sandy soil will require less water more frequently. Clay soil, on the other hand requires more water at a slower rate to allow for full penetration and avoid runoff, but retains moisture longer.
The time between irrigations depends greatly on the type of grass in your lawn. Heat and drought-hearty grasses like Bermuda, St. Augustine and Centipede, for example, can tolerate much longer periods without rain than grasses like Tall Fescue and Zoysia, which may begin to wither after less than a week without water.
Whatever your grass or soil type, until heat and drought conditions stabilize, saturate your lawn to a depth of six or eight inches and do not water again until the first signs of stress. Once the drought relents, you can resume your normal watering schedule.
When the mercury pushes into the upper 90s or when rain totals fall short, it’s time to raise the deck on your mower to help relieve your lawn of stress. Taller blades encourage deeper root systems and also shade the soil, helping to lower temperatures and conserve moisture.
Identify the type of grass growing in your yard, and set the mower deck to the highest end of the recommended height range. If you are unsure of your lawn type, simply raise your mower half an inch from the usual setting. Keep blades sharp and use a mulching mower for optimal moisture retention.
Other Summer Considerations
During extreme heat and drought, limit foot traffic on your lawn to avoid damage to stressed grass. Also limit herbicide and pesticide treatments by following label instructions for optimal application conditions. And finally, reduce or postpone fertilizing until the extreme heat or drought subsides. Fertilizer promotes growth, which increases the need for water. Also, grass in stress cannot benefit fully from the additional nutrients.
If you’re planning to lay new sod, consider investing in grass varieties developed specifically for high drought tolerance and lower water usage. Our certified experts are happy to help you find the best solution for your yard. You can reach them at 770.832.8606 or email info@NGTurf.com.