Brown, patchy lawns often become a common sight during the summer months, particularly in unusually dry years. While drought damage to lawns is seldom permanent – most turf grasses are resilient enough to pull through and turn green again once the rains come – nobody wants a front yard that looks like a desert. These lawn care strategies will help you maintain a healthy lawn before, during and after periods of drought.
You can’t prevent drought, but you can take steps to make sure your lawn is better able to get through it. The most important thing you can do is make sure your lawn is healthy. Regular spring, summer and fall maintenance – including irrigation, fertilization and re-seeding as necessary – will stack the deck in favor of your lawn when the rain stops falling.
If you are sowing or laying a new lawn, choose drought-resistant grass varieties. Some of the more drought-resistant turf grasses include zoysia, Bermuda grass, St. Augustine, Buffalo grass and fescue.
Caring for Lawns During Drought
During drought conditions, raise the height of your lawn mower. Cutting your grass a little taller will stress it less than clipping it close to the ground. After you mow, let the grass clippings stay on the ground. They will act as mulch and slow down evaporation.
Watering your lawn is obviously an essential part of getting it through a drought. The best time to water your lawn is after dry conditions turn the ground hard, but before your lawn starts to turn brown. Before watering, you can use a garden fork to spike holes in the ground, making it easier for water to be absorbed. Water your lawn in the morning or evening to minimize evaporation, and avoid overwatering. Excessive water is wasteful, and actually reduces the drought-resistance of your turf.
Autumn is the time to renovate your lawn and help it recover from drought. Overseed bare and sparse patches with a suitable seed mixture. If you your lawn is planted with mainly cool-season grasses (fescue, ryegrass and bluegrass being a few examples) fall is also the best time to add fertilizer. If you have mainly warm-season grasses (like St. Augustine, zoysia and Bermuda grass), hold off on the fertilizer until spring.