How Droughts Affect Lawn Care

Droughts don't have to be a death sentence for your grass.

For many homeowners, keeping their lawns emerald green and lush throughout summer and into fall is a matter of personal pride that takes hours of careful work. If your region is going through a drought, however, that can be problematic. In cases of severe drought, it’s a challenge simply keeping your grass alive.

But if you’re resourceful and consistent, you can still care for your grass during a drought while remaining environmentally conscious.

How a Drought Affects Your Lawn

In general, lawns need at least an inch of water per week to stay healthy, whether through rain or watering. In drought-stricken areas, however, water use often is heavily restricted, making it difficult to keep your grass vibrant and green. Grass that doesn’t get enough water goes dormant, wilting and turning rigid.

Purdue University turf grass specialist Aaron Patton calls the tan or brown leaves of dormant grass the most telltale signs of drought stress. But by letting the leaves die off, the plant conserves water and survive. So crunchy grass isn’t necessarily dead.

How To Water Lawns During a Drought

To stay alive, dormant grass only needs half an inch of water every two to four weeks. Within your area’s drought restrictions, you should be able to water enough to keep dormant grass alive, except perhaps in the most extreme conditions. If you don’t water your grass at least a little, it will die, and you’ll need to reseed your lawn next spring.

Additional lawn care measures to take during a drought:

How To Mow Grass During a Drought

If you anticipate drought conditions, it’s best to cut your grass long. Long blades of grass provide shade to the soil, keeping it from drying out too quickly on a sunny day. It’s also a good idea to set up your lawnmower to leave behind grass trimmings, which provide moisture and nutrients to the soil.

Once your grass has gone dormant, though, it will stop growing. The worst thing you can do to a dormant lawn is cut the grass too short, exposing the soil to the heat. It’s best to just stay off dormant grass until you see signs of renewed growth.

Repairing Grass After a Drought

Ideally, when drought-breaking rain finally comes, your lawn will spring back to life in about two weeks. Once it does, water it deeply to encourage the roots to grow back deeper.

Sometimes, though, your grass will need a little more help. Lawn care methods like aeration and fertilization help coax dormant grass back to health. But if a summer drought proves severe enough and your grass isn’t savable, you might be staring down a resodding project next spring. 

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