Crunch, crunch, crunch; no, it’s not the sound of you munching on your favorite cereal. It’s what you hear beneath your feet as you walk across your parched lawn when grass is really dry.
One of the first signs I look for in a drought stressed lawn is seeing whether or not my feet leave an impression in the grass as I walk across it. Lawns in need of water, fail to spring back into place once trodden upon. Then there are the obvious visual signs you can detect, even from a distance.
Thirsty grass looses its luster as it gradually changes color from the bright, almost shiny green you are accustomed to seeing, to a dull blue-green or grey-green tint. As conditions worsen, it continues to fade to a tan or wheat color.
So why do some lawns fare better than others when subjected to drought conditions? Why is your neighbor’s yard looking better, assuming you both abide by the same watering restrictions? Part of the answer is in how the lawn was managed before the lack of water became an issue.
Lawns that are mature and well established stand the best chance of beating the heat and water shortages. Here are a few ideas to implement or keep in mind as you work to keep your lawn looking its best this summer.
All lawns benefit from receiving about an inch of water each week. How you deliver that water is an important step in creating a healthy lawn that can tough out the tough times.
In the absence of rain, irrigate your lawn only once or twice a week so that a total of one inch is applied during this period. How do you know when you’ve applied an inch? Set out tuna cans in various places on the lawn where the irrigation water lands. Once the can is full, that area has received an inch of water.
This method of irrigation delivers sufficient water to soak deeply into the soil. This encourages deeper root growth which is essential to a lawn surviving periods of drought. When water is applied more frequently and in smaller amounts, deep soaking is not possible and roots stay near the surface where they are at the greatest risk of drying out.
Allow your lawn to grow taller as drought approaches. Although lawn growth will slow or even go into a semi-dormant state during drought, taller blades develop a greater, deeper root system. On average the height of the blade has roots of equal length providing you’ve managed your watering properly. Deep root growth is what you want to encourage. It’s one of the most important elements in survival and recovery.
When ever you cut the lawn, allow the grass clippings to remain on the lawn. Most mowers today cut the grass blades into such small pieces, they are practically invisible. The benefit to grasscycling is that the clippings return valuable nutrients and moisture to the lawn, not only making your lawn healthier year round, but especially during periods of stress.
Lawns are heavy feeders and they have moderately high fertility demands. A lawn fortified with nutrient rich soil during times of active growth, creates an essential foundation and energy reserves to ride out and recover more quickly from demanding conditions.
However, it is not advisable to feed your lawn outside of its active growing season and especially during periods of drought. Lawns slow or stop growing when subjected to extreme conditions as nature’s best defensive survival mechanism. Fertilizing at this time can exacerbate the problem.
It’s best to conduct a soil test prior to the active season of growth and apply supplemental fertilization based on the information contained in the analysis. Not only will the report tell you what nutrients to add, it will tell you when to apply them.
Established lawns that start out healthy are the first to recover. A good nutrient rich foundation, infrequent but deep watering, taller grass and recycling of the clippings will provide the best opportunity for survival and rapid recovery if drought and heat affect your lawn this summer.