We've been without rain for going on weeks in Maryland, many of our customers are concerned about their lawns, and rightfully so! Once drought sets in, it is only a matter of time before your grass wilts and goes brown. When this happens, your grass isn’t dead. It’s just dormant. Dormancy is actually beneficial to your lawn. It is your turf’s way of shutting down non-essential activities like new top growth and focusing on storing water and energy to preserve the roots and crown. Most grass can remain dormant for 2 to 3 weeks. Some hardy varieties, like TifTuf Bermudagrass, can last even longer. But how you treat your lawn during a drought can affect how well it recovers when the water returns.
Monitor for signs of stress or disease
The first sign of stress from drought is a change in the color of your lawn. Your grass may darken before it goes brown. Also, watch for signs that your grass isn’t holding as much water as it normally would. Healthy grass will spring back up after you walk on it. But drought-stressed grass will show footprints after you step away. To make sure your grass is still healthy, even during drought, look at the white area at the plant’s base. If it remains off-white, the plant is healthy. If it has begun to turn brown, your turf is in desperate need of water to prevent it from dying.
As your grass is stressed and goes dormant, it becomes more susceptible to disease. Keep an eye out for opportunistic weeds, and spot treat them with a selective herbicide. If you catch weeds early, you can also remove them by hand with a simple spade.
Thatch, the layer of undecomposed organic matter that collects just above the soil, is helpful when it is about a half-inch thick. It can insulate the soil and help maintain moisture. But when it gets thicker, thatch can keep water from reaching the plant roots. If your turf has built up a thick layer of thatch, you can dethatch with a special sharp metal rake or vertical mower. While too much dethatching can hurt an already stressed lawn, removing thatch can also help your lawn use what little water it can get.
Watering during a drought
If a drought drags on long enough, you will need to give your turf at least some water to keep it alive. It’s best not to water dormant grass too often, as waking grass from its dormancy can actually waste stored resources. Dormant grass needs one-half to one-quarter inch of water every two to four weeks to stay alive.
Keep off the grass
To prevent damage, it is best to keep off the grass during a drought. Drought-stressed grass doesn’t recover well from foot traffic, so minimizing traffic during a drought is crucial.
Mowing during a drought
A common question is how or if you should mow during a drought. The answer depends on what stage of drought and dormancy your grass has reached. Early on, it is a good idea to cut your grass a little longer. Longer grass blades help shade the soil, reducing evaporation and heat damage. Grass will grow more slowly during a drought, so you may not have to mow as often. The principle to keep in mind is that you should never cut more than the top third of your grass. As you mow, leave the grass clippings on the lawn to return vital moisture and nutrients to the soil. Once the grass has gone completely dormant, it will stop growing, and you don’t need to mow at all.
Should you need help maintaining your summer landscaping, please contact Rooted In Nature today at 443-846-0199 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.