Dealing with Drought
Summer droughts are common for this region. Our natural grasses (Bluegrass, Ryegrass and Fescue) have developed ways to adapt to the conditions over the millennia. You will hear all kinds of suggestions such as planting drought resistant grasses, conserve water and using xeriscaping. That's all fine and good in the long term, but then your existing lawn is totally brown and crunches when you walk on it, and, you can see where the mail deliverer walked yesterday and where Johnny rode his bike across the corner. Your lawn is in desperate need of water.
What grass plants do to survive: When grass plants do not get enough water they stop growing and the leaves turn brown. This conserves water in the crown of the plant (the growing point at the ground level.) The lawn can survive about 6 weeks in this dormant condition and then plants begin to die.
If the plants are watered well they will "break dormancy" and start growing again. This takes a lot of stored energy for this process, so you really do not want the plant going in and out of dormancy very many times.
Fertilization with low-burning, slow-release plant foods is important for replenishing exhausted reserves of energy. Our dry material falls to the ground and is released when the lawn is watered well. The slow-release portion continues to feed the lawn over a longer period of time as the lawn receives water.
WATERING STRATEGIES: There are a number of different strategies you can use to help your lawn survive. If you can, water in the mornings to allow lawn to dry before night. This reduces fungus disease stress.
Drought Strategy One: If the lawn has gone dormant (a natural self preservation process) to protect the living crowns of the grass plants, it can remain dormant for about 6 weeks before the crowns are damaged. DO NOT water unless you are prepared to water throughout the remainder of the drought. After 6 weeks you should water deeply every week to 10 days to keep the crowns alive.
Drought Strategy Two: If you do water, then water deeply. That means you should prepare the soil to receive water by wetting the surface first by watering for 15-20 minutes. Let the soil "relax" by shutting the water off for 20-30 minutes. Then water the lawn for 1 to 2 hours per setting. This should be done weekly.
Drought Strategy Three: If you have watered deeply recently and the heat and wind pick up, think about "syringing" the lawn as the golf courses do. Syringing is lightly watering the lawn surface to cool it off. The area to "syringe" would be the "curb appeal" area that makes your home look nice. The rest of the lawn can do without.
Drought Strategy Four: Save your trees and shrubs by watering them with drip irrigation or trickle watering for 2 to 4 hours every week. This does not take too much water and is done to the base of each tree or shrub. There are kits for drip irrigation and leaky hose in the hardware stores. Mulching 1-2 inches over the roots of the trees and shrubs will help reduce water evaporation from the root area. Watering trees and shrubs is more important than watering your lawn as it is much easier to replace your lawn should you lose it.
Other things to consider during drought conditions are:
Thunderstorms: Localized or "popcorn" thunderstorms may occur at your home. However, the amount of water they contribute to the moisture needed by your lawn does not amount to much. This is because the rain runs off faster than it can be absorbed and utilized.
Mowing: Set your mowing height as high as possible - 3 inches or more (notch 6 on your typical home mower). Change your mowing pattern and try to avoid putting the wheels in the same place each time you mow. This is particularly important when you are trimming around beds, trees and shrubs. Move your mower's wheel over at least a wheel width with each pass. Sharpen your blade. Dull blades shred the leaf ends as they are cut. The shredded ends dry out the blades faster than a cleanly cut leaf. Mow in the evenings when it is cooler. The leaf blades will recover better from cutting during the night.
Traffic: Stay off the lawn as much as possible. Keep things(large objects) off the lawn.
Fertilizing: Use extra slow release fertilizer to reduce the burn potential, which Leisure Lawn does for you. Don't skip your fertilization application. University research has shown that lawns receiving proper fertilization during drought condition recover more quickly.
Weed Control: Avoid applications when the temperatures are above 90 degrees F as you may burn the grass plants. Spot spray weeds only when they become a serious problem. Weed control takes longer to work in hot weather because the weeds have shut down growth and will not take the weed control in very quickly. Leisure Lawn will control weeds after the drought has broken.
Insects: Some insects thrive in the hot weather by sucking the moisture out of the grass plants. We don't notice the damage until it is done and after the lawn recovers from dormancy. If insects are noticed, treat as soon as conditions warrant.
Keeping a cool attitude during the drought and doing what you can for your lawn will help you adapt to the drought conditions.