How to Care for Your Lawn During a Drought

By TruGreen July 27, 2022
Lawn under drought stress

Everything You Need To Know About Lawn Maintenance Drought

Drought can put severe stress on your lawn and make it more susceptible to insect damage and weed invasion. Fighting drought to keep your lawn healthy can be tough, but with the proper knowledge, techniques and help from TruGreen® experts you can maintain a vibrant, lush green lawn you can be proud of.

What is drought stress?

  • Changes in hue. Your lawn may change color from bright green to dull gray or blue-green.
  • Footprints. Footprints (or lawn mower tracks) will stay visible in grasses that are too tired to spring upright after they’ve been pushed down.
  • Wilting. Grass blades will roll or fold as they lose water content, wilting visibly in the heat.
  • Changes in color. As drought stress becomes more severe, your lawn may do more than lose its bright green hue. If you’re asking, “How can I get my grass green during a drought?” you may already be noticing shades of yellow or tan. Once you see tan coloration, your lawn is in a state of drought-induced dormancy—a last-ditch attempt to survive the dry heat by shutting down.

The 4 Stages of Drought Stress

As water becomes limited, your turf grass will give off signs that it’s in need of watering. Learn to spot these warnings so you can alter your lawn maintenance schedule to avoid drought stress and keep your lawn green and healthy.

Stage 1: Early Drought Stress Signs

During the first stage of drought stress, your turf grass will take on a bluish-gray appearance. Take a walk on your lawn and look for footprints left behind, a key indicator of a dry lawn. Lawn care tips in this stage include regular watering to help the turf grass regain its moisture and recover within a day or two.

Stage 2: The Tipping Point

The second stage of drought stress is considered the tipping point because it’s the last stage where regular watering can revive your lawn. It’s also the phase right before all lawn growth stops. During stage two, turf grass growth is slowed and your lawn may appear patchy. This is due to unequal moisture reserves in your soil—some parts have more reservoirs, some less.

Blades of grass start to fold in an attempt to conserve moisture—areas of grass with compacted or poor soil dry out first. Lawn care tips at this stage include regular watering to revitalize the lawn over a period of three to five days.

Stage 3: Pre-dormancy

The preliminary stage to dormancy, the third stage is when your lawn shuts down all—or almost all—growth and begins to ration resources. Your lawn takes on a greenish-brown color. Any mowing during this period can damage the leaves, stems and crowns—from the mower’s wheels alone.

To stimulate recovery, aggressive irrigation or heavy rainfall is needed over a period of several days. When your lawn finally replenishes enough moisture to begin repairing itself, you can expect recovery to take 10 to 14 days if watering returns to normal.

Stage 4: Dormancy

The fourth stage is pure survival mode for your turf grass. There is no effort made to retain greenness above ground—your lawn will be completely brown. Turf will start to thin. Lawn care tips for recovery at this stage include thorough, deep and repeated watering or heavy rainfall for a period of 14 to 21 days. Unfortunately, any sections of your lawn suffering from poor soil may never recover.

Preventing drought stress

The best way to beat drought stress is to stop it from happening in the first place. Here are some steps you can take to help ensure your lawn stays healthy in dry conditions:

Keep your grass longer

Turf that stands about 3.5 to 4 inches tall helps shade the soil and conserve its water. Mow lawns higher for the summer and on a frequent basis so that no more than ⅓ of the grass blade is cut when mowing.

Sharpen mower blades

A clean cut blade of grass requires less energy to heal, allowing grass to conserve energy.

Get a head start

Caring for your lawn in the fall and early spring gives you a head start on a healthy green lawn for summer.

How to combat drought stress and keep your grass green

If the drought stress issue is past the point of prevention, you’ll need to focus on fixing the problem. Here are some tips for dealing with drought stress:

Don’t mow a healthy lawn too short

If you are wondering how to mow your lawn during a drought, you want to make sure you’re mowing high at the first signs of stress. Mowing too close can result in a shallow root system, increasing chances of drought stress. It’s an easy problem to fix if you catch it early.

Minimize damage

Don’t mow drought-stressed grass, and walk on it as little as possible. The more you limit traffic, the less wear and tear you’ll inflict on your already damaged lawn. Avoid the temptation to mow off tall weeds that may be outcompeting your turf until the grass has returned to health.

Water

If your lawn is wilting or showing discoloration, water now. Water your lawn 2-3 times a week during a drought, early in the morning to minimize evaporation. Don’t water in the evening or overnight, as this increases the likelihood of attracting disease or pests. If your lawn has not begun to go dormant, you should see green coloration with regular watering.

 If the grasses are already going dormant, yellow or tan coloration will remain. In that case, water lightly and regularly—at least ½ inch of water every 7 to 14 days. Light watering will help keep plants alive and assist recovery later in the plants’ life cycle.
 

Have thatch professionally removed

If you notice drought signs, check for thatch—a layer of decaying stems and roots that can build up over time between the surface and the soil beneath.

Heavy thatch can make your grasses more prone to drought stress when grass roots are in thatch instead of fertile soil. Thatch absorbs moisture but dries quickly, leaving grasses prone to drying even after rain. Consult an expert to discuss the proper time and method of thatch removal to ensure a healthier lawn next season.

Is it recommended to fertilize your lawn during drought conditions?

Fertilization during drought conditions is tricky and potentially harmful if not done right. In some cases, fertilization may be detrimental to your lawn and cause further damage if applied without the proper moisture. This is why you should leave it up to the experts to determine the right solution to combat drought stress, tailored to your lawn and environment, which does not always include fertilization. Our TruGreen experts select from a range of formulations to provide the proper nutrients for the state of your lawn and seasonal conditions such as drought. As drought conditions subside and moisture levels improve, your lawn will recover more quickly if properly fertilized.

Consult a lawn care specialist to combat drought stress

TruGreen’s targeted solutions include treatments specially designed to treat drought stress. When you sign up for a TruGreen lawn plan, a specialist will assess your lawn to determine if it is getting enough moisture. If this examination reveals your grass is suffering from drought, your specialist will provide recommendations on proper watering techniques and may further tailor your plan to manage the effects of moisture deprivation.

With the TruGreen Guarantee® on your side, you’ll know TruGreen specialists will work with you to create an irrigation plan to help your grass thrive—even in dry conditions. To learn more about the TruGreen Guarantee and tailored plan options, call 866.688.6722 or visit TruGreen.com.

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