What is a Drought?
Droughts are caused by low precipitation over an extended period of time often having a negative impact on outdoor landscapes. The good news is, it’s not hard to save your lawn or garden from a lack of rain. Sure, it might look a little worse for a while, but these tips will help make sure it’s ready to return to its lush and green self once Mother Nature turns on the H2O again.
If your yard is struggling from a lack of precipitation, here’s what to do.
Check for Signs of Stress
Some regions naturally receive more rain in the summer and less in the winter. It's important to know what levels of precipitation are normal for your area, and keep a close eye on the visual appearance of your lawn.
Here are some symptoms of drought stress:
Footprints in the lawn. Walk across your yard and then look back at your path. Can you see your steps on the grass? Yes? That’s drought stress. This is a telltale sign that comes in handy when your lawn is still green, but you're worried about a recent lack of rain and a dry lawn.
A purplish sheen to the lawn. You'll often see grass looking a little bluish-purple/gray instead of bright green when it’s starting to get stressed. Usually this goes hand in hand with the footprints in the lawn symptom.
A golden yellow or brown lawn. Drought stress tends to affect the entire lawn evenly, so if you only see patches of brown or yellow grass, that’s most likely another problem (like a fungal disease). If your lawn has started yellowing or turning tan during a season when it should be actively growing, it’s probably drought stressed.
Hard, dry soil. When you water the lawn, does the water just run off? Long spells without regular irrigation can cause the soil to become hydrophobic, which means a water-repellent, waxy surface has developed in the soil and it’s keeping your lawn from absorbing water.
How to Care for a Drought-Stressed Lawn
While a drought can be an anomaly, some regions are starting to experience them more regularly. If you've experienced significant hot, dry weather in the last summer, make sure you ramp up your lawn care in the coming spring to get a head start. Strong lawns can help withstand and recover from drought stress faster because they have solid root systems and thick top growth. Apply Scotts® Turf Builder® UltraFeed™ early in the spring (following the label directions) to give your grass a boost plus the nutrients it needs for up to 6 months.
Tips to Decrease Lawn Damage from a Drought
Mow high. The higher you mow, the deeper your lawn’s roots will grow. Mow at the highest height recommended for your grass type and never remove more than ⅓ of the total height in a single mowing, as that can further stress your already stressed-out grass. When it’s not looking lush, it’s tempting to cut grass short—out of sight, out of mind, we feel you—but less growth on top means less root growth, and deep roots are key to dealing with a drought.
Sharpen your mower blades. Sharp blades give a clean cut, which means your grass heals faster and there’s less stress. Plus, it looks better than jagged grass ripped by dull blades, so this is always a good idea even when your lawn is at its best. If you don't have the equipment to sharpen those blades yourself (most people don't), any mower repair shop can do it for you.
Water properly. Water your lawn daily in the early morning—this helps prepare your grass for the incoming sun. The amount will depend on whether you are hand watering, using a sprinkler or an irrigation system, so experiment but err on the lower time frame of 10-15 minutes per zone. If you decide not to water your lawn (or your area has implemented drought restrictions), no worries: your grass is designed to stop growing, turn brown, and become dormant as a natural protection method. But, if it hasn't rained for a month or more, you may still want to give your lawn a light watering (think 15 to 20 minutes) once or twice a week. This wets it just enough to help protect it during high stress periods without causing it to green up and grow.
Limit foot traffic. Your yard will thank you if you stay off of it while it’s stressed. You'll also avoid causing even more damage that could be difficult to fix.
Avoid fertilizing as a quick fix. The grass looks puny, so a little fertilizer will perk it up, right? Nope. Fertilizer encourages grass to grow more, which means it’ll use up precious energy for above-ground growth. Wait until things have normalized, and then, following all label directions, treat it to Scotts® Turf Builder® Southern Lawn Food if you have warm-season grass or Scotts® Turf Builder® Lawn Food for cool-season grass. With regular rain and these region-specific formulas, your lawn will be poised to spring back into shape.
Your lawn might not look action-ready for a little bit, but hang in there. Most grass will rebound in due time so long as you give it what it needs.