Reviving Your Lawn After Drought

Droughts can be tough, but reviving your lawn post drought doesn’t have to be.

This year has brought drought and heat stress to many homes across the country, causing lawns to thin, turn brown, and even die. But don't let that get you down, you can get your lawn looking back to normal and even better!

Want to find out how you can revive your lawn after the drought has passed? We're answering some key questions to help get your lawn back to green.

Q: How do you know if your lawn is suffering from drought? Or something else?

A: That can be tough, there’s a couple of ways to try to figure it out.

Step on it - take a few steps (only a few, too many could cause more damage) on your grass and look back. Can you still see your footprints? If so, that is most likely drought stress.

Check out the color - is the color of your grass changing? Is it looking bluish to purple/gray instead of bright green? If so, it’s probably a drought issue.

Be careful, drought usually impacts your entire lawn, not just patches. Brown patches could be the sign of another problem like lawn disease or insect damage.

Q: Should I mow my lawn during a drought?

A: It is OK to mow your lawn during a drought but mow your lawn high. The higher you mow, the deeper your lawn’s roots will grow. Mow at the 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.

Q: I have watering restrictions where I live, what should I do?

A: It’s important to keep your lawn healthy year-round in the event a drought does occur. If you find yourself affected by a drought, sit tight and water when and if you can. Once the drought is over it is ok to feed and water again. A typical lawn can usually go up to 4 weeks without water while it’s in the dormancy phase.

Q: How can I quickly revive my lawn once watering restrictions are lifted?

A: If you are able to water your lawn, it’s best to do so in the morning, usually between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. when it’s a little cooler. This allows less water to be lost to evaporation and your lawn will have plenty of time to dry off before nightfall. If possible, we recommend deeply watering your yard for about two weeks to help it recover. Allow the water to soak into the soil table so it will become saturated and the roots will be able to absorb plenty of water. For an extra push, use a Scotts® Turf Builder® fertilizer to help feed your lawn because helping to build strong roots can get your lawn through dry spells.

Q: Do I need to plant grass seed after the drought to bring back my grass?

A: The best time to plant grass seed is either in the spring or fall when the temperatures are a little cooler. If you are experiencing a lot of dead areas in your lawn it may be time to put down some seed to allow new grass to grow, this will help prevent weeds from taking over in your lawn. Try using Scotts® Turf Builder® Rapid Grass and see grass grow in as little as 12 days! Remember to apply grass seed during appropriate weather conditions and for best results, it’s important to water twice daily for at least 3 weeks. Watering your newly planted grass seed is the key to success.

Appropriate Temperatures to Plant Grass Seed

Sun & Shade 60 - 80°F

Tall Fescue 60 - 80°F

Bermudagrass 70 - 90°F

Q: When is the best time to apply fertilizer to my grass?

A: We recommend delaying the use of fertilizer during a drought until the lawn is no longer stressed. Even if you won’t be spreading any grass seed, it is still good to apply lawn food so your yard is getting the nutrients it needs to repair damage from heat and drought, ensuring stronger grass in the spring. Scotts® Turf Builder® WinterGuard® Fall Lawn Food will provide the nutrients your lawn needs to bounce back this fall! Aerating your lawn prior to fertilizer application can allow for better absorption of the nutrients and aid in root growth.

Q: Can I apply fertilizer if I just planted grass seed?

A: If you are planting grass seed, we suggest applying a fertilizer designed for seeding like Scotts® Turf Builder® Food for New Grass. It will help provide the nutrients needed to promote healthy germination and faster root and blade development.

Q: Thinking ahead, how can I know which grass types are drought tolerant?

A: If you live in the North (Cool Season)

Without additional irrigation, many cool-season grasses will go dormant during extremely dry summers. Here are the best choices for cool-season grasses that perform during drought conditions:

Tall Fescue - Tall Fescue is a standout drought-tolerant performer for cool-season turf areas, as it boasts excellent heat, drought, and shade tolerance for a cool season grass. It’s the best option for those in the transition zone who want green turf in the wintertime, when warm-season grasses go dormant and turn brown.

Fine Fescue - Fine Fescues, including Creeping Red Fescue and Chewings Fescue, are both low maintenance and shade-tolerant. Their drought-tolerance comes from their low water use rates and ability to handle dehydration.

Kentucky Bluegrass - While Kentucky bluegrass is less drought-tolerant than the fescues and will go dormant during periods of extreme drought, it will recover well thanks to creeping underground rhizomes that make it easy for the lawn to self-repair damaged areas. Mixed with tall or fine fescues, Kentucky bluegrass works especially well to help create a more durable, disease and drought tolerant lawn.

If you live in the South (Warm Season)

Drought in the South and Southwest often comes with extreme heat, and drought-tolerant grasses have to stand up to both. Warm-season grass types need some water, but they will generally make do with much less than cool-season types. Note, that warm-season grasses tend to become dormant (and may turn completely brown) during the colder part of the year. In addition, several types of warm-season grass grown at higher elevations and latitudes can be susceptible to winter kill.

Buffalograss - Buffalograss does best in heavier clay soils, in areas with limited seasonal rainfall. It gets its drought tolerance from the small amount of water it requires, its deep roots, and its ability to go dormant and then recover from drought.

Bermuda - Bermudagrass is ideal for hot and dry areas because, once established, it tolerates both conditions very well (though it will need some water to stay green in arid environments).

Bahiagrass - It tolerates extremely poor soil and grows a deep root system that makes it highly drought-tolerant. One of its limitations is that it does not form a nice, dense carpet like most of the other warm-season grasses. If you're in an area with terrible soil, though, bahiagrass is a good option.

St. Augustine - With its deep roots and high tolerance for dehydration, St. Augustinegrass is the top choice for lawns in Florida and the areas of the deep south that are along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. One of the least cold-hardy species, St. Augustinegrass will turn brown when and where temperatures get cold enough.

Zoysiagrass - Zoysia is also drought-tolerant, but grows more slowly than bermudagrass and requires less fertilizer, so you may end up mowing less frequently. Zoysiagrass also tolerates more shade than bermudagrass. This grass type generally will start to go dormant and turn brown before bermudagrass when moisture is limited, but it will recover well thanks to creeping underground stems (called rhizomes) that help it spread.

Lastly, you can consider planting a Scotts® Turf Builder® Clover Lawn. This type of lawn is low maintenance and will stay greener longer during drought than some traditional grass lawns, thanks to deep roots that reach way down into the soil to find water sources. That's also why you won't have to water as frequently. As a bonus, clover self-fertilizes when you let the clippings stay on the lawn after mowing.

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