Looking after a lawn during a drought


As the spring and summer months seem to be getting drier with no natural rainfall, the gardener has to manage the lawn with little or no water as local authorities will eventually implement hosepipe bans and water restrictions.

If this proves to be the case then it is going to have a detrimental affect on lawns and turf everywhere. Hosepipe bans will become the norm and gardeners will have limited water resources in which to irrigate the lawn.

However there are several things that can be done in the short term to help your lawn withstand the drought conditions.

  • Raise the height of cut on the mower to avoid mowing the grass to short. This leaves more leaf on the grass plant and reduces plant stress.
  • Don't box off the grass clippings. Most people prefer to remove the grass clippings from the lawn. However during periods of drought it is best to return them to the lawn as they contain vital nutrients that will help feed the grass during times of stress.
  • A shallow spiking prior to rainfall or irrigation will also help the water penetrate into the soil and reduce surface run off. This also reduces the amount of water needed to keep the lawn in a healthy condition.
  • When watering the lawn, water during the coolest periods of the day to reduce water loss through evaporation. the ideal times to water are early morning or late evening as it generally cooler during these times. Again this practice will reduce the amount of water needed.
  • Aim to water heavily and less often rather than applying a little water each night. This technique lets the soil dry out a little between each application. This will help the roots of the grass penetrate deeper into the soil profile as they look for water. If the lawn is watered every night then the upper soil profile will remain constantly wet and the roots will remain shallow as water is always available for them.
  • Using a wetting agent during periods of drought can help significantly. Wetting agents are widely used by golf green keepers and the turf care industry. They help prevent dry patch, reduce surface water run off and aid water penetration into the soil.
  • If possible try and reduce traffic on the lawn during periods of drought, as excess wear and tear caused by machinery, people etc. only add to the stress placed on the grass during these dry conditions.
  • Avoid applying any chemicals such as weed killers to a drought stressed lawn as they can scorch the grass adding to the damage of an already stressed lawn.

All of the above tips are short term measures and can only be classed as damage limitation, especially if the lawn is already in poor condition.

A lawn that is in healthy condition will withstand drought conditions better than a neglected lawn. A healthy lawn will contain desirable grasses such as bent, fescue, dwarf rye etc. that produce a deep root system capable of tolerating long, dry spells during the summer. A lawn like this does not happen by chance, it requires alot of essentail maintenance including aeration, scarification, feeding, overseeding, top dressing etc.