Lawn Drought: Helping Your Lawn Survive the Heat

Tulsa area lawns and landscapes have been struggling with the lawn drought of 2012, on top of the drought of 2011. How to water your lawn, when should you water your lawn, and how to keep your lawn green are questions many Tulsa lawn service customers are asking now. Here are some key points to understand and follow in order to save your lawn.

Tulsa, OK, August 04, 2012 --( Tulsa area lawns and landscapes have been struggling again with the lawn drought of 2012, on top of the drought of 2011. Water is a plant’s most basic necessity, as with all living things. And when the soil dries out due to lack of rainfall or irrigation, combined with record-setting high temperatures, plants will suffer and even die.

How to water your lawn, when should you water your lawn, and how to keep your lawn green are questions many Tulsa lawn care customers are asking now. LawnAmerica, a Tulsa lawn service company, provides lawn care for almost 11,000 customers, and have been fielding questions such as these for several weeks. “There are things a homeowner can do though to help their lawn and landscape survive, and even look nice during a drought,” says owner Brad Johnson. “There are a lot of misconceptions about turf care,” says Johnson. Here are some key points to understand and follow in order to save your lawn.

A deep, soaking watering on your lawn is more effective than several light soakings.

Get the soil moisture deep where the plant roots are. If you soak just the top half an inch of soil with light sprinklings, not only will much of the water just evaporate into the air, the roots will not even be able to absorb it. You will notice that after a good soaking, a one-inch natural rainfall, for example, that the lawn and landscape just explodes with green color. There is no substitution for a natural rainfall, with the soil being moistened deeply along with the benefit of cooler temperatures. Try to duplicate this as much as possible with longer, soaking irrigations on your turf.

Irrigate early in the morning or even during the night.

By irrigating early in the morning, you will get more of the water into the soil and less evaporating into the air. Watering during the hot time of the day leads to a significant amount of water being wasted by evaporation, before it really soaks into the deep part of the soil. So with a sprinkler system, set it to come on at about 3:00 in the morning, so that the irrigation cycles are finished up at about the time the sun comes up, and before your morning newspaper is delivered.

With bermudagrass lawns, go ahead and water in the evening if you must.

Without an automatic irrigation system (they are a good investment), it can be a challenge to keep up with watering, especially on large lawns. Bermudagrass in Tulsa is not nearly as prone to turf disease as fescue, so if it is more convenient to water in the early evening, go ahead and do so during drought conditions. This should not lead to any turf disease on bermudagrass, or even zoysiagrass, when the temperatures are very hot. With fescue, however, too much watering in the evenings, with the turf being damp all night, could lead to turf disease.

Don’t just totally give up on watering. Even bermudagrass can die in a drought.

A common misconception is that you can’t kill bermudagrass with hot, dry conditions. While bermudagrass does have good drought resistance, it is still a plant, and can die when conditions are severe. We saw dead bermudagrass and zoysiagrass in Tulsa from last year’s drought, with a lot of turf weak and thin as it entered fall dormancy, having never fully recovered from the 2011 drought. So when the turf experiences another summer of drought, it can be even more susceptible to death. The crown of the plant, which is right on the surface where the roots meet the stems, is the heart of the plant. If it dies, the plant will die. It is important to keep the crown hydrated during excessive heat waves and drought. So this is the one time that light irrigation of the soil surface would be in order. By irrigating the soil around the crown, at least it will be prevented from drying out totally, leading to possible death. So at least once a week at the minimum during a drought, water your lawn with about a quarter of an inch of water to hydrate the crown at the very least. This will not green up a brown, dormant turf, but it should allow it to survive a drought and be ready to grow again and green up when fall rains or irrigation comes.

It is good to fertilize turf—just use slow-release and organic fertilizer.

If a bermudagrass turf has not been watered at all, causing it to turn brown and dormant, using a quick-release soluble fertilizer will do no good and could even compound the problem. However, when the rains come or irrigation starts, with the turf being stressed from lack of water, you don’t want to throw in another stress of lack of good soil fertility. Therefore, at LawnAmerica, for Tulsa fertilization of lawns, they will switch to a more organic, slow-release fertilizer during a drought. Since most of the nitrogen in this blend will be released slowly with time, when soil moisture is present, the nutrients will stay in the soil waiting until conditions improve. This type of fertilizer will not burn the turf. When the rains come, or you decide it is time to start irrigating, there will be nutrients in the soil to provide for growth and recovery. So the type of lawn fertilizer that a lawn care service is using or a homeowner is applying is very important. It is imperative to bring a bemudgrass turf back to life as the drought moderates by growing and greening it up after a drought as we’ve experienced the last two summers. Supplying the right type of fertilizer, along with good amounts of water, will help do this. Otherwise, if bermudagrass enters winter dormancy burned up and weak, if it is not dead already, it is going to be thin, more weed-infested, and more prone to winterkill. Yes, winterkill—just one more thing to worry about with bermudagrass.
Brad Johnson