Heat, Drought & Your Lawn

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This is the time of year when droughts and heat often start to show their effects in our area.  Your lawn may slow down its growth, or even stop and begin to turn a little brown.   This is normal; our lawn grasses are cool-season varieties, meaning they make their growth in cool weather and naturally go dormant when heat and drought set in.  You can keep your lawn greener by watering enough that with whatever rain comes the grass gets a total of an inch of water each week.  You can invest in a rain gauge and/or put out shallow cans and measure the amount of water that accumulates.  (Dump the water to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs.)

It’s tempting to go out and soothe away your cares by holding the hose on the lawn and garden for a few minutes each evening.  DON’T.  Roots go where the water is, and you want the roots to go down into the earth in their search for water rather than staying at the surface and dying as soon as it gets dry.  Water well, and then wait until water is really needed before watering again.

Or — you can do what nature intended, and let your grass go dormant in summer.  It will naturally green up again in late August or early September when the nights turn cooler.  You won’t have to mow, and the water you would have poured on your lawn will stay in the aquifer for drinking.

Whether you water or not, this is not the time to fertilize your lawn.  It’s not going to be growing rapidly, no matter what you do, and so it can’t use the fertilizer.  Instead those nutrients end up in the Bay, where the algae will find them to their liking.  Fertilizing time is in the fall.

By the way, all this is about the most common lawns in our area, which are made up of varieties of tall fescue.  When you see a lawn that’s uniformly brown in winter and green all summer, it’s zoysia, which is a warm-season grass that needs little care.


by guest blogger, Jessica Milstead

Jessica has been a Charles County Master Gardener since 2002 and is certified to evaluate gardens and landscapes for their adherence to Bay-Wise principles.