Lawns don’t like summer droughts. However, there are things you can do to prepare a lawn for such an occasion. The main thing is to create a condition in which the roots of the grass are maximized and grow to a deep depth.
Here are some ideas on how to achieve greater root volume and depth and help reduce the need for irrigation. A lawn with an increased chance to survive a summer drought will result.
As winter turns to spring do-it-yourself lawn care enthusiasts are tempted to irrigate their lawn if for nothing else than to get the grass to grow. Experts say that it is best to allow the grass to green naturally. However, they do suggest that you mow frequently. They advise that you should begin to irrigate when dry conditions in early summer cause obvious turfgrass wilt that lasts for more than a day. According to the experts, you can get away with minor turfgrass wilt in the spring because water demands are low and moderate wilt does not damage the lawn.
Allowing the wilt and permitting the soil to dry slightly in the spring helps to develop a deeper, hardier root system. This reduces the need for summer irrigation and helps the lawn survive drought or city water restrictions.
It is still imperative that you mow the grass frequently but to no less than 2-1/2-inches. This creates a dense cover that results in a deep root system. Taller grass produces a deep root system that draws moisture from a larger volume of soil and that leads to less of a need for irrigation.
Mow frequently enough so that the clippings are one-third the total height of the grass blades. Be sure that the mower blade is sharpened properly because dull blades and scalped turfgrass can lead to an unattractive lawn that too many homeowners try to fix with too much watering.
Experts advise that you apply nitrogen fertilizer to cool season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass in the fall. You can apply nitrogen in the spring if the lawn appears sparse and bare soil is visible. However, do not apply nitrogen in the summer. This will cause excessive leaf growth and that saps energy that is commonly used to create roots needed for the increase of moisture during the summer.
Test the soil to be certain that there is enough phosphorus and potassium. You can add additional potassium in April, May or June to boost the lawn’s performance during the summer. Apply one pound of K2O per 1,000 square feet.
Core aerate cool-season lawns in the fall or spring to increase air, water and nutrient movement in the soil. This helps to build better root systems. Do not core aerate in the summer during the absence of water to avoid excessive drying and drought stress.
Limit thatch removal to early spring or fall when water demands are low and turfgrass recovery is fast. Don’t severely power rake your lawn in the late spring or summer or you will have to perform excessive irrigation to keep the grass alive. Severe power raking and seeding should be done in September on cool-season lawns.
Use grasses that need less summertime irrigation so the lawn remains attractive. One species that’s good to use is Zoysia. It is a warm-season grass that better tolerates heat and drought. A good cool season grass is tall fescue because it has deeper roots.