We may be in the early weeks of spring, but summer is closing in. If you live in a segment of the country in which summers sizzle, then it may be best that your lawn sleeps through those hazy, lazy days.
Sleep is just another word for dormant. Putting your lawn into dormancy during a sizzling hot summer is considered a good way to conserve water. However, for lawn care enthusiasts who are new to the activity, a dormant lawn looks like a dead lawn.
The Difference Between Dormant And Dead Grass
A lawn going dormant is a natural occurrence. When it happens, there is no need to worry. It is just a way for cool-season grasses to protect themselves during long, hot summers when there isn’t enough water to assist it to grow. The same phenomenon occurs for warm-season grasses, but in that case it happens during the winter. In both situations, the crowns of the grass remain alive.
Water can revive grasses that are dormant during summer. However, when the summer weather gets too hot and no amount of water helps your lawn, then it will go dormant. There is nothing to fret about. The grass will return when the temperatures turn cooler in the fall.
It is natural, I guess, for neophyte lawn care fans to fear that dormant grass is dead. You can determine if the grass is dead or dormant by simply watering it. Keeping the grass irrigated during the summer months can help you identify brown areas of grass that actually could be dead.
To ensure that dormancy doesn’t mean death, provide a low amount of water to the grass. Although the grass will turn brown, the root system continues to work thus assuring that the grass will again be green when the fall or spring rains arrive.
Letting Your Lawn Go Dormant
If you do intend to let your lawn go dormant, then there are two things to keep in mind.
1. Don’t attempt to bring your lawn in and out of dormancy by feeding it too much water. The extra water will make it go back and forth from green to brown and back to green again. This will stress the grass and cause sparse turf as well as disease and insect problems.
2. In times of drought, it is important that you don’t allow the grass to go too long without water. Lawns consisting of Kentucky Bluegrass and other cool-season grasses should not go more than six weeks without at least 1-inch of water. Place a shallow pan on the grass to measure the amount of water that’s distributed.
A Sleeping Lawn Saves Water
It takes more than 67,000 gallons of water to apply 1-inch of water per week on to an average lawn for three months during the summer. Allowing a lawn to go dormant could save half of that 67,000 gallons. The water saved can supply a family of three enough drinking water for 61 years.
If you intend your lawn to go dormant to save water, then there are some things you need to do before summer:
1. Grow drought-tolerant grasses. While most grasses can withstand periods of dormancy very well, some grasses do it better than others. For example, Buffalo grass, zoysia grass, fine-leaf fescues, tall fescues and older varieties of Kentucky bluegrass are the most tolerant grass species during a drought. The more drought-tolerant the grass, the longer it will remain green without water and the less it has to be watered to keep it alive while dormant.
2. Make certain that the lawn is healthy. Don’t allow newly sodded or seeded lawns to go dormant. They are not well enough established to survive a drought. Moreover, grass with a lot of thatch buildup, has been damaged by insects or disease, or are in poor soil do not tolerate drought-induced dormancy well. It is advised that you water the lawn regularly to keep it green.
3. During the spring mow the grass to a height of 3-inches to 3-1/2-inches. This means that the grass will grow relatively high and that increases drought tolerance. This will help the lawn remain green longer before it goes dormant.
4. Allow the grass to go to sleep. A drought-tolerant lawn can go four to six weeks without water before you need to water it again.
5. Understand a dormant lawn’s water needs. As a rule of thumb, apply at least half an inch of water after the first four to- six weeks of drought, then at least half an inch of water every two to three weeks thereafter for as long as the drought continues. If you live in a region of the country where the climate is particularly hot and dry, like in the southwest, then most grasses will need more water. Drought tolerant grasses require less water than bluegrass and fescue and ryegrass require twice as much.
6. Measure precipitation. Use a rain gauge to measure the amount of participation your lawn gets and keep a record.
7. Water the lawn enough to keep the grass alive. A sleeping lawn should get at least half an inch of water every two to three weeks. If the lawn is receiving that much rainfall, then there is no need to water at all.
8. Minimize traffic on the lawn. Foot or vehicle traffic can kill the grass and cause bare spots in the lawn.
9. Eradicate weeds without herbicides.
10. Thoroughly water the lawn to wake it up. When summer passes, apply enough water to penetrate the soil down to the root. The proper amount should be about 6-inches to 12-inches below the ground. After about two to six weeks of cooler temperatures and enough precipitation, the lawn will be green again.