Don’t Let Drought Stress Overtake Your Lawn!

drought stress

With high temperatures and humidity during the summer months, drought will have most visible impact on lawns and landscapes. Lawns will often turn brown and without proper mowing and watering, your lawn may suffer from heat stress. Learning how you can green up your grass and tips to recover your lawn from drought will help it survive in time for fall and winter dormancy.

Symptoms of Drought Damage On Lawn

Purpling, also known as moisture stress, are the beginning stages of drought which causes the grass to turn a slight purple-like hue. The most noticeable impact of heat stress on a lawn is the brown appearance. The brown area becomes almost straw-like, entering a state of dormancy and will remain so until it gets a sufficient amount of water.  It’s also important avoid walking over the damaged area as the grass plant will not spring back up from any foot traffic on the lawn. Excess thatch layers in the lawn will experience drought stress quicker. Core Aeration will help in the fall to rejuvenate and get the lawn healthy again.

Treatment for Drought Stressed Grass

Watering

If mother nature does not bring any rain, watering the lawn will be beneficial. It’s important to replace lost moisture in a lawn, as water
weakness gives lawn diseases an easy entry. Lawns need at least 1 inch of water per week. If you cannot water your lawn one inch or more per week, you may consider getting an irrigation system to make sure your lawn and landscape is getting the necessary amounts of water at a time.

A grass plant will enter into dormancy as a defense mechanism. It shuts down all of the essential process, which is mainly the top growth, in an effort to keep the crown and root system alive. As long as the crown is alive, the plant will survive (up to 3 weeks) even if the top growth has all turned brown. You can water less if you mow high. It may take a little while to get used to, but your lawn will look better and you will use less water keeping it looking its best.

Mowing

Hot temperatures will often result in people wanting to mow short to avoid having to mow it frequently. Mowing short will actually remove the food producing part of the grass plant and will make your lawn turn brown. During the summer you want to mow high to conserve water and shade the soil.

Cool-season grasses should be mowed at 2 ½ to 3 inches from the first mowing in the spring until the end of the year. The lawn will be greener, healthier and more weed free. If this rule is followed. If you have been mowing your lawn short, by all means raise it up to the highest or second highest setting. For those who live in the Transition Zone, you should be mowing your Tall Fescue at a minimum of 3 inches. For those in the warm-season areas, Bermuda, Zoysia and Centipede may be mowed at around 1 ½, but Centipede grass grows much better when it is mowed high, at least 3 inches in height.

Adding lawn treatment and fertilizer should be pushed back if your lawn is suffering from heat stress. Although drought damage is unsightly, it is temporary until temperatures begin to cool down approaching fall. Keeping in mind best practices for mowing and watering will help your lawn recover and avoid further damage. Your neighborhood lawn care professional at Spring-Green can provide further information and recommendations to keep your lawn green and healthy during the hot summer months.

Tall Fescue Lawn Care

spring lawn care tips

A reader sent in this latest question about his Tall Fescue grass not looking its best. Harold gives him some great advice on how to care for Tall Fescue, a common transition zone grass type.

“Harold, I have a tall fescue grass in southern California, and cannot get it to stay a deep green. I have a few dead spots that even reseeding won’t cure, and my entire lawn is starting to turn a light brown. Any suggestions on getting my lawn normal? I water once a day for 4 min, also. Thanks!”

Dear reader,

Thank you for sending in your question. First of all, I have the deepest sympathy for anyone trying to grow grass or any other plant for that matter during the long drought California is enduring. Of course it is hard to say exactly what is happening with your lawn without actually seeing it, but I can provide you with some basic steps to follow.

First Step: Soil Test

Based on your comment, the first suggestion I have is to have your soil tested to determine if the pH is at the proper level. It should be between 6.5 and 7.0. Having the soil tested is always a good starting point when developing a treatment plan for your Tall Fescue grass.

Second Step: Change How You Water

The second thing I recommend is to change your watering schedule to 30 minutes a week, but provide the water all at the same time. The turf in your lawn, Tall Fescue, is a drought tolerant grass, but it can still thin out if it does not receive enough water. By watering once a day, you are only penetrating the top inch of soil, which causes the roots to grow closer to the service. Tall Fescue is a deep rooted turf, but if the water is only at the surface, that is where the roots will grow instead of going deep to look for more water. Your goal should be to supply 1 inch of water per week to your turf. To properly care for Tall Fescue, it’s much better to water for a longer time and less frequently.

Third Step: Core Aeration

The third thing I suggest is to core aerate your lawn by using a machine called a core aerator. These are available to rent at many hardware stores, rental agencies and home improvement centers. You can also employ a certified professional to do the service for you. A core aerator, as it is runs across your turf, will take out cores of soil and thatch and leave them back on the top of the lawn. This will open up your lawn to allow more air, water and nutrients to reach the root zone. The cores that remain on the lawn will break down with normal irrigation and melt back into the lawn. The microorganisms in the soil will work to break down the thatch. Your lawn does need to be moist to allow the core aerator tines to penetrate into the soil, so try to schedule this for a day after you water or, hopefully, after it rains.

Fourth Step: Reseed

Reseeding your turf after it is core aerated is a very good practice. Tall Fescue has a “bunch-type” growth habit and does not spread out to cover bare areas quickly. The core aeration holes provide a great place for the seed to germinate. You should spread 5 to 6 pounds of good quality Tall Fescue seed per 1,000 sq. ft. I suggest seeding this time of year as traditionally winter is a wetter time for California. I also suggest you reseed every year in the fall to early winter.

Fertilizing Your Lawn

Once you’ve received the results from your soil test, it will be much easier to determine the amount of fertilizer your lawn needs. Tall Fescue does not require an abundance of nitrogen to stay green. Generally, 2 to 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per year is what Tall Fescue requires. The most nitrogen should be applied in the fall and less in the summer. The soil test will provide recommendations on the amount of Phosphorus and Potassium your turf will require.

I am confident that by following these basic steps, your lawn will respond and look better. If your lawn has Tall Fescue turf that needs some TLC, contact your local Spring-Green professional today!

During a Drought, Check Your Sprinklers and Water Efficiently

Most of us don’t think about watering our lawns in the spring; we generally rely on Mother Nature to do that for us. If you are fortunate to have an automatic sprinkler system, you may have delayed the start up process since the lawn might look good right now. Unfortunately, that is not true across the entire country.

U.S. drought map May 2015

As you can see from the most recent Drought Monitor map, the west coast and some of the east coast are experiencing very dry weather. California is experiencing abnormally dry weather to an extent that some municipalities are paying people to remove their lawns and plant native grasses and plants that require less water than home lawns.

Desperate times often lead to desperate measures. California is still getting some rain now and then, but not enough to reverse a drought that has lasted more than four years. Agriculture uses a large amount of the water that California receives, which leaves very little left for the people who desire a green lawn.

It is not just California and the West Coast that are dealing with drought. In the Northeast, despite having record setting snowfalls this past winter, they are extremely dry. It also has been unusually hot this spring, which results in lawns needing more water to stay green and healthy. Whether you use a garden hose and sprinklers or have a sprinkler system to water your lawn, it is important to water correctly and efficiently to conserve water.

If you do have a sprinkler system, the startup process should include more than just turning on a few valves and restarting the timer. The entire system should be checked for broken heads that need replacing, heads that are out of alignment, broken water lines, sunken sprinkler heads, etc. Often, doing a little bit of sprinkler repair can mean the difference between wasting and saving water.

Many things can happen to a sprinkler system during the year as well as during the winter, especially if you live in an area where the ground freezes, and spring can sometimes necessitate worthwhile sprinkler repair services. If you have never had your system checked, it would be a good idea to hire a professional sprinkler service company to do so. Water usage or misuse is becoming a greater issue every year. Make sure your system is working properly.

Many Spring-Green offices offer sprinkler startup services. Contact your local Spring-Green office to get this service scheduled.