Oh Where For Art Thou Rain?
The summer of 2012 was a very harsh period of time for lawns in the Chicago suburbs. Around mid-June, our area began experiencing abnormally dry conditions. By the end of June, we moved into a moderate drought. By mid-July, we were experiencing a severe drought. Drought conditions bordered on extreme through the end of August, until we finally started receiving regular rainfall and slightly cooler conditions.
How Does Drought Affect Lawns?
Crab grass moving into drought damaged lawn along driveway edge in Bolingbrook.
The effect of drought on non-irrigated lawns can be devastating. Areas of the lawn receiving full sun for most of the day cannot stand up to the heat and lack of water, and much of the grass will eventually die off. In the areas where grass died off, weeds and insects will move in. At this stage, chemical control of the weeds becomes almost impossible, due to the fact that many weed control chemicals will cause damage to healthy turf if the temperature is too high.
Purslane weed in drought damaged lawn in Bolingbrook.
Saving Your Lawn During a Drought Without the Huge Water Bill
During a severe or extreme drought, if you do not water your lawn, it will probably go dormant. Water conservation is important for our environment, so watering every day during a two month long drought, may not be the best idea. However, if the drought lasts more than a couple weeks, and you do not wish to keep up with weekly watering, you can improve the survival chances of your lawn by watering deeply (one to two inches) once every few weeks. This will help to prevent the roots from drying up and dying off completely. Using this approach can keep your lawn from having drought scars once conditions improve.
One other thing you can do to help your lawn survive drought is to raise your mower height before it gets too hot and dry. As soon as you notice your area entering a hot and dry period, raise your mower height. The taller the grass, the more your soil will be shaded, which will result in a cooler soil temperature than you would find in a shorter lawn. Read more about why you should raise your mower height.
Repairing the Scars Left Behind from Drought
It is critical that you patch up your drought damaged lawn when conditions improve. Weeds will fill in more quickly than your lawn can repair the damage. Having less grass to shade the soil can cause the soil temperature to rise, which can also restrict the lawn’s ability to repair itself. Rough up these areas and plant a full sun variety of grass seed, using the dead grass as a protective layer. That Weed Guy can also help by core aerating your lawn. After you’ve massaged your seed into the layer of dead grass down to the soil, keep it well watered for at least two weeks to give the seed a chance to germinate. Eventually, you will regain your healthy lawn.
Drought damaged lawn.
Full sun areas of lawn damaged by drought. Note that the shaded area is still healthy.
For more information on current drought conditions, including maps, animations, and statistics, please visit the U.S. Drought Monitor website.