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Watering Lawns During The Summer

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Many homeowners wonder whether they should regularly water their dry lawns during a drought or essentially leave them alone. A Purdue Extension turfgrass specialist says each option has its pros and cons.

During a dry season, many lawns will show initial symptoms of drought stress, Aaron Patton said. As grass loses water, its leaves become less rigid and wilt; in this stage, grass stays flat after it is stepped on rather than “bouncing back.”

The most telltale signs of drought stress, however, are the crunchy tan or brown leaves of grass that has entered dormancy; the plant is still alive, but the leaves dry up and die. This helps the plant conserve water and survive a drought.

Drought stress is most noticeable on slopes and lawns established on shallow or poor soil, Patton said.

“In order to keep your lawn green during hot and dry periods, at least 1 inch of water will need to be applied weekly,” Patton said. “However, you can keep your lawn alive with far less water.”

Homeowners can water regularly enough to avoid drought stress altogether, or they can let their lawn go dormant and water only occasionally to help it survive.

Some of the advantages and disadvantages of each option:

Watering to keep lawn green

“Water turf two to three times weekly – deeply, a good soaking, so you don’t have to water daily,” Patton said. Watering in the early-morning hours is most effective; watering in the evening could encourage disease or pests.

* Advantages: Turf will stay green, aesthetically pleasing and actively growing; ground remains soft so it can be used for recreation; deep soaking will foster deep roots, which will help plants better survive a prolonged drought.

* Disadvantages: Higher water bill for those with city water; some increased risk of turf disease.

Letting turf go dormant

“Once the lawn turns brown and goes dormant, we can’t tell if a lawn is dying unless we water and wait to see the response,” Patton said. “That is why we advise to water once every two weeks with one-half inch of water once the turf goes dormant to keep plant crowns hydrated during drought. This amount of water will not green up the turf, but it will increase long-term survival during long dry spells.”

* Advantages: Avoid irrigation costs; most turf species are drought-tolerant and will survive typical Indiana droughts.

* Disadvantages: Difficult to tell when turf is getting too dry and needs water to stay alive; lawn is brown and has poor aesthetics; hard soil makes turf less usable for recreation; turf is more susceptible to injury and will not recover until rain returns; some thinning and turf death can occur if there is no rain for 4-6 weeks and no irrigation is applied.

Patton emphasized that when lawns are dry, it is important to stay off them. Mowers and other heavy equipment can cause substantial damage to vulnerable, stressed grass. Once rains return, the turf will begin to recover and grow new leaves within two weeks.

What to do during a drought

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WHAT TO DO DURING A DROUGHT

WhattoDoDuringDrought

  • Spray Trees & Shrubs With An Anti-Transpirant

If pruning, only remove dead material from trees and shrubs, anything more will encourage new growth.  This takes energy that a drought stressed plant cannot afford.  Instead, spray leaves with an anti-transpirant or anti-dessicant to help leaves retain what moisture they have.

  • Water Early

Morning temperatures are cooler and the sun is not as intense as later in the day so there is less moisture loss due to evaporation.

Also, water sitting on foliage will have a chance to dry during the day minimizing the chance of fungal infection, especially during humid weather.

  • Water Slowly & Deeply

Watering slowly will allow the moisture to penetrate more deeply into the root zone rather than running off the soil surface.  Create depressions or water traps around larger plants to hold the water where you want it until it can saturate the soil.  Remember to water trees at the drip line, not at the trunk base, as this is where the roots are most active.  Drip irrigation bags are excellent for watering newly planted trees.

  • Water the Soil, Not the Leaves

Plants take up water through their roots. Water landing on the foliage will be lost due to evaporation.  The more water you direct to the soil, the less you will waste. The key is infrequent, but heavy watering rather than light, frequent waterings.  This encourages deep root growth, which increases drought tolerance.

  • Conserve Precious Water

Place a rain barrel under downspouts to collect rainwater.  Wash the car on the lawn rather than on the driveway.  Reuse  ‘gray water’, such as bathtub or dishwater and rinse cycle water from your laundry, to water your garden. Replace leaky hoses and sprinklers and use washers to correct leaks at fittings.