How to Save Your Lawn During Drought Conditions

Karen Martin
Mon, 25 Jun 2012 06:55 CDT

Is your lawn looking wilted? No wonder. Extreme drought dominates Arkansas, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor map released last week.

Drought covers 99.71 percent of the state, with just a small portion of southeastern Columbia County on the Louisiana border remaining free of any drought category. A year ago, drought covered nearly 83 percent of the state.

So what to do? Here's some advice from Jacqueline D'Elia of Buchanan's Native Plants in Houston, Texas -- a state that knows a thing or two about drought.

  • Reduce or eliminate fertilizing until normal rainfall resumes. Fertilizer encourages growth, which requires more water. Avoid synthetic fertilizers. Instead, apply finely screened compost to areas of the lawn that have turned brown or died. Rake out the dead thatch first before sprinkling the compost. A healthy, porous soil that is not compacted is the best way to encourage your lawn to fill in those dead spots.
  • Most lawns need about one inch of water per week. During a drought they can get by with 1/2 inch and still survive. Find our how much water your sprinkler or irrigation system in putting out per hour by placing several empty tuna or coffee cans in each watering zone of your lawn. Run the sprinkler and check the cans after 15 minutes. Measure the amount of water in each can and then average them. If the average is 1/4 inch, you’ll need to water for one hour (1/4 x 4) to apply one inch of water. Stop watering if you see runoff down the sidewalks or into the street. Wait for the lawn to absorb the water you’ve applied first, then continue again until you’ve applied 1/2 to one inch of water.
  • Keep the grass tall. St. Augustine does better with a height of two to three inches. It shades the root system, stores carbohydrates and maximizes photosynthesis. Cut the lawn when the height reaches three inches or more. Do not cut more than 1/3 of the height at a time. Cutting more will add stress and weaken the lawn as it spends a lot of energy to rejuvenate.
  • Keep your mower blades sharp. Dull blades tear the grass, creating a brownish cast at the tips and lengthen healing time.
  • Recycle clippings into the lawn to return nutrients and moisture. Use a good mulching mower that finely chops clippings and forces them deep inside to the soil surface.

For more information on recycling clippings from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service click here.  

How to Save Your Lawn During Drought Conditions