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Saving Your Lawn During the Drought

AUBURN, Ala. –Homeowners are wondering how to save their lawns as the ongoing drought worsens.

Dr. David Han, an Alabama Extension turf specialist, said that grasses are durable during droughts.

“Remember that warm season grasses are capable of surviving long periods of extreme drought while dormant,” said Han, who is an associate professor at Auburn University. “Stopping all irrigation and letting the lawn go dormant is the best way to conserve water on a southern lawn during drought conditions.”

Dr. Rudy Pacumbaba, an Alabama Extension horticulture specialist, said that letting a lawn go dormant will save homeowners the hassle of lawn care.

“Allowing a lawn to go dormant a month or two earlier than usual will save having to worry about watering and mowing your lawn until the spring,” said Pacumbaba, who is an assistant professor at Alabama A&M University. “The grass will start growing again in the spring, assuming water is available by then.”

Conserving Water

If homeowners must irrigate their lawn to keep a green appearance, Han suggests following these tips to conserve water:

  • Water only as much as needed to preserve the green color. This amount will vary with grass species and time of year, but is typically ¼ inch per week or less.
  • The cycle and soak method of watering is recommended. Water for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, then let the water soak in for 20 minutes before repeating, if necessary. Watch for water running off and if this occurs, stop irrigating immediately.
  • Watering once or twice a week is sufficient. Let the lawn determine when you water during a drought. Wait until you see early signs of wilting or the lawn losing color before irrigating.
  • Make sure your sprinkler heads are operating properly, Adjust the heads so they are not watering pavement.
  • Water early in the morning between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m.. Cooler temperatures mean less evaporation.

Managing Your Lawn

Pacumbaba suggests following these tips for proper management of your lawn during droughts:

  • Stop applying fertilizer during a drought. Actively growing plants use more water. Your goal should be simply to maintain some green color, not fast growth.
  • Keep foot and equipment traffic on the lawn to a minimum.
  • Increase the mowing height to the upper limit appropriate for your type of grass. Remember to decrease the mowing height to normal once the drought ends and growth resumes.
  • Continue to follow the one-third rule of mowing. Don’t remove more than the top one-third of the grass blades at a time. Any more will increase stress on the grass.
  • Leave clippings on the lawn as you mow. This will feed small amounts of nitrogen back to the soil, improve soil organic matter, and help keep water in the soil.

For more information on the drought and how it affects you, visit the new drought website at www.AlabamaDrought.com or contact your county Extension office.




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