Lawn Prep for a Drought Year with Watering Restrictions

May 12, 2022 | Lawn Care

The time to prepare for summer heat with water restrictions or drought friendly watering is BEFORE it gets hot. A green lawn does not have to be sacrificed due to less watering. This blog will discuss items that will make your watering go farther so that you can water less and still have a green lawn. If you simply turn your water down or off your lawn will suffer permanent damage.

Soil Amendments

Not all “dirt” is created equal. Soil generally refers to a combination of dirt and organic material. There is also a spectrum of soil type ranging from clay to silt to sand. No matter what type of soil you have you can improve it and thereafter a lawn will be able to grow better with less water. Here are some soil amending options:

  • Humates/Humic Acid – These products can be added to any soil type and will increase the “availability” of the nutrients for plant uptake. This will improve what is already there as well as increase the effect of any added fertilizers.
  • Seaweed/Kelp – This is a new practice that has been shown effective in increases bacteria activity which breaks down the organic components of the soil into simpler compounds that are faster and more easily absorbed by plants.
  • Liquid Soil Aerator/Dethatcher – These are chemicals designed to break down and loosen compacted soil as well as and microbes and enzymes to decompose harmful thatch.

Mechanical Preparation

There are machines and practices in place that can mechanically improve soil. These practices are performed frequently at golf courses, professional athletic fields, and grass tennis courts such as Wimbledon. While there is no debate that they are good for turf, increasing the frequency of these practices will aid in combating the effects of drought.

  • Aeration – Pulling “cores” of soil leaving thousands of exposed holes up to 3” deep which not only aids in soil decompaction but also in water and nutrient penetration. Getting water deeper into the soil means it will stay longer as it won’t evaporate as quickly and it will be right in the root zone for easy uptake from the grass.
  • Power Raking aka Dethatching – Mechanically raking out some of the organic layer between the grass blades and the roots. This layer blocks water from absorbing deep into the soil, provides a breeding ground for disease and fungus, and blocks sunlight from the crown of the plant.

Fertilizer/Nutrient Strategies

A drought year with little water is no year to be short on any nutrients. In fact, this is the year to really go big and make sure you have the bases covered. While most nutrients will not cause damage if you apply too much, some can so be careful what you apply. It may be worth a cheap $40 soil test to see what you are dealing with before you start spreading goodies on your lawn.

 

    • Frequent fertilizer applications – Often fertilizer companies promote a 4-step or a 4-application schedule, but in a drought year your lawn may benefit from 6 or even 8 fertilizer applications. More nutrients will then be available for uptake with less water.

 

  • Micronutriments, Minerals, Trace Metals – Additives such as iron, manganese, boron, copper, nickel, and zinc can all aid in grass being greener, stronger, and requiring less water.

Disease & Insect Prevention

Lack of water in turf grass is the leading cause of insect problems, weed infestations, and turf diseases. While insect prevention is important in all years, it will be even more crucial during drought years. Insect infestations will thin the turf, leading to compaction, drying, and worsening of the soil.

  • Insecticide – There are many brands of cheap “broad spectrum” insecticides. These can be purchased at any big box store or local farm or ranch store. The bag will often show that the product will take care of 100+ insects. A bag to treat 10,000 square feet is generally less than $20 and worth it’s weight in gold during a drought. These should be applied every 90 days at the bags recommended rate.
  • Vigilant watch – While preventing fungus or other disease can be expensive and/or impossible, what you will need to do is keep a watchful eye on your property. If you see a problem, spot or area starting to develop address the area immediately as large problems can arise in as little as 24-36 hours.

Watering Strategies

The goal of watering is to get and keep as much water into the root zone as possible. In drought conditions when watering is cut back, this can take some careful planning. The best way to figure this out with your lawn is to guess and check and then continue to adjust.

  • 1 watering does not necessarily mean watering 1 time. 1 watering = 2 half waterings = 4 quarter waterings, etc. Watering your lawn 4x for 3 minutes each will yield more water deeper into your soil than one watering of 12 minutes. (This principle should be applied always, not only in times of drought or restrictions.) See our blog about watering here.
  • Timing matters. Watering in the heat of the day increases evaporation. Watering in the late evening can leave the grass wet all night and increase the chance of fungus. Early morning watering is best as it is cool, and the sun will come up and dry the grass before too long.
The time to prepare for summer heat with water restrictions or drought friendly watering is BEFORE it gets hot. A green lawn does not have to be sacrificed due to less watering. This blog will discuss items that will make your watering go farther so that you can water less and still have a green lawn. If you simply turn your water down or off your lawn will suffer permanent damage.
Soil Amendments:

Not all “dirt” is created equal. Soil generally refers to a combination of dirt and organic material. There is also a spectrum of soil type ranging from clay to silt to sand. No matter what type of soil you have you can improve it and thereafter a lawn will be able to grow better with less water. Here are some soil amending options:

  • Humates/Humic Acid – These products can be added to any soil type and will increase the “availability” of the nutrients for plant uptake. This will improve what is already there as well as increase the effect of any added fertilizers.
  • Seaweed/Kelp – This is a new practice that has been shown effective in increases bacteria activity which breaks down the organic components of the soil into simpler compounds that are faster and more easily absorbed by plants.
  • Liquid Soil Aerator/Dethatcher – These are chemicals designed to break down and loosen compacted soil as well as and microbes and enzymes to decompose harmful thatch.
Mechanical Preparation:

There are machines and practices in place that can mechanically improve soil. These practices are performed frequently at golf courses, professional athletic fields, and grass tennis courts such as Wimbledon. While there is no debate that they are good for turf, increasing the frequency of these practices will aid in combating the effects of drought.

  • Aeration – Pulling “cores” of soil leaving thousands of exposed holes up to 3” deep which not only aids in soil decompaction but also in water and nutrient penetration. Getting water deeper into the soil means it will stay longer as it won’t evaporate as quickly and it will be right in the root zone for easy uptake from the grass.
  • Power Raking aka Dethatching – Mechanically raking out some of the organic layer between the grass blades and the roots. This layer blocks water from absorbing deep into the soil, provides a breeding ground for disease and fungus, and blocks sunlight from the crown of the plant.
Fertilizer/Nutrient Strategies:

A drought year with little water is no year to be short on any nutrients. In fact, this is the year to really go big and make sure you have the bases covered. While most nutrients will not cause damage if you apply too much, some can so be careful what you apply. It may be worth a cheap $40 soil test to see what you are dealing with before you start spreading goodies on your lawn.

  • Frequent fertilizer applications – Often fertilizer companies promote a 4-step or a 4-application schedule, but in a drought year your lawn may benefit from 6 or even 8 fertilizer applications. More nutrients will then be available for uptake with less water.
  • Micronutriments, Minerals, Trace Metals – Additives such as iron, manganese, boron, copper, nickel, and zinc can all aid in grass being greener, stronger, and requiring less water.
Disease & Insect Prevention:

Lack of water in turf grass is the leading cause of insect problems, weed infestations, and turf diseases. While insect prevention is important in all years, it will be even more crucial during drought years. Insect infestations will thin the turf, leading to compaction, drying, and worsening of the soil.

  • Insecticide – There are many brands of cheap “broad spectrum” insecticides. These can be purchased at any big box store or local farm or ranch store. The bag will often show that the product will take care of 100+ insects. A bag to treat 10,000 square feet is generally less than $20 and worth it’s weight in gold during a drought. These should be applied every 90 days at the bags recommended rate.
  • Vigilant watch – While preventing fungus or other disease can be expensive and/or impossible, what you will need to do is keep a watchful eye on your property. If you see a problem, spot or area starting to develop address the area immediately as large problems can arise in as little as 24-36 hours.
Watering Strategies:

The goal of watering is to get and keep as much water into the root zone as possible. In drought conditions when watering is cut back, this can take some careful planning. The best way to figure this out with your lawn is to guess and check and then continue to adjust.

  • 1 watering does not necessarily mean watering 1 time. 1 watering = 2 half waterings = 4 quarter waterings, etc. Watering your lawn 4x for 3 minutes each will yield more water deeper into your soil than one watering of 12 minutes. (This principle should be applied always, not only in times of drought or restrictions.) See our blog about watering here.
  • Timing matters. Watering in the heat of the day increases evaporation. Watering in the late evening can leave the grass wet all night and increase the chance of fungus. Early morning watering is best as it is cool, and the sun will come up and dry the grass before too long.