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Diagnosing Dry Stress on the Lawn

Is Your Lawn Dry?

As we make our way through June, the days are only getting warmer. While warm weather is great for beach days and spending time outdoors, it’s not always the best thing for your lawn.

How do I know if my lawn is suffering from dry and heat stress?

When the weather gets hot and dry, lawns start to change in appearance. You may have noticed changes in your lawn that include:

  • A previously green lawn that has taken on a blue or grey tinge.

  • Wheel marks or footprints that are left in the lawn after being mowed or walked on, that do not bounce back quickly.

These qualities may indicate signs of dry stress and heat stress. Unfortunately, now is the time of year when many residential lawns are beginning to show significant signs of summer stress—but don’t panic! It is usually temporary.

Is my lawn dead?

If your lawn is suffering from dry and heat stress, there’s no need to worry. While the grass may appear to be dead, it is still very much alive. It's in a dormant state, otherwise known as ‘survival mode.’ This occurs when the water supply to the grass blade is blocked, which is done by the plant, in order to preserve moisture in the roots.

So, how long can the grass survive in a dormant state? The answer to this question varies, as it can depend on conditions such as temperature and sun exposure. As a general rule of thumb, however, most lawns can survive 4-5 weeks in a summer state of dormancy.

What can I do about dry stress on my lawn?

Homeowners should know that deep watering can prolong their lawn’s ‘survival mode’ and therefore promote lawn health. Generally, grass needs 1-1.5 inches of water weekly. As such, your watering schedule should be based on deep and infrequent watering. It should also be flexible with current weather conditions.

So when should you water your lawn? In normal conditions, watering should always be done early in the morning, as evening watering can promote the spread of disease. However, if your lawn is drought-stressed, it is best practice to water it as soon as you can. The goal of watering is to replace what rainfall does not supply—a practice which is usually necessary during these hot summer months.

If watering your lawn isn't in the cards this summer, the grass might go dormant as we are seeing right now. It will bounce back once optimal growing conditions return (like lots of rain!). Whether you choose to water or not, stick with your plan so the grass has the least amount of stress as possible.

Is there anything else I should note?

There are a few other tips you may find relevant if you are dealing with heat stress:

  • Clay Soil: In hot, dry conditions, clay soils can become rock hard, to the point where water cannot penetrate them. Lawns should be aerated at least once per season in order to alleviate this as much as possible.

  • Sandy Soil: Homeowners with sandy soils may find that it is hard for the lawn to retain moisture in the summer. However, there are steps that can be taken to improve water retention, such as applying organic soil enhancement.

  • Mowing: Proper mowing can have a huge impact on the appearance of your lawn. Be sure to never mow more than 1/3 of the grass blade at a time, bag the clippings, and always mow with a razor-sharp blade.