We’ve enjoyed some beautiful sunny weather for the first few weeks of lockdown, and been able to soak up the sun from the safety of our back gardens. Whilst this has been great for us, our lawns have been suffering in silence from the lack of rainfall. Figures released by The Met Office show that April was the driest month on record for 13 years, with the lowest rainfall since 2007.
What Does this Mean for our Lawns?
Grass requires water to thrive and is one of the basic needs for survival, including photosynthesis and to grow. When there is extreme drought, a lawn will become ‘dormant’ which is similar to going into hibernation to conserve existing water levels and nutrients. A side effect of this dormant process is for your lawn to turn brown, as no more nutrients can be absorbed to assist with the photosynthesis cycle.
Fading in colour will likely be the first thing you notice about your dry lawn. This is often then followed by wilting, which you’ll notice by walking over it. Usually, if you walk over your lawn it will bounce back. A dry lawn will leave footprints as the individual blades have begun to wilt and cannot recover. At this point, watering your lawn manually should suffice and your grass should return to its usual deep green state.
The next stage of a drought lawn is more difficult to treat. At this point, you’ll start to see the grass turn brown and patchy as part of the shut down process. Your lawn is made up of different types of grass which each react differently to a lack of moisture. Some types will start to turn brown more quickly which is what leads to the patchy look. You may also notice that your lawn hasn’t grown as much as it usually would which is part of the shut down process.
10 Problems a Dry Lawn Causes
A dry lawn isn’t necessarily the problem, but it can be the root of many more problems to come. Understanding the potential issues that your lawn may be suffering from is essential to helping achieve a luscious and healthy lawn.
- The grass will turn pale in colour. Fading from the healthy deep green colour to a pale green, or even yellowy brown colour.
- Your grass will become weak and less able to withstand problems, opening you up to a myriad of more issues to tackle.
- It may develop diseases such as “leaf spot” and “Rust” which are harder to treat once established.
- Patches become more prominent as lawns are generally made up of different grass types, so will react differently to drought and look patchy.
- The lawn will become less responsive to fertiliser.
- New seed is less able to germinate, so achieving a fuller looking lawn becomes more difficult.
- A dry lawn won’t grow as much, so you’ll need to mow it less. However, less regular mowing leads to an untidy look as the grass isn’t kept in check.
- If you’re a fan of garden strips in your lawn, you’ll struggle to achieve that result if your lawn is thirsty.
- Grass such as Poa Annua (annual Meadow grass) can create seed heads which actually gives the impression of weed infestations.
- Weeds are more likely to become dominant as they can thrive in dry conditions, so become more difficult to permanently remove.
How to Look after Your Lawn in Dry Weather
Keep it Hydrated
Whilst this may seem like the obvious solution, remembering to keep your grass watered along with your plants is often overlooked.
Consider investing in a sprinkler to place on your lawn at intervals and water when needed – once per week can be enough to keep it hydrated. It’s recommended to water your lawn deep and infrequently rather than little and often. Remember that your lawn has deeper roots, so the moisture needs to be absorbed up to 6” down. A general rule of thumb for watering your grass is to give 1” of water as a minimum per week, so adding a sprinkler and a marked empty bucket can help you to gauge how much water you’ve given your lawn. Don’t forget to rotate your sprinkler around the garden so you get even coverage.
Aim to water in the morning, or as early in the day as possible. This helps to retain moisture and prevents the water from evaporating throughout the warmest parts of the day, especially if in direct sunlight. Avoid watering your lawn later in the day, as a damp lawn at night becomes more susceptible to a fungus infestation.
If you’re able to collect rainwater in a waterbutt, your lawn will be a little happier. This is the natural and preferred water your lawn is craving thanks to its neutral PH levels, but tap water will suffice and won’t harm your lawn.
David Truby, Managing Director of Greensleeves Lawn Care, adds “It is common to underestimate how much water a lawn needs to look its best. Fortunately living in the UK, nature is great at providing most of the time, but during dry periods it is hard to get enough water onto a lawn manually. A good lawn care tip is that a sprinkler is a must and as a rule of thumb, probably leave it on twice as long as you think is necessary.”
You can also consider a professional hydration treatment to ensure your lawn receives the moisture it needs to thrive. During this process, a high quality wetting agent is applied to the grass to help the standard rainfall or watering system better absorb into the soil. The wetting agent encourages the roots to absorb existing water, even the morning dew when it wouldn’t usually be able to as the water can sit on top of the soil. This creates a more even absorption of moisture across your lawn due to the different grass types retaining water at different levels usually.
Cutting your grass at a higher height than usual will help your lawn to retain more moisture, as more grass blades will be left intact. Aim to keep your lawn at 1-2” in height and use a sharp blade to mow the lawn as a blunt blade will contribute to that patchy look as some blades are missed. One of the most common mistakes we make on our lawns is that they are cut too short, so raising the cutting height of the blades makes such a difference. It doesn’t mean the lawn needs cutting any more frequently but it will be much healthier and better looking for it
It’s recommended to mow your lawn regularly once per week throughout the peak growing times of April to June and September and October. The hottest summer months will likely lead to a slower growth period, so you can be more relaxed with grass cutting.
Once you have finished mowing the lawn, always rake the lawn to remove the grass clippings as this can lead to moss and thatch. Thatch is the dead grass which starts to collect between the tips of the grass blades and the soil. A little thatch is nothing to worry about, but when it becomes too dense, it can stop enough water and nutrients from getting to the root, and lead to a dry lawn even if you have been watering it sufficiently.
A top tip is to cut your grass in different directions each time. This not only makes it less boring for you, but also helps your grass to remain healthy looking. If you mow in the same pattern each time, your grass ‘learns’ this pattern and begins to tilt that way. Mowing in a different direction keeps the blades of grass more upright which leads to a fuller looking lawn.
Aeration is the process of removing small plugs of soil from your lawn, usually carried out by a specialist, to enable water, oxygen and fertiliser to better penetrate the roots. Greensleeves Managing Director adds “It is one of the most important but underused services that we provide – it can benefit a lawn in so many ways but it does need to be done regularly and at least once per year.”
Aeration helps to solve your lawn’s compaction issues which happens naturally over time and allows for better drainage. Whilst aeration can help to drain a waterlogged lawn, this treatment can also help a drought lawn to recover. As the soil is perforated through aeration, the soil compaction is lessened, and allows the roots to grow deeper and therefore soak up more nutrients, along with better water retention.