Lawn brown? Don’t let it get you down

With summer heat making even your thermometer break a sweat, many homeowners are taking to watering their lawns more frequently.

The trouble is, that’s not always the best thing for it.

For starters, frequent watering encourages grass to develop shallow roots – not the deep-reaching roots that help to create a healthy lawn capable of surviving drought, high heat and lots of activity. Another problem is that too much water will keep the roots wet, making your lawn more susceptible to disease and insect damage. And overwatering also leads to increased runoff, which can carry away soil, fertilizer, chemicals and pet waste, polluting the water supply.

So what’s a grass-lover to do?

In most cases, you can simply let your lawn go dormant.  It will turn brown, but that doesn’t mean it’s given up the ghost. It just means the grass is preserving itself by storing its energy in its roots and temporarily giving up on the blades — a perfect tactic during hot, dry weather. An established lawn will be just fine if it doesn’t get water for several weeks (although newly seeded areas have very different needs). When cooler weather rolls around, new blades will shoot up.

It’s important to remember that, with the exception of rain, you shouldn’t water during this dormant period, as that will stress the lawn by encouraging it to ‘wake up’ too soon – sort of like having your alarm clock go off several hours early.

If dormancy isn’t an option, there are a few ways to ensure a lawn isn’t being overwatered. The rule of thumb for a healthy, established lawn is to provide about 1 inch of water each week, applied in one session. That number varies based on the weather and the type of soil — heavy, packed soils require less water; sandy, arid soils need more.

Quick tip: Place an empty 12 oz tuna or cat food can under a sprinkler.  When it fills up, that’s about an inch, and the lawn’s had enough.

Common sense is key: If rain’s in the forecast, hold off on watering until you see if the weather report holds true, and then use a rain gauge to figure out how much has fallen. If it’s under an inch, do the math to figure out how much more is needed. And always water in the morning to reduce evaporation and give the lawn a helping hand through the heat of the day.  Watering in the afternoon wastes much of the H2O through evaporation, and watering at night encourages disease.

Finally, give the lawn – and your mower – a break. Cut the grass no lower than 2”, and avoid frequent mowings.  You’ll save energy, reduce wear and tear on the machine, and help the lawn to conserve its water supply.

Looking for more information on keeping your lawn healthy? Take a look at a few tips from the USDA, and be sure to read our earlier blog on water conservation.