At the height of the summer heat, your lawn suddenly turns brown, despite all the work that you put into maintaining it. Fear not; it isn’t dead. It is just dormant, riding out the hot spell.
Nature has equipped turfgrass with the ability to go dormant when there is too much heat and too little water. If your neighbors’ grass is still green, it means that they have kept it watered. You can start watering now, and yours will come back, or you can wait for nature to take its course. Then, it will green up when temperatures cool and we get sufficient rain.
It takes a lot of water to maintain a lawn during a hot, dry summer. Some people don’t have the time to water. Others are bound by municipal water restrictions. Still others do not want to spend the money to water their lawns. You will definitely see a spike in your water bill that quarter.
Lawns need at least an inch of water a week, and it is best to apply it all in one watering. Just sprinkling will encourage shallow, unhealthy roots. Extended applications encourage deep, healthy roots.
You have a wide choice of sprinklers. I prefer the oscillating sprinkler head. It provides the most consistent stream of water. How do you know when you have applied an inch of water? There is an easy, time-honored measurement method.
Save a tuna (or cat food) can. They used to recommend coffee cans, but most coffee is now sold in either bags or plastic cans. Measure an inch on the can and place in the water stream and note the time it takes to fill the can to an inch. Then each time you reposition the sprinkler, water for the same amount of time. A tuna can is shallow enough that you can let it fill all the way to the top. If you don’t want to bother timing, you can place the can in the water stream and move the sprinkler each time the can fills up.
If you choose not to water, here are a few recommendations for protecting the dormant grass:
- Do not mow. The grass isn’t growing, so mowing will just place further stress on the plants.
- Keep off the grass as much as possible. Find another place for kids to play. Dormant grass is dry and brittle, and walking or playing on it will cause the leaves to break.
- Do not fertilize or apply any weed or insect control materials on the dormant grass. This is another stress factor.
The bottom line is that you have two choices. You can provide your lawn with an inch or more of water a week and enjoy it just as you do during the spring and fall, or you can let nature take its course and find recreational pursuits that do not require walking on the grass.
It should take several good rains before a dormant lawn comes back to life. If patches fail to re-green, they need renovation. We (or you) rake out the dead grass, rough up the soil, scatter seed, rake the new seed into the soil, and water. Or, you can just lay sod.