How to Save a Drought-Stricken Lawn

“When the skies dry up and every drop of water becomes precious, your lawn may be the first place you want to cut back on watering. You have many ways to reduce watering. Water is such a precious and limited resource, you need to use it wisely. The lack of rainfall in many areas of the country has been making the news in recent weeks. Here are some reminders and tips on how to deal with a drought situation. A properly managed lawn, made up of the appropriate grass species and balanced soil, can be functional and use little or no supplemental water.”

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The long, hot summer of 2012 has created some of the worst drought conditions in recorded history, leaving homeowners across much of the country with parched, brown lawns. The good news is that despite their delicate structure and appearance, grasses are surprisingly resilient. Most types of grass can survive extended periods of drought, and although they may look dead—visibly brown, dry and limp—they’re often only dormant, awaiting the next rainstorm.

To determine if a lawn is dormant or dead, inspect it down at the soil level. Lawns that have gone dormant will have brown leaves, but the crown at the base of the leaves will still be green, and the roots will have a healthy off-white color. If is lawn is completely dead, the entire plant—leaves, crowns, and roots—will be brown and brittle.

If the lawn is in fact dead, your only options are to either reseed or lay sod. But barring that fate, you can help save your troubled or dormant lawn, though it won’t be easy.

To Water, or Not to Water

The best way to protect your lawn during a drought, of course, is to simply water the grass on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that’s not always an option. Most towns institute water restrictions during a drought, making it illegal to water your lawn. And if your home draws water from a deep well, the underground water table will be much lower than normal, and the well won’t be able to supply enough water for both domestic use and lawn irrigation.

Even if you can legally water your lawn (for now), it might not be the best idea. According to the Lawn Institute, a nonprofit lawn-research corporation, it’s better to halt irrigation at the beginning of a drought than to water a lawn for a short period of time and then stop. A brown, dormant lawn may actually be in better condition to survive a drought than a lawn that was occasionally watered.

So let’s assume that—like most folks—you can’t water during a drought, or you fear your town might put such restrictions in place. Now what?

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