Watching a perfectly tended garden lawn turn brown during the summer months is not something any of us look forward to but with hosepipe bans and water shortages it can feel inevitable. The hot weather during this summer in particular means lawns have taken a bit of a battering!
However, there are steps you can take to help make sure your grass copes better during a heatwave and recovers quickly in autumn. Take a look at our top tips to protect your lawn from drought.
Promote Healthy Roots
An established lawn with a deep and dense root system will require less watering. An easy way to promote this is to simply raise the height of your lawn mower and leave the grass slight longer. Plants rely on green plant tissue to generate energy via photosynthesis; the more energy they generate, the more vigorous the root growth. Consistently mowing your lawn at a low height can reduce overall root mass and depth, making the lawn more susceptible to drought stress. In extreme cases this could even reduce growth rates the following spring.
Soil compaction could limit the success of letting the grass grow longer though. Poorly aerated soil will not allow roots to grow deeply or let water filter beyond the surface level. In agriculture, soil compaction is a huge issue due to the size and weight of the machinery used, but domestic garden lawns can still be affected by frequent traffic or lack of organic matter. Fortunately, there are a few ways compaction can be reduced:
An aerator will create small holes in the ground, loosening the soil and creating channels for air, water and nutrients to re-enter. It’s best not to aerate in the summer months, as much needed moisture may inadvertently be lost through the holes. Instead, aerate your lawn in spring or autumn.
Improve Organic Matter Content
This can be achieved by using a mulching lawn mower (more on this below), or lightly topdressing the lawn with mulched leaves or compost. Making the soil attractive to worms and beneficial microbes will in turn help to reduce compaction.
Finally, scarifying your lawn is a highly effective way of promoting root growth. Although scarifying will not penetrate the soil as deeply as an aerator, removing unwanted plant matter and thatch does wonders for allowing nutrients and water to enter the soil. Moss and thatch soak up water and keeps it at the lawns surface, leading to shallower grass roots. With the moss gone, roots are encouraged to grow downwards instead. Again, scarifying should be done in spring or autumn and there is more information about how to do this in our scarifying blog post here.
Mulching Your Lawn
A mulching lawn mower returns fine grass clippings to the lawn’s surface, where it then quickly breaks down and returns nutrients to the soil. Returning grass clippings to the surface can help increase resistance to browning during a drought and helps to lower the rate of nitrate leaching too. Mow your lawn weekly to prevent stressing the grass and ensure grass clippings remain small for fast decomposition. This is where robotic mowers come into their own; they mow little and often and mulch fine grass clippings back into the lawn automatically with you needing to lift a
But if mulching isn’t an option, there are still ways to make the most from the grass clippings. In the summer months, spreading a thin layer of clippings around flower beds and garden plants will help the soil to retain moisture, with the added benefit of suppressing weed growth too.
In Great Britain we’re often blessed with rain, but in a drought your lawn will need extra water to stay healthy (providing a hosepipe ban isn’t in place of course). The watering schedule for your lawn will depend partly on the soil type. Heavier clay soils are good at retaining water, so avoid watering too frequently as this could promote a shallow root system. In contrast sandy soils will need water slightly more often. Keep a close eye on the condition of the grass, and water as soon as the colour starts to dull, or the grass blades become limp. If the grass is already brown, you’d be optimistic to expect a quick bounce back! Water the lawn thoroughly, then avoid watering until the lawn shows signs of degrading again (this could be a number of days later). Opting to water your lawn in the morning before the heat of the day is best to prevent evaporation.
Apply Fertiliser Carefully
Although a nitrogen fertiliser can help to increase root and shoot growth, it isn’t always a good idea to apply during drought conditions. This is because as growth rate increases (from using the fertliser), so does water usage; and if this is not in plentiful supply, the lawn could be damaged. Grass can use fertiliser more efficiently in the spring or autumn when temperature and moisture conditions are ideal. A potassium rich fertiliser applied in the spring can also improve the lawn’s resistance to stress, meaning it will be able to recover quickly from a drought.
For New Lawns?
Certain grass varieties and clover mixtures offer drought-resistant properties not found in off-the-shelf grass seeds. If you’re considering laying new turf, consider consulting a local specialist who will be able to recommend a seed mixture to suit your particular soil type and environmental conditions.
Did your lawn suffer from drought this summer? Do you have any tips to help your lawn after a drought? Let us know in the comments.