Planting a Drought-Resistant Lawn

droughtPlanting a drought resistant lawn is an important consideration for homeowners installing new lawns, or renovating existing lawns.  In many areas of the United States, water restrictions are becoming more common.  Getting enough rain to sustain a lawn without irrigation is not guaranteed, but that doesn't mean that your lawn has to succumb to drought or go dormant.  It is possible to plant a drought resistant lawn.

Start with the Soil

You can avoid many future lawn problems by starting with good soil, or amending the soil you have.  The soil is one of the biggest factors in lawn health, because it holds the water, nutrients and oxygen in the root zone that plants need.  A soil with poor structure, nutrient holding capacity or poor drainage won't be a good place for plants to grow, including lawn grass.  Before planting a new lawn, add a compost/topsoil mix to the area in which you will be planting.  Your new grass plants will thank you!  Also, test the soil to make sure that the pH isn't too high or too low.  If it is too high, add sulfur.  If it is too low, add lime.

Select a Drought Tolerant Grass Variety

The next most important factor in planting a drought-tolerant lawn is selecting the grass variety.  There are some species of grass that are just intrinsically drought-tolerant, and others that are not.  The right grass variety for you depends on your location and the amount of sun the grass will get, but, in general, these are consistent drought-tolerant grass types:
  • Fescues (for cool season grasses)
  • Bahia, centipede and zoysia (for warm season grasses)

Timing the Lawn Installation

When you first install a lawn, you want to encourage root growth above all else.  A solid root system will support the grass as it grows and spreads.  In many areas, fall is the best time to install a new lawn.  The daylight changes, temperature changes and other seasonal cues encourage good root growth above shoot growth, which is exactly what you want.  Plant a new lawn at least two months before the first frost.  That will vary widely by location.

Caring for the Lawn after Planting

To establish healthy roots and top growth, do not fertilize immediately after planting.  Let the grass grow for two to four weeks before fertilizing.  Synthetic fertilizers are made of salts, which stress the grass.  Right after planting is not the best time to stress the grass!  Keep the newly seeded or sodded lawn watered about every other day--it should never completely dry out.  As the seed sprouts and the sod becomes rooted, gradually transition the lawn to the "deep but infrequent" watering schedule.  This will encourage deeper root growth. After the lawn is established, it is time to institute good long-term drought resistance strategies.  Here are some of the main standbys of good lawn care that will promote drought resistance:
  • Never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade at one time
  • Keep mower blades sharp
  • Mow in the early evening, when the temperatures have cooled, but the dew has not yet fallen
  • Water deeply and infrequently--a couple of times a week--rather than for a few minutes every day
  • Don't fertilize during a drought or dry period
Having a drought resistant lawn involves several different types of planning and maintenance; however, following the above tips will ensure that your lawn survives anything but the most severe drought and re-emerges looking beautiful!
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