Five Top Tips for Managing Your Lawn During a Drought

We enjoy working on lawns throughout the summer months, but lawn care services typically do not relish a summer drought! There are some conditions where green lawns just aren't possible without adequate water. As we work on creating sustainable lawns, we discuss what the best plan of action is during drought stress.

Five Top Tips for Managing Your Lawn During a Drought

What can I do to Maintain a Green Lawn?

May through to August are typically prime months for lawn drought stress. Lawns can go for weeks at a time without rain through autumn, winter and spring, but due to shorter days and lower temperatures we rarely see a notable change to the health of the grass. In a summer drought period our lovely green lawns can suffer.

All plants need water in order to remain at their healthiest. Grass is both hardy and particularly wise when it comes to drought stress. The grass losing its colour is a change of focus for the grass from attempting to put on growth, to diverting energy reserves to its roots in a move of self-defence. When lawns are cared for without water, your grass will soon bounce back. At the same time there are limits as to what grass can survive - as experienced in summer 2018 and 2022. 

Ultimately, your choice to water your lawn or not is down to you. Many homeowners spend plenty of time watering other plants, but not the plant that makes up the majority of your garden - the lawn. There are things that we can do to help our lawns which involve no or minimal water which we will get into below. 

This image is of a lawn which benefits from our lawn services but is struggling for colour due to the drought conditions. The grass is still thick but brown

Why is my Lawn Brown?

As mentioned above, lawns get to a point where they look to conserve energy rather than continue to grow without adequate water to support such growth. The grass plant chooses to halt its production of chlorophyll (what makes grass green) and divert reserves to its roots. When there isn't sufficient water this is why lawns lose colour – this is simply a defence tactic. Chlorophyll is moved back to the grass leaves when conditions again suit grass growth and recovery.

What can be done? Simply: apply water - providing there are no hosepipe restrictions in place. We would advise watering deeply, but infrequently. Just watering your lawn once per week, but applying 25mm of water uniformly to mimic a thunderstorm, will lead to a good soaking, encouraging roots to head downwards in search of water.

How NOT to Water a Lawn...

A 'here and there' approach to watering your lawn will lead to shallow rooting and a weak lawn in need of frequent water. This is not a good use of water or your time! This little and often approach to watering will encourage annual meadow grass and may also encourage Red Thread Disease if done so repeatedly. 

The above will make the very best use of the water that you do apply, along with watering away from the heat of the day. Look to water the lawn early morning or evening. We prefer evening to give the lawn maximum time for this to soak deep into the soil profile. Early morning can be good for lawns which have a history of disease. 

I'm on a water metre - isn't this expensive?

This varies by water board but is likely to be a lot less than you think at approximately £2-3 per 25mm of water per 100m2 of lawn. Just watering your lawn, a handful of strategic times when it needs it most will keep a healthy lawn and avoid expensive renovation works later. Your lawn doesn’t need to remain deep green, all year around, but we do want to give it a little bit of help! 

Our Five Top Tips to Minimise Water Use 

Minimising water use is important to us, and may become increasingly important in the future with more homes to supply and untrustworthy climate patterns. We stand for sustainability over quick fixes. Here are our top tips for minimising water use for your lawn, and maximising results from it.

1) Raise your height of cut

The grass plant is made up of two thirds water much like ourselves. Particularly if you're environmentally conscious, raise your mowing height come summer or when there is no longer rain in the weather forecast. A typical mowing height could be 25-30mm, but look to mow at 40-50mm in drought conditions. This:

 · Gives the grass more leaf coverage to produce food, and to sustain deeper roots
 · Protects the ‘crown’ (base) of the grass plant – vital for its survival
 · Protects the soil from excessive evaporation 

Consider cutting your lawn just before rainfall is due, rather than just before several hot days and potentially exposing your lawn to that stress. Most lawns we see with early signs of drought stress ahead of others are due to being cut too short at or close to a sports ground height of cut, without the corresponding level of watering required. Don't give yourself additional work!

This image is a close up of healthy lawn with stripes in the grass. A lawn treatment service is a huge factor in achieving this grass thickness and colour

2) Recycle Grass Clippings

This one may not be for everyone, but if lawn growth is very slow and colour being lost, consider mowing without the box, letting clippings fly loose rather than collecting them. Only consider doing this if there is very little growth to be taken off the lawn. If there are a lot of clippings this will look scruffy and will contribute to thatch production. If it is just the tips of the grass leaves being cut, this will recycle water and protect the soil. As to how much this contributes to thatch production will depend on:

 · The amount that is being taken off with each cut
 · How frequently clippings are not being collected
 · How biologically healthy the soil is to breakdown old clippings – are there organic food sources within your lawn care programme?

We have noticed with their increased popularity that robotic mowers are contributing to healthy lawns. These mowers cut the lawn every day during the main growing months, recycling tiny clippings with every cut. The recycling of nutrient and water along with our lawn care treatment programme produces fantastic results.

3) Non-Scorch, Coated Technology Lawn Fertilisers

We occasionally get asked if there is any point in having lawn treatments while there is no sign of rainfall. The answer is a huge yes! Fertiliser is applied in advance of the benefit. Cancelling your lawn treatment service visit for when a thunderstorm does soon pop up will mean that the recovery from drought stress will be slower than it needs to be.

Our products wait for water / rainfall to activate, providing the best and quickest possible recovery. Our summer fertilisers are coated products which prevent the leeching of nutrition when it is not required. We want our lawns back to a lush green with minimal effort and pain - please don't drag this out for any longer than it needs to be!

This image is one of a rear lawn and garden. A lawn treatment is enhancing the colour of the lawn despite the dry summer conditions

4) Dedicated Stress Buster Lawn Treatments?

We see lawn stress in the form of both drought and disease as a challenge which is only going to deepen in the future with climate change. We are really excited to be trialling a number of products this year which complement our annual lawn care treatment programme. 

Residual wetting agents work to get moisture into the soil profile and lock it in for up to three months. These products work to lower the surface tension of the soil, making it more open to water and then retaining it deep in the rootzone – keeping grass roots strong. In times of extreme drought, this will also promote quicker recovery with lawns entering drought stress sooner, and recovering from the heat quicker. 

Organic sources of nitrogen, bio stimulants and amino acids are all additional tools at our disposal along with seasonal treatments. A warm soil is an ideal time to support microbial activity through organic products. Beneficial trace elements and plant sugars ensures the grass is better able to copy with stresses – if this be due to drought, disease or just pressure from the grandchildren and the dog!

5) Regular Mechanical Work - Lawn Scarification and Aeration

Regular aeration, scarification and overseeding will aid drought tolerance. Aeration provides benefits to the root systems and in turn the ability of your lawn to reach more water. Scarification will keep thatch to a minimum allowing vital water and nutrition into the soil when available. Overseeding with a modern drought tolerant grass seed mix will provide your lawn with additional vigour and thickness. 

Lawns with underlying issues such as thick thatch layers, grub damage or compacted subsoils which are not addressed ahead of stressful periods are the ones which get hurt the most in a dry spell of weather, as we saw in the summer of 2018 and again in 2022. The over feeding of lawns with a lack of lawn scarification over a number of years will make for a major lawn renovation at a later date. 

This image shows one of our scarifiers on a lawn undergoing a lawn renovation. As lawn renovators this is an impressive machine for lawns in need of repair
This image is of a lawn which has already undergone scarification and has also been aerated. The aeration holes are clear from the image with a hedge in the background

My Lawn Looks Dead. What Can I Do? 

Fortunately, this is unlikely but you may well have a very poorly lawn with underlying issues if this is the case. Sometimes in only a very short dry spell it is possible that Chafer Grubs or Leatherjackets and the culprits. These grubs feed on the grass roots and therefore shows as drought stress-like damage. On many lawns which require more intensive turnaround work we carry out our Lawn Renovation on in their first year to allow us to address underlying issues. 

The best time to carry out lawn renovation work of scarification, aeration and overseeding is from August to early October. This is due to the high soil temperature, slightly shorter days than mid-summer and autumn rainfall soon to arrive. As it is a popular service, along with being labour intensive work, our diary fills a month or two in advance - all the more so off the back of a drought. If your lawn is struggling at the moment then you can be sure that you are not alone! 

If we can be of further help, please contact us on 01827 826123 or complete our 'Contact Us' form in advance of our renovation season booking up!