How to Make Your Lawn More Heat and Drought Tolerant

Our climate in the Raleigh, NC area can be hard on landscape plants and especially turfgrass. Tall Fescue lawns can suffer damage as early as May when daytime temperatures reach 80 degrees and in the absence of soaking rainfall events.

With summer comes heat and sometimes extended periods of little or no rainfall. So what can you do to not only help your lawn survive or even thrive through the summer without wasting water and money?


1) WATER PROPERLY*

  • One inch of water per week – Your lawn needs at least one inch of water per week during the growing season to keep it healthy and green. The heat and drought conditions during North Carolina summers can kill any type of grass that you may have in the Raleigh, NC area. Warm season grasses such as Bermudagrass and Zoysiagrass are very resilient and will not die off as quickly or easily as Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass, but they will gradually thin out during long periods without water. In the absence of adequate rain, it is necessary to water your lawn to keep it alive.
  • Water only when your lawn needs water – Setting your sprinklers on a timer and forgetting about them not only potentially wastes water and money, but it also creates ideal conditions for weeds and disease. It is best to water only when your turf shows signs of drought stress. You can observe drought stress by standing back from your lawn and looking at it as a whole. You will notice darker grey-green areas. This is what occurs before you start noticing the grass in these areas turning brown. If your Tall Fescue turf has already turned brown and does not bounce back from watering, then it will need to be reseeded in the fall. Bermudagrass and Zoysiagrass lawns are generally more resilient to drought and should bounce back.
  • Water deeply and infrequently – Watering for a few minutes every couple of days not only encourages shallow root growth of your turfgrass, but it also provides a more ideal environment for fungal disease and the most invasive and hard-to-control weeds. Whereas, watering deeply twice per week will encourage deeper and heartier root growth; and the stronger and deeper the roots are, the longer they will stay moist between watering.

Read more about proper lawn watering in a previous blog article HERE.

* There are exceptions to these watering recommendations for newer turf. Consult Crownover Green or another reputable turf manager for alternate watering recommendations if your lawn is not mature or well established. 

2) MOW PROPERLY

  • Mow at the right length for your type of grass – Longer grass shades the soil from the sun and keeps the roots moist. This will keep your grass greener and reduce irrigation needs. For cool-season grasses, such as Fescues or Kentucky Bluegrass, set your mower on the highest one or two settings (3.5"-4"). For more information on proper mowing of Fescue grasses, read a previous blog article HERE. For warm-season grasses, such as Bermudagrass or Zoysiagrass, set your mower on one of the middle settings (not lower than 1"; never higher than 2"). While certain Bermudas and Zoysias can tolerate being mowed lower than an inch, they will dry out faster at this length, which not only increases irrigation needs, but it also allows more sunlight to reach the soil surface, which will germinate more weed seeds.
  • One third rule – Never cut more than 1/3 of the length of your grass blade in one cutting. By letting your grass grow too long and then hacking it you are stressing your turf, which leads to browning, gradual turf thinning and greater susceptibility to disease. You will need to mow more frequently during your lawn's peak growing periods (spring and fall for Fescues, summer for Bermudas and Zoysias).
  • Mow during low-stress periods – Avoid mowing during drought or extreme heat. Cutting your grass when it is stressed from periods of extreme heat and drought will cause further browning and increase the chance for disease. Chances are that your grass isn't growing much if it is not getting a lot of rainwater anyway, so let it be.


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