Lawns and drought - what should you do?

Last Updated: 
August 1, 2008

CORVALLIS - People in many regions of Oregon may be facing voluntary or mandatory water restrictions this coming summer. What does this mean for lawn care?

Tom Cook, Oregon State University Extension's turf grass expert, offers some strategies for lawn care during drought.

* Do nothing but mow your lawn until it is completely dormant. When fall arrives and water is available, water and fertilize to encourage recovery.

* Dethatch, fertilize and water as little as needed to produce a healthy lawn through the spring period. If and when water restrictions occur, follow directions from the city up to and including no water for the remainder of the summer. When fall comes irrigate and fertilize to encourage recovery.

* Prioritize the lawn areas. Water small and important areas as needed to provide acceptable turf. Apply minimal water to less important lawn areas and none at all to peripheral areas.

"Remember that at least half of outdoor watering is applied to trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals," said Cook. "Vegetable gardens use significant amounts of water too. To save significant amounts of water, homeowners should avoid watering these as well as their lawns."

Most lawns will survive, but turn brown in a dry year without being watered.

"There is nothing we can do that will make a lawn stay green all summer without irrigation," said Cook. "If people can't irrigate, they will have brown lawns."

"Fall moisture will bring relief," he added.

"The worst that will happen if lawns are not watered is that weaker parts of the lawn or areas in hot spots will die," Cook said. "When fall returns lawns can be reseeded and will recover just fine over the winter.

"Applying fertilizer in the spring will stimulate strong root growth as well as strong shoot growth, said Cook. "As the drought develops, back off on fertilizer applications. Resume fertilizer as summer ends and the water crisis subsides."

Mow at the normal mowing height for the lawn.

Lawns that have lots of thatch will be more likely to die out than lawns where thatch control has been done on a regular basis.

To learn more about lawns and drought, you can view EC 1531 on the Extension and Station Communications Web site and select "Publications and Videos," then "Gardening," then "Lawns."

Conserving Water in the Garden: Landscape and Lawn Care, publication EC 1531, is available by mail for $1 per copy plus $3 shipping and handling. Send your request and check or money order payable to OSU to: Publication Orders, Extension and Station Communications, OSU, 422 Kerr Administration, Corvallis, OR 97331-2119.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Tom Cook