September 5, 1998 | By: Ellen Brightwell

"My lawn is turning brown so should I water it?"

The answer depends upon whether people have been watering their lawns throughout the summer, according to A.J. Powell Jr., Extension turf specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"Lawns most vulnerable to the current drought are those that have been well-maintained by regular watering and are growing on very shallow and clay soils," he said. "If you've been watering your lawns, you need to continue watering every other day or every third day. Without supplemental water, these lush, actively-growing lawns will die if the drought continues and irrigation water isn't available."

Conversely, low-maintenance lawns will usually green-up without irrigation soon after a soaking rainfall, according to Powell.

"September and October are usually our driest months," he said. "A heavy rainfall rarely alleviates drought symptoms. When a lawn becomes excessively dry, the soil surface develops some water repellency that prevents water from entering when a quick, hard rainfall occurs.

"During a severe drought, it's better to irrigate if water is available and the cost isn't prohibitive. The decision might be 'pay now or pay later' because it could cost only $50 to buy the water needed for lawn survival or $300 to have the lawn re-seeded. Some municipalities might establish voluntary or mandatory water restrictions if they haven't already done so."

He gave these tips on how to best water a drought-stricken lawn.

* Water every over day or every third day until good, soaking rains begin.

* Apply about two-thirds of an inch of water each time. After watering, probe the soil with a knife or screwdriver to determine if the soil is wet two to three inches deep.

* Water in early morning to help reduce diseases, remove dew, and reduce evaporative water loss.

*Water areas that have the earliest browning, first. These are on southern or western facing slopes, or areas with heavy clay soils, very compacted soil, or rocks near the surface.

He also gave tips on mowing, controlling weeds and fertilizing drought-damaged lawns.

"If possible, don't mow a drought-damaged lawn until you can water it or receive a soaking rain," Powell said. "You can almost destroy a drought-damaged lawn by mowing it during hot weather. Weeds are still growing and flowering during late summer droughts and they can make a drought-damaged lawn uglier than ever. It's best to water a lawn, or wait for a soaking rain, then mow off the weeds. Catch seedpods in a grass catcher if possible."

It's not possible to control weeds in a drought-damaged lawn. Herbicides don't work when weeds are suffering from drought. A herbicide can damage drought-stressed grass more than weeds.

"Fall through early winter is the best time to supply nitrogen to lawns," Powell said. "Wait for a soaking rain; then apply about one to one and a half pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square food to the lawn, followed by another application in four to six weeks. This nitrogen will greatly improve a lawn's recovery from drought."

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376

Source: A.J. Powell Jr.
(606) 257-5606