You’re not imagining it: It’s been a dry spring in the Northeast. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, most areas in the northeast U.S. have received lower-than-normal rainfall, with New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania ranking this spring among their top 20 driest. In addition, forecasters have predicted an unusually hot summer in the northeast, with lots of 90-degree days in store for Washington, D.C. right up through Boston, which will increase evaporation and exacerbate dry conditions.
Though low rainfall and high temperatures may leave your lawn looking mottled and brown, it doesn’t mean it’s dead. If the leaf blades are still green near their base, your lawn is likely dormant. Most turf varieties can survive in dormancy for three to six weeks (depending on soil moisture and temperatures) and can usually bounce back with regular, deep watering or rainfalls.
Here are some tips for sensible lawn maintenance until mother nature can take over:
- Water very early, or very late. When you do water your lawn, do so at times that will minimize evaporation: late at night after the sun sets completely, or early in the morning before the sun rises. (Note: Most experts prefer the early morning watering when dew is on the grass — typically between 2 — 7 a.m. So set the timer on that coffeepot!)
- Water less frequently, but deeply. Whether during a drought or a typical rainfall season, giving your lawn a good soak infrequently – once or twice per week for a total of about one inch of water– will encourage a healthy, deep root system as those roots grow down deep in search of water. Conversely, giving your lawn frequent light watering keeps the moisture in the topsoil and results in shallow roots and an ever-thirsty lawn.
- Even a little bit helps. If the drought period is lengthy (and water restrictions stricter), giving your lawn just a half-inch of water once every two to three weeks is enough to keep the crowns and roots hydrated (but will not re-green the lawn.)
- Keep off the grass! Since compressed soil does not absorb as much moisture, avoid having humans, pets, or cars running over your lawn.
- Mow occasionally, but keep grass long. Grass will grow more slowly during a drought, but it will still grow. If you want to keep the lawn looking trim while it weathers the dry spell, go ahead and mow it once in a while. But set the mower blades to their highest cutting level – 3” at minimum — to allow the grass to retain as much moisture as possible in the leaf blades and roots, and maximize the surface area for photosynthesis to occur.
- Keep your mower blades sharpened, so they cut the grass blades rather than tear them. Tearing can stress the grass, causing tips to turn brown.