University of Florida

Improving Your Lawn's Drought Tolerance

Drought tolerance is a measure of how well your grass will survive dry spells. Still, there are some simple management practices that can help improve the drought tolerance of whatever turfgrass species you have on your home lawn.

Why Improve Drought Tolerance?

The primary objective of improving drought tolerance is to grow a good-quality lawn that will survive drought with little or no supplemental irrigation (watering by hose or sprinkler system). A lawn properly prepared to survive a drought will have a deep and extensive root system. These management practices will help train your grass’s roots to grow deep.

Irrigation

Less frequent, longer irrigations will help establish a deeper root system. Many homeowners rely on automatic sprinkler systems to apply small amounts of water several times weekly, regardless of rainfall. This is actually detrimental, because such a lawn’s roots will stay only in the top few inches of soil so they’re not able to get down to find water deeper in the soil during dry spells.

To develop a deep root system, water your lawn only when 30 to 50 percent of it shows at least one of the three wilt signs. The three signs of wilt, or lawn thirst, are folding leaf blades, blue-gray color, and footprints remaining in grass.

When you do water, apply 1/2–3/4 inches. For sandier soils, which do not hold water well, the 3/4-inch rate may be necessary. For heavier clay soils in North Florida and the panhandle, the 1/2-inch rate may be sufficient. The idea is to get water to your grass’s roots without drowning your grass or creating run-off (excess water that your grass cannot absorb).

Once you have watered your lawn, hold off watering again until a portion of it shows one or more of the wilt signs. Do not irrigate to the point of run-off, where the soil is no longer able to absorb water and it flows on top of the ground or pavement. This only wastes water and does nothing for your landscape.

Mowing

Always mow at the highest recommended height for your turf species. This increases leaf area, allowing for more photosynthesis, the process by which plants make carbohydrates that they store to help them survive stresses like drought. The higher the mowing height, the deeper and more extensive the root system will be.

Never cut more than one third of the leaf blade at any one time. You may be able to reduce your mowing frequency since the grass will grow more slowly during drought. Be sure to keep your mower blades sharp. A sharp blade makes a cleaner cut that heals faster and stresses the grass less than one made with a dull blade.

Photo of a small lawn

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