|Dying? Dead? Or just dormant?|
Recently I started thinking that Stephen Colbert was onto something with his newly minted word: "truthiness". Someone suggested to me that the widely reported story of lawn grasses going dormant during a drought may be more truthiness rather than truth. They were right.
When newspapers and other media outlets tell you "grass goes dormant during dry periods" and proceed to encourage you to refrain from watering, you see yourself as green, if not your lawn. Unfortunately, follow this advice too rigidly and you will not be green and your lawn will be dead — permanently dormant.
Surprisingly, the lack of truth in the advice is not in the claim of dormancy, grass does go dormant during a drought. It is the belief that dormant grass needs no water where the error creeps in. Dormant grass is living grass and so it should come as no surprise that it still requires a little water.
So, what is the greenest response to lawn care during a drought? Based on information gleaned from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and from Ohio State University:
- Water turf once every two weeks with about half an inch or 1.27 cm of water. This will supply enough moisture to keep crowns, rhizomes and roots of your lawn grass hydrated and alive. This amount of water will not regreen a dormant lawn, however, it will help to insure good recovery with the return of rainfall. (If your soil is very sandy and does not hold water well, your lawn may require watering more often — say, once a week.)
- Use water gauges to measure the depth of water applied. A lawn water gauge can be as simple as several empty straight-sided cans, such as tuna and salmon containers, placed in the sprinkler's watering pattern.
- If possible, cycle irrigation to allow water penetration and avoid water runoff. Dry soils may not absorb even 1.27 cm of water in one application.
- Water turf in the early morning to reduce water loss from evaporation.
- Never allow sprinklers to water pavement, driveways or sidewalks. This wastes water.
- Never trim lawns shorter than two and a half inches or 6.35 cm. Taller grass develops a deeper, more extensive root system. Keep mower blades sharp to avoid tearing rather than cleanly cutting the grass. A healthy lawn is better positioned to survive a drought.