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My lawn is really struggling with the heat and drought. Is there a point when it just won't recover?

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With high temperatures, drying winds and drought conditions, many lawns, once lush and green, are looking more like hay fields. It is normal for traditional Utah grasses to struggle with the current heat and drought. Brown or golden patches may be forming and growing in lawns. The good news, though, is that these grasses possess the capability to recover from extreme weather conditions. Consider this information before giving up on your turf.

Dormancy is the physiological process grass uses to protect itself from heat and drought. Usually when grass appears to be dead this time of year, it is actually dormant. Dormancy is characterized by a complete cessation of growth along with brown or dead grass blades. Grass blades are less of a concern than the crown of the grass plant, which is at the soil surface and is the point from which the grass blades grow up and the roots grow down. As long as the crown remains alive, grass has the capability to recover when temperature and moisture conditions improve. By entering dormancy, grasses are protecting their crowns for future recovery.

When heat and drought reach a certain level, be aware that no amount of irrigation water will coax your grass out of dormancy. However, as temperatures drop and moisture conditions improve, the grass will recover naturally.

You may find that as your grass becomes more stressed from heat and drought, weeds and insects can become a problem. This will be less of an issue if your lawn was healthy before the hot weather took over. Wait to control weeds until the grass has begun to recover. Pulling weeds by hand works well, but using herbicides can damage already stressed grass. The reduced root growth that occurs when grasses are in dormancy can also increase the injury caused by root-feeding insects. However, it is often difficult to diagnose insect problems when grass is dormant. Be certain you are dealing with an insect problem before using insecticides, and always read and follow label directions.

Though it may be tempting, completely giving up on grass irrigation is not recommended. You may want to cut back to a very small amount of irrigation — just enough to keep the crowns of the grass plants alive. This low amount of irrigation is known as survival watering. For the cool-season grasses traditionally grown in Utah, this can be as little as one inch of irrigation water per month. It can be disbursed in one application or split into two or three applications. It will not keep the grass from entering dormancy, but it will help the grass crowns survive and recover.

Dormancy is a helpful, protective process that should not be feared. Instead, be patient and recognize that it will help your grass recover in the fall.

For more information on drought-related issues, visit www.extension.usu.edu/drought. The site has information on landscape irrigation, agricultural water issues, indoor conservation, frequently asked questions and upcoming events.

Posted on 22 Jul 2004

Kelly Kopp
Water Conservation & Turfgrass Specialist

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