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Drought Tolerant Lawns



Many people wanting a lawn for their homes are faced with uncertainties around water restrictions, while some others want a low maintenance and low cost lawn requiring the least amount of effort, including watering. This is where having a Drought Tolerant Lawn becomes important.

There is nothing special or magical about lawns requiring less or even no additional watering other than the basics supplied by nature, and sometimes occasionally supplemented by us. A Drought Resistant Lawn is simply choosing the right turf variety and then managing it’s growth and health for maximum drought resistance.

The Key Factors For Drought Resistant Lawns

There are several key factors which are required to create and maintain a Drought Resistant Lawn, these are:

  • Choosing the correct turf variety
  • Establishing and encouraging a deep root system
  • Mowing the lawn at a higher than average height

Drought Tolerant Grass Types

The first step in creating a Drought Tolerant Lawn is to choose the right grass variety. For warmer regions, these will include the Warm Season varieties of Zoysia, Centipede and Bahia. While for cooler climates, a Cool Season Grass like the Fescue family are the most drought tolerant.

Soil Preparation

These grass types can be established with both seed and sod, but it is highly important to put down a good foundation for the life of the lawn, the soil is where the lawn derives it’s health from and when trying to create a drought resistant lawn we need to give it every shot at optimum health and survival we can.

Excavate and remove the existing soil if it’s of poor quality and replace with a very high quality organic soil mixture formulated for lawns. If the existing soil will stay then test the pH level first, and adjust if necessary. Some organic fertilizers can be added and dug into the soil as well. Level the area as required and lay the sod or seed.

When To Plant A Drought Resistant Lawn

The best time to plant a Drought Tolerant Lawn is the early Fall. The stressful heat of Summer is finished and grass is still actively growing so that it can establish itself and it’s root system. The greatest benefit to planting in Fall is that lawns are now preparing themselves for Winter – they do this by slowing down green leaf growth and spending more energy creating a nice deep root system

Early Lawn Establishment

Do not add any additional chemical fertilizers to the turf too soon, wait at least 2 months before fertilizing.

Once the lawn has been seeded or sodded we still need to keep the ground moist at all times until the root system has developed. Once the root system has become established we now need to train the roots to go deeper. This is very easy.

Essentially we need to keep gradually reducing water to the lawn, over time the lawn will react like every other plant and send it’s roots down far deeper into the soil , this is below the evaporation level and the soil is always moist, even in Summer. This is where we need our Drought Tolerant Lawn to eventually get it’s water from.

So slowly keep reducing watering as much as possible, always monitoring the health of the sod. Water less often but for longer periods – this encourages deeper roots. It’s OK for the sod to dry out a little – it’s only when it begins showing more stressful signs that we may need to give it a nice deep water.

Eventually we aim to stop all watering unless the lawn is ever in deep stress and needs a little extra help. Remember the key is to water deeply and infrequently.

Mowing A Drought Tolerant Lawn

Lawn mowing heights for these lawn types should be set as high as possible for the lawn type. This is done for two reasons, it keeps high levels of photosynthesis occurring which is very good for the lawn, and it shades the soil from excessive loss of moisture from heat evaporation.

These lawns also need to be mowed regularly, so we never remove more than one third of the green leaf. Mowing regularly is very good for lawns because it encourages good, healthy green leaf growth, but apart from this – when any more than a third of the green leaf is removed at any one time, the lawn can go into a state of shock, this is definitely something we don’t want to happen with a Drought Resistant Lawn.


While it may not be possible for everyone to create a true No Water Lawn, we can all create a far less water dependant and drought resistant lawn. Always continue to monitor the health of the lawn, and add some water only when absolutely necessary, and always follow the key principles required for these lawn types.

  • Choosing the correct turf variety
  • Establishing and encouraging a deep root system
  • Mowing the lawn at a higher than average height

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When Should I Water My Lawn




Watering our lawns is something which everybody realizes as a priority for maintaining any lawn, especially if we want a beautiful lawn, after all… water is life, and without it the lawn would very quickly die. While everyone may realize this important factor and do indeed keep their lawns well watered, many people simply are not aware of the correct ways to water, and that there can be a massive difference between neighboring lawns simply based on how they are watered.

All lawn watering should be done in the mornings.

Watering a lawn in the morning allows the lawn to make use of the water at the only time of the day it can, which is during the daylight hours. This is because the light of the day provides the power source which lawns use to create their food and to take up water from the soil and to grow, This sunlight powered process is called photosynthesis. When the sun isn’t present, such as at night time, the lawn cannot use any water it has in the soil.

Morning waterings ensure that the lawn can immediately begin using the available water which is supplied to it, whereas watering a lawn at night means a lot of the water which is applied, simply drains away from the root zone of the lawn overnight. The following morning when the lawn “wakes up” and begins taking up water again, most of the water which has been applied, is gone! This is a very wasteful and expensive practice when talking about the amount of lost water.

Because so much of the applied water is lost to drainage, the lawn will require even more water to be applied if watering at night, just so enough water is left over to be used by the lawn in the morning.

The next major factor which determines the importance of watering in the morning is lawn disease.

Watering lawns at night is one of the greatest promoters of diseases in all lawns. The overwhelming majority of lawn diseases flourish in moist conditions and at night time. A night time watering leaves a massive amount of moisture amongst the leaf and thatch layer for a long period of time when there is no sunlight to combat diseases, and night time is when these diseases flourish and grow. By watering at night, the end result is creating perfect natural conditions for lawn diseases to establish, flourish and spread in our home lawns.

Apart from having our beautiful lawn tarnished with disease, we are then faced with the new problem of repairing lawn disease, which costs more money to buy the treatments, and puts unwanted chemicals into the environment too.

In summary, the best time to water our lawns in the morning, it provides water at the only time of day the lawn can use it, reduces water wastage, and severely diminishes the possibility for lawn disease to overtake and destroy our lawns.

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How Much Water Does My Lawn Need




There are many factors which contribute to how much water a lawn needs at each watering, and also how often a lawn needs to be watered. These factors include temperature, wind, the grass type, how healthy the lawn is, the soil type and the amount of thatch in lawn. So while we cannot give an exact magical number for the amount of water a lawn needs or how often to water, we can get very close to some general usage guidelines, and then hone these guidelines to achieve the greatest benefit from our watering regime.

The greatest aim of watering our lawns is to apply enough water so that it reaches deep into the root zone, this practice encourages the lawn to set down deep roots into the soil which in turn are less prone to drying out, and will keep the lawn greener and healthier with less water. By not encouraging a deep root system from deep watering, the roots of the lawn will stay very close to the top of the soil, this shallow soil will dry out very quickly on hot or windy days, and when this soil dries out, so do the roots of the lawn, with the end result being a dried out, damaged or even dead lawn in extreme circumstances.

Watering deeply also aids in the next important factor in watering, which is to water less often. The aim of watering less often is so that there is less water around the top of the soil, if there is an abundant and regular supply of water at the top of the soil from very frequent watering, then the lawn will not set down deep a root system. The importance of this factor was explained in the previous paragraph. When we water less often, the lawn will naturally send out it’s roots to a deeper level where soils naturally hold onto more water.

In theory, a lawn should have around 2 1/2 inches of water at each watering so that a watering depth of around 6 inches is achieved, these figures are the basis we must work from.

Sandy Soils

For sandy soils, the water will more easily drain through the soil profile to reach the desired depth of 6 inches, so we don’t need to apply the full 2 1/2 inches of watering to achieve this, so we can reduce the amount of time we water for.

The next factor when watering sandy soils is to understand that the sandy profile will drain water away much quicker than a clay soil would, so the soil will dry out more quickly, this means is we have a sandy soil we must water more frequently.

So for sandy soils, we apply less water, but apply it a little more often.

Clay and Loam Soils

Clay and loam soils hold onto water far better, for this reason we will need to apply more water so the water can reach down deep enough to get to the desired depth of 6 inches. Otherwise the top of the soil will simply hold onto the available water, and the end result will be a shallow root system.

This capability of clay and loam soils to hold onto water for longer means that we will not have to water a lawn with a clay / loam profile as often.

So for clay or loam soils, our aim is too apply more water, but to water less often.

Seasons and Weather

The other factors which determine how often and how much to water a lawn is based on seasons and weather.

As the weather heats up in Summer, this will obviously require more water to be applied more often, the same is true for when the lawn is subject to a high amount of wind, as this wind will evaporate the water from the top of the soil, and dry out the lawns moisture much quicker.

In Spring and Fall, the lawn’s water requirement will also decrease, and the amount and frequency of watering can be dropped accordingly.

Winter lawn care and watering varies considerably around the country, and while many lawns may be under snow, others won’t be and won’t require any watering at all. But in the warmer regions, we can be easily fooled into thinking that just because it’s Winter, the lawn doesn’t need any water at all, and this is not always the case!

In temperate climates, always monitor the health of the lawn in Winter, even though the weather is colder, the soil can still evaporate it’s water supply, even if it’s at a far reduced rate compared to other seasons, any wind will also aid in this evaporation, and sandy soils will be more susceptible again. In monitoring the soil wetness in Winter, check for any signs of stress to the lawn, and if necessary dig a sample of the lawn and soil profile out with a spade and check for uniform wetness throughout the soil profile, if necessary begin a very light watering regime for the Winter.

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Does My Turf Need More Water




Determining whether a lawn requires an adjustment in irrigation is a very important factor in maintaining our lawns in the best health possible. Too much water can be equally as damaging to a lawn as a lawn which is drying out from lack of water, and we’ll look at this problem in another article.

If you believe your lawn isn’t receiving enough water, this is most easily first seen by a wilted appearance on the lawn leaf, or a changing of the color of the leaf from a dark or bright green to a silver or gray color, or even a blue color depending on the turf type, These are the early signs of a lawn lacking in water. Eventually this will lead to the lawn beginning to turn brown and begin dying.

The earliest stages are also confirmed by a footprint test, this is done by an adult walking across the lawn in just an ordinary way, not doing anything different than walking from one end to the other. The lawn is then left for an hour. On returning to the lawn, we can investigate whether the footprints are still apparent, if the footprints are still there, then the lawn may be stressed due to lack of water.

It is important at this stage that we do not confuse this footprint test. If the same footprint test is done on an ultra healthy but very heavily thatched lawn, then the footprints can also remain for a long period of time. So the footprint test must only be done on a lawn which is not heavily thatched and is showing signs that it may be under stress.

If these tests seem to confirm there may be a problem with lack of water, then a spade can be used to dig up a small square cube of the lawn and soil profile to about 6 inches deep, this will quickly determine whether or not there is adequate water throughout the soil profile. If the soil is dry and falls away, then an increase in watering is required.

The increase in watering may be to increase watering times, or to increase watering frequency. If the soil is sandy then it may be best to water more frequently as the sandy soil drains very quickly. If the soil is made up of clay or loam then the answer may be to water for longer.

It is important to note at this stage that if an increase in watering is required, then it only needs to be done in small increments. If the irrigation currently operates for 20 minutes per cycle, then an increase of only 2 minutes extra time is giving the lawn an extra 10% water, which may be all it needs to reach full health, The same process also tells us that an increase of 6 minutes equals 30% extra water, and this may be too much water.

So when increasing watering, always do it in small increments, increase watering times by 10%, and monitor the lawn health for the next 2 weeks, if the lawn is coming good, then no further adjustment is necessary. If the lawn still isn’t turning around, then increase by another 10% in time. This is the safest way to increase lawn watering and finding the optimum watering times and amounts which our individual lawns require without risking further damage from over watering.

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