For a state receiving around 60 inches of rainfall a year, it can sure get dry in
Although the Sunshine State gets large quantities of rain annually, all parts of the state experience distinct rainy and dry periods. To get through these droughty times, it is critical for homeowners who manage unirrigated lawns to have healthy turf.
By remembering to employ three simple management tips before and when it stops raining, you can help ensure you enter a drought with healthy turf and greatly increase your lawn’s resiliency.
The average Florida turfgrass requires ¾ to 1 inch of water a week to saturate the turf’s root zone. Generally, we achieve that through rainfall.
However, in droughty months, supplemental irrigation can be a lawn saver, particularly in high traffic or more stressed areas of the yard.
I realize many Floridians, myself included, maintain large lawns without irrigation systems. While it’s impossible to keep all your grass well-watered during drought, you can maintain the high impact/visibility areas immediately around your home.
In these areas, manual weekly irrigation with a garden hose hooked to oscillating, impact or other easily sourced sprinkler heads can provide turf with needed water and keep your lawn looking fresh.
Measure your sprinkler’s water output by setting several straight-sided cans under the sprinkler and timing how long it takes to achieve ¾ inch. You might be surprised how much water you waste by leaving a sprinkler running too long.
Properly Apply Herbicides
Herbicides are a great item to have in the turf care toolbox. However, if misused, they can be a waste of time and money at best and harmful to your turf at worst.
Once turf and associated weeds become drought-stressed, it is too late for chemical weed control. There are a few reasons why.
First, when plants get stressed, they slow or stop their growth and focus on survival. This survival response prevents herbicides from being absorbed and, ultimately, causes ineffectual weed control.
Second, herbicides specifically state on the product label that they should not be applied during certain conditions. It is critical to adhere to these label directions, as using the incorrect product in hot and dry conditions can cause volatility, drift to non-target plants and, in some cases, toxicity to the turf you’re treating.
When it’s getting droughty, leave the herbicides in the shed.
Raise the Deck
Another important turf management strategy during drought is to reduce mowing and raise your mower’s cutting height.
As mentioned earlier, plants are already stressed during drought. Physically chopping off a chunk of the grass stresses it further, causing an energy-intensive wound response when the plant is trying to conserve resources for survival. If you must mow, raise the cutting height as high as possible to make the smallest injury possible on the grass, and keep your mower blades sharp to ensure a clean cut.
These practices will allow the turf to heal easier and require a smaller energy response from the plant.
There isn’t a silver bullet to keep non-irrigated turf looking good during droughts. However, using these strategies throughout the year will get your lawn through the dry times.
For help with horticultural questions, contact your county extension office. Note that staff may be working outside offices during COVID-19. For extension information, visit ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.