Creating a drought-tolerant lawn requires a few important steps. In this video, garden expert Joe Lamp’l—a.k.a. Joe Gardener—walks you through exactly what those steps are so that you can create a lawn that’s more resilient—all while using less water in the process.
Joe’s Steps to a Drought-Tolerant Lawn
- Prep the soil. The first step in preparing a more drought-tolerant lawn is to make the soil more conducive to deeper root growth. To do this, you first need to use a good, stiff rake to clear away dead plant debris and old grass (commonly referred to as thatch). Doing so will create a better opportunity for water to infiltrate the soil. It also will create more openings for air circulation in the soil.
- Core aerate. An aerator removes soil cores, or plugs, from the ground, allowing air, water, organic matter, and nutrients into the newly opened spaces. At the same time, it relieves soil compaction and promotes greater root expansion. You can rent a core aerator at any equipment rental company.
- Put your lawn on a healthy diet. Next, Lamp’l says it’s time to put your lawn on a healthy diet by feeding the soil with compost, manure, and other organic matter such as grass clippings. You’ll also want to supplement two or three times a year with a non-burning, slow-release, nitrogen-based fertilizer. Nitrogen is the primary nutrient lawns need for vigorous growth, both above and below ground.
- Grass cycling. You can also reduce the need to fertilize by grass cycling. This is accomplished when the clippings are mulched in place by a mower blade, so you don’t have to bag them. Instead, you can leave them on your lawn’s surface. Grass cycling is an effortless way to keep nitrogen-rich, organic matter going back into the soil to improve it every time you mow.
- Mow on. When you do mow, cut at the high end of your type of grass’ preferred range, as taller shoots lead to deeper roots. And, deeper roots will be in a better place to find moisture deeper into the soil.
- Water infrequently, but longer. Another important step to encourage deeper roots is to water infrequently, but for longer durations when you do. And, that’s true for lawns, as well as landscape beds, raised beds and containers. This practice allows water to soak deeper into the soil, making it more likely to be there in the absence of rain and dryer conditions, above ground.
- Save time by maintaining. Finally, Lamp’l stresses the importance of lawn maintenance during the active growing period. Developing and maintaining a drought-tolerant lawn isn’t just a one-time thing. Develop a mindset of periodically adding organic matter, like compost, and add manure and even nitrogen-based fertilizer periodically. And, one more thing: when you do water, don’t be so quick to water often. A little tough love will serve you and your lawn very well, especially in times of drought.