The summer of 2020 brought drought conditions throughout much of New Hampshire and the Lakes Region certainly wasn’t spared from a very dry summer. It comes as no surprise that drought is a particularly challenging condition for keeping your outdoor spaces healthy and attractive. We’ve found that lawns seem to be particularly hard hit by the conditions this year.
Most property owners believe that other than consistently watering their lawn that there’s not much else they can do to help their lawn stay healthy during a drought. Simply put, that’s just not true. While watering is important, several factors affect your lawn health, some of which can help offset a lack of water.
A healthy lawn requires four elements to be viable and attractive; air, nutrients, sunlight, and water.
Air is typically the most overlooked element that your lawn needs. It’s not unusual for us to be called for a lawn renovation where the client believed they were proactively caring for their property through consistent watering, fertilization, and weeding but they failed to be viable and lush.
Lawns need to breathe. Over time the topsoil below your lawn will become compacted and clogged with materials that can no longer decompose as is needed for a healthy ecosystem. This makes it more difficult for the lawn to absorb moisture and nutrients, or shed excess moisture. As a result, turfgrass growth becomes stunted, diseases and weeds may gain a foothold, and over time the turfgrasses are no longer viable. As a result, a good lawn care plan includes dethatching and aeration.
Thatch is the build-up of organic material on your lawn. This organic material is typically comprised of dead turfgrass, parts of leaves, clippings, and more. While this organic material is an important part of the ecosystem, it needs to be managed. Too much thatch becomes a barrier that air, water, and nutrients may not be able to easily pass through, thus suffocating and starving your lawn. Dethatching removes this thatch.
Aeration is the introduction of small voids into the topsoil. The voids puncture the topsoil to both loosen compacted areas and introduce a pathway for air, water, and nutrients to make their way into the soil and thus the roots of your lawn.
During periods of drought, it is still important for your lawn to breathe. Perhaps even more important your lawn needs to be ready to best absorb water and nutrients when they do arrive. Dethatching and Aeration are excellent ways to assure your lawn can breathe, absorb, and recover from drought conditions.
Aeration and dethatching are most commonly done in the spring and autumn. Based upon the drought conditions we’ve been experiencing in the Lakes Region; we recommend aeration and dethatch this autumn if your property has not received either as recently as last spring.
Nutrients are typically introduced to your turf through the addition of fertilizers and compost. Fertilization typically requires adding a mixture of materials that contains ingredients like Nitrogen and Phosphorus to the top of the lawn. Composting, also known as top-dressing, consists of spreading organic compost onto your lawn to a depth of approximately ¼ of an inch.
Both practices typically occur in either the spring or autumn while the days are warm and evenings are cool. We’ve found combining these practices with dethatching and aeration makes them most effective.
Nutrients may also be reintroduced to your lawn through mulching your grass clippings. As your grass grows, nutrients are utilized in the growth process and are contained within the turfgrass blades. When you mow, bagging and removing the clippings removes those nutrients from the lawn ecosystem. Utilizing a mulching lawnmower helps break down the clippings and reintroduce them to the topsoil, thus reintroducing those nutrients.
Nutrient care is important during periods of drought due to the role water plays in the absorption and retention of nutrients. Water is an important conveyance vehicle for the nutrients in the lawn and along the topsoil to be introduced to your plant roots. Water also is an important factor in the absorption and use of nutrients in photosynthesis.
In drought conditions, it’s common for nutrients to stay on the surface areas of your lawn. As they dry out, they are susceptible to be blown away, degraded and rendered ineffective, or simply not absorbed. As this continues nutrients slowly become less available to your lawn for when the drought ends. The careful and mindful reinstruction of nutrients through fertilization and compost can help relieve this condition.
This autumn in particular we recommend the utilization of top-dressing composting to help your lawn recover from the drought.
Sunlight provides the energy needed for the photosynthesis process turfgrasses need to survive. Different turfgrasses, just like other plants, require different amounts of sunlight. While a drought also adversely affects the photosynthesis process, planting the correct turfgrasses based upon sunlight exposure can help reduce those effects.
We recommend considering sunlight exposure when installing a new lawn or over-seeding an existing lawn.
Sunlight can also exacerbate drought conditions due to evaporation and breaking down nutrients. A good lawn care program that helps water and nutrients make their way into the topsoil easily can help reduce these effects. Thus, a total health program that includes dethatching, aeration, and the introduction of nutrients is important, especially in high-sun exposure areas.
The top concern during a drought is water. We’ve covered some ways of preparing your lawn to be best able to absorb and utilize water when it does rain, but it’s important to understand ways to get the most out of the water you may choose to introduce to your property through irrigation, sprinkler systems, or hand spraying.
First, water in the morning before the sun has fully risen. Sunlight evaporates water. By watering in the dawn light hours your lawn has more time to absorb water before the stronger, direct sunlight has an opportunity to begin evaporating the water.
Do not water at night. While evaporation from sunlight does affect water absorption, it can also be advantageous by removing excess water. Excess water can limit the airflow and nutrient absorption for your turfgrasses while also creating conditions for diseases Watering at night allows excess water to remain in place for longer durations, which is hazardous to turfgrass viability.
Water with less quantity and more frequency. Water absorption takes time. This can result in water not being absorbed fully if large quantities are introduced over a short period. Instead, create a watering regiment which introduces smaller quantities of water more frequently. If you plan to introduce 50 gallons to water to an area a week, consider watering at a rate of 10 gallons across 5 mornings as opposed to a one-time introduction of 50 gallons. This will facilitate better absorption as well as replace evaporated or lost moisture more frequently.
Consider an irrigation system. An irrigation system may seem like a luxury or may seem expensive, but some solutions are both affordable and help protect your plant life which would be difficult to replace. Many irrigation service providers, like Belknap Landscape, will provide an irrigation system quote for your property free of charge.
The best time to install an irrigation system is in the spring or early fall during the slower growth cycle of your turfgrasses. If you’re considering the addition of an irrigation system, now is an excellent time to get a proposal and quote.