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Maintaining Your Lawn During a Drought

plant sprouting up from dry, cracked ground

When your lawn starts to brown, it’s tempting to water more than usual. But, how should you really maintain your lawn during a drought?

Did you know that grass can survive with as little as one inch of water per month? It’s true! And there are ways you can increase its resilience, even in times of drought.

Preparing for a Drought

Maybe you live in a climate that is notorious for hot, dry summers. It’s part of your usual routine, so you know you need to prepare for it. Or, maybe you live in an area that sporadically experiences droughts. Lawn care in Utah is always keeping us on our toes, but here are ways you can prepare regardless of what the weather throws at you.

Collect Rainwater

During the wetter seasons, implement a system for collecting rainwater that can be used to either supplement your irrigation system or replace it. Rainwater collection can be a fairly straightforward DIY project, of you can purchase something ready-made that works for you. Here’s what you need to harness rainwater for later use:

Catchment Area

The catchment area can simply be your roof. A roof spanning 1,000 square feet can serve as a catchment area for about 500 gallons of water for every inch of rainfall. If you don’t have a suitable place under your house’s roof for storage, look around your property and get creative. Is there another structure, such as a shed, under which you can put barrels or a trough to collect rain?

Transportation Method

The transportation method refers to gutters or a drain that directs the water from the catchment area into your desired storage. You might have a downspout on the side of your house that can be modified to drain directly into a barrel. Or, perhaps you reroute a downspout with an extension to reach your barrel or trough. 

If your rainwater is being funneled from your roof’s rain gutters, you can add a filter at the top of the downspout to prevent debris from clogging the system. It’s a good idea to have gutter guards regardless, simply to keep the gutters themselves from getting backed up. A filter over the entry point to the downspout can keep your barrels from becoming the final resting place for roof runoff such as leaves, twigs, and critters.

A tip to keep in mind is to collect your rainwater in a spot nearest your lawn or garden so you won’t have to haul your collected rainwater across your property when it’s time to give your plants and grass a drink. 

Storage System

Used or new, your rainwater storage barrels should start out clean. They should never be used for potentially toxic storage before being used to harvest rainwater. Additionally, whatever storage containers you’re using should be placed on level ground near the downspout. If your collection spot is near the foundation of your house or another structure. Be sure to provide drainage in the ground. If the barrels happen to overflow or spill, you want that runoff to have a safe place to go rather than pool around your house. Drainage can be achieved by placing pea gravel under your barrels.

For ease of access, you might also consider elevating your rainwater containers. This will make it easier to dispense water from the barrels into a more convenient carrying container. Also, you can attach “overflow” containers to one another with a series of valves, allowing for more collection if you live in an area with heavy rains.

Amend the Soil

If you have hard-packed, sandy, or soil with high clay content, amending it can be crucial to the survival of your lawn during a drought. Adding in more organic matter, as well as tilling it, can create a more loamy soil, which is prone to better water absorption and retention. 

  • Sandy soil – drains too easily
  • Clay soil – does not absorb water well
  • Loamy soil (ratio of clay, sand, silt, manure/compost) – absorbs and retains moisture

Water Wisely

Did you know the best time to water is between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m.? There will be less evaporation during this time of day, allowing more water to reach your grass and other vegetation. It’s also important to take into account current weather conditions so you’re not watering when they’re precipitation in the forecast. Additionally, avoid watering during windy weather, and be sure you’re watering less often, but for longer periods of time. The less you water, the more resilient your lawn can become.

Order of Importance

When it comes to priority watering, here’s the order of importance:

  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Perennials
  • Annuals
  • Grass

Caring for Your Yard During Drought

If the scorching, dry weather has hit, there are ways you can tend to your yard during a drought. From conserving water to changing the settings on your lawnmower, here’s what the Utah lawn care experts recommend:

Raise Your Lawnmower 

Taller grass equals longer roots, and longer roots mean the grass gets better at seeking out water under the surface. Let your grass grow a little taller by setting your lawnmower at three to four inches.

Water Rebates

Whether it’s for conserving water inside with low-flow toilets or conserving outside with smart irrigation timers, you can apply for water rebates. Not only will you be reducing your water consumption, but you can get a little bonus for doing so. Look into programs in your city for “flipping the strip,” which involves using less thirsty vegetation in your parking strip. These programs reward homeowners for making water-wise decisions for their climate.


Sometimes our lawn naturally has a layer of organic matter resting on top. It might be clippings from the last time you mowed or a few leaves here and there. If it stays at about half an inch in thickness, it’s beneficial surface protection for your lawn. However, if this thatch gets thicker, it can prevent water from deeply penetrating the soil for the grass roots to drink. You can manually dethatch your lawn with a metal rack, or hire a Utah lawn care service to do it for you. 

Water Even Less

As we’ve said, grass is pretty resilient. If you’ve cared for it well before a drought, it will naturally go dormant during one. It may be alarming to see the grass start to brown, but try to think of it as hibernation; during dormancy, your lawn only needs about ½ inch to ¼ inch of water every two to four weeks. If you water more often than that, it can cause your grass to “wake up” out of its hibernation, which will waste energy and resources when it could otherwise be dormant until regular watering can resume.

For more help with lawn care, including pest control, contact the experts at Lawngevity.

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